Fr Paul Hughes, O.Carm. (1931-2014)

Given at the Funeral Mass in Whitefriar Street Church on May 17, 2014, by the Prior Provincial, Martin Kilmurray.

Janani Luwum was the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda during the Idi Amin Regime of the nineteen seventies. The Archbishop was a leading voice in criticising the excesses of the Regime. In February 1977 he suffered the fate of many good people at that time in Uganda – he was murdered by the dictator’s henchmen. When the news of the archbishop’s death began to spread, thousands gathered on Namirembe Hill in Kampala but they didn’t have the archbishop’s body to gather around and mourn as the Government wouldn’t release it. Then the old archbishop, Eric Sabiti, began to read the story of the resurrection of Jesus. When he reached the point when the two strangers say to the women at the tomb: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’, a song of praise started up among the people: ‘Glory, glory, Alleluia’ – an Easter song and everyone began to realise that Janani Luwum was not a body in a government mortuary but ‘a child of God safe in the presence of a living Lord’.

The same Easter faith sustains us today as we make our earthly farewell to Paul Hughes, Carmelite and Priest, and cherished brother of John. We have Paul’s body with us in this church where he celebrated Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation over many years. We are giving thanks for his long life, a life which reflected many of the qualities mentioned by St Paul in the extract from the Letter to Colossians read for us by John.

Like those Christians on Namirembe Hill – but in much safer surroundings – we too believe in the Risen Christ and that Paul is ‘a child of God safe in the presence of a living Lord’.  Paul was united with the Risen Christ in Baptism and he vowed to live in allegiance to him in the Carmelite Way at his First Profession on October 9, 1949.

For every Christian, life is a journey to God, and as we move through this world we try to love God and those who journey alongside us. We love God with the assurance that he loves us first and that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Way, the Truth and the Life for us. If we want to know the truth about who we are and what we are destined for, it is Jesus Christ who teaches us. If we want to know the way to live in this world and pass on to the fullness of Life, Jesus is the way. If we want to be filled with God’s life it is from Jesus Christ that we receive it. Chapter 23 of the Carmelite Rule counsels us to ‘look to Christ’ since he is the foundation and focus of Carmelite life.

Paul’s faith in Jesus Christ was nourished in the family home by his parents Annie and Edward, and by the parish of his youth, Rathmines, where he was an altar server. When he had completed his secondary schooling at Synge Street he decided to join the Carmelite Order. He was received into the Order at the Friary in Kinsale, which was then the novitiate house, in October 1948. Among his fellow novices were Cyprian Kennedy, Arthur Fitzpatrick, Frank McCartan and Vincent Sugrue. Paul is the last member of the group to die.

In 1949, after his First Profession, Paul moved to Gort Muire and began his studies in Philosophy and English at UCD, graduating in 1952. John was telling me recently about the family excursions to Gort Muire to visit Paul. It was quite an adventure for a six or seven year old although he was travelling only from Rathmines, but Ballinteer was almost country in those days and it took two buses to get there! Paul completed his studies for priesthood at the Carmelite International College in Rome where he was ordained in 1955. On his return from Rome he spent one year at White Abbey, Kildare, but, in 1957, he was assigned to the Carmelite Missions in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where he spent the next eighteen years. Besides the usual sacramental ministries, Paul’s work in Zimbabwe was mainly in education. He was very much involved with the early days of the now highly regarded Carmelite Kriste Mambo High School for Girls and Boys. In fact this year is the School’s Golden Jubilee. Paul was among those Carmelites who did much to provide a good education in the Catholic tradition for young people in Zimbabwe over the years.

Soon after his return to Ireland Paul became involved with hospital chaplaincy ministry. He would spend over twenty years as chaplain at the former Meath Hospital alongside other Carmelites including the late Tom Norton, Francis Tobin and John Lawler. He continued in this ministry when the hospital became a Nursing Home.

In the words of Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you made me welcome, sick and you visited me’. In Zimbabwe and Ireland Paul made God’s love present to others by his innate kindness and sociability; by accompanying young people as they developed their knowledge and skills through education; by accompanying the sick and bereaved as hospital chaplain; and by speaking God’s word of mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Like all of us Paul had his foibles, but he was true to his vocation as Carmelite and priest. As Christians we do not escape physical illness and disability.  They are part of the human condition in this life. In recent years Paul’s life became ever more restricted though he did not wallow in misery but retained his sociability and good humour. He enjoyed the company of his Carmelite brothers particularly in the dining room. He enjoyed the banter but his ability to participate had lessened due to speech difficulties.

The sudden death of someone close – even if they are advanced in years – reminds us of the fragility of human life. This was brought home to those of us who were at lunch with Paul on Thursday last. He seemed in very good form, and as Robert (Manik) accompanied Paul to his room little did we think that this would be his last meal with us. Later that afternoon he passed into the presence of his living Lord.

For Paul good music, especially classical music, was always a delight. In recent years it proved to be a great companion when he could not move around as freely as before, and when the deterioration in speech made it difficult for others to understand fully what he wished to convey. It has been said that ‘where words fail music speaks’. We welcomed Paul’s body into the church with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Pièce d’orgue. Bach was probably Paul’s favourite composer. Many of the great composers, including Bach, sought to glorify God by their music. He wrote above the title of most of his compositions SDG – Soli Deo GloriaTo God alone be Glory. To God alone be glory as we entrust Paul to ‘the safety of the presence of his living Lord’. Amen.