Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Patrick Staunton, O.Carm. (1934–2019)
Homily delivered at the Funeral Mass in Terenure College Chapel on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, by R. Byrne, O.Carm., Prior Provincial
We gather in sorrow
This morning we gather in sorrow to say our formal goodbyes to Paddy. And once again, I extend our sympathies to his sisters and brothers, and to all the extended family and so many friends. Naturally, at this time, we also remember Paddy’s brothers who have gone already to their heavenly reward.
All of us knew that Paddy had been in hospital for over five weeks. Yet, there was still a hope in him and in some of us that he might get back home to Gort Muire. After all, Paddy had won so many battles with ill health and sickness over the last ten years or so. Surely this might be another victory?
Few, if any, were expecting how quickly things were to change last Thursday or that he would pass away on Friday morning. Yet, this was one battle he was unable to win. He certainly had ‘fought the good fight to the end’.
Since last Friday morning, a large void has opened up in so many people’s lives. It’s understandable that – even a few days later – Paddy’s family and friends are still left with quite a sense of loss and feel grief and pain this morning.
Responding to God with the heart
As we gather in grief, we Christians look to be nourished by the Word of God and by the Eucharist which we celebrate together.
Our first reading this morning ends with one of the most popular passages of the Bible for both Jews and Christians. It involves an imaginary conversation where Israel asks God: what am I to bring before you? But Israel’s focus is very much on external religious rites and on ever increasing amounts of sacrifices which they think will please God.
But God’s answer is clear. He doesn’t desire or need their religious rites or sacrifices. Instead, he wants a change of heart and the text ends with those famous lines where Israel is called ‘to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’.
‘To act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ And in so many ways this call from the Prophet Micah was answered by Paddy.
To act justly
We might well ask: what does it mean today to act justly? To ‘act justly’ would have been understood by the Prophet Micah’s audience as living with a sense of right and wrong. It also involves, I believe, a sense of being able to see the bigger picture, a sense for us of how to live our Christian values in everyday life.
Certainly, Paddy knew right and wrong. He had a strength in his commitment to doing the right thing – even if it came with a cost. He also had a very solid human judgement. And so many people – Carmelites and others – sought his advice because it was grounded and balanced. And you could be confident with anything you’d say to him – he was completely discrete. It’s no coincidence that he was elected Provincial twice and chosen to be the Assistant Provincial four times.
And Paddy had an enormous ability to see the bigger picture and what was truly important. He had a huge sense of the entire Carmelite Order. As Provincial, he may not have been one for making great speeches at international gatherings and assemblies, but he made a large contribution in practical ways.
When Paddy was Provincial between 1988 and 1994, he decided that the Irish Province should support one of our Provinces in Brazil – the Province of Pernambuco – which at that time was dying out and in a difficult financial situation. And so he organised that a contribution of £25,000 – a huge sum of money – would be sent from the Irish Carmelites annually. It was just. It was right.
And Paddy was able to visit Brazil and see how the money was being spent and the huge impact it was making, particularly in a brick-making factory. Today, this is now the biggest Carmelite Province in Brazil.
But none of this was done by Paddy for political reasons or to curry favour, but out of a deep generosity, a deep sense of justice, and a deep sense of the mission of the entire Order. By doing so, he set a trend in the Province of generosity to the Order that has been continued in his successors.
In his letter to me, the Prior General of our Order, Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., noted that Paddy was ‘very collaborative and generous’ with the other parts of the Order. Our Carmelite Bishop in Brazil, Francisco de Sales, O.Carm., has also sent ‘a message of sympathy and gratitude on behalf of the Pernambuco Province’. Francisco was one of the first students to come from Pernambuco in Brazil to study in Gort Muire because of Paddy.
Anywhere Paddy was appointed he made an enormous contribution. He was only in Zimbabwe for eleven years – nine of those at the Regina Coeli Mission – but, in that relatively short time, he made a lasting and deep impact. Indeed, one of his former parishioners from Regina Coeli, Brigadier General Dr Kaka Mudambo, wrote to me yesterday saying that Paddy was ‘A dedicated, passionate, strong and prayerful missionary who helped poor and disadvantaged people of all walks of life without discrimination or favour’.
The Brigadier General was the first Zimbabwean Military officer to hold a Masters and a PhD in Public Health. He is now the co-ordinator of malaria healthcare for the forty-seven Malaria countries on the whole of the African continent. But it was Paddy who had arranged for his Masters and PhD to be paid for, and the Mudambo family continue to be grateful to him. Paddy did immense good but the good he did was always hidden.
In Ireland, he was appointed by Archbishop Dermot Ryan as the first Parish Priest of the newly erected parish of Knocklyon from October 1, 1974. Again, in a short space of time – he was there only eight years – Paddy made a significant impact, building the church physically and communally from the ground up. In Beaumont too, Paddy made an enormous contribution when he was appointed there in 1985 and when he returned there again in 1997. Paddy’s gift for bringing people together was very evident in Beaumont where he encouraged the ongoing pastoral development of the parish.
In those parishes, as with his other appointments to Terenure College and Whitefriar Street, Paddy poured out his life (in the words of the second reading) in a ‘thoroughgoing service’ of the Good News. Anywhere he left, people felt his absence.
To love kindness
‘To act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ Along with justice, Israel was called by God to provide a loving kindness, a loving mercy, a tender love. God expects his people to show love to each other.
There was certainly an enormous kindness and tenderness in Paddy. We don’t need to know it; we all felt it and that warmth which you, his family and friends, know all too well.
As Martin Kilmurray noted yesterday evening, Community was also a cornerstone for Paddy. While sometimes he was more silent than talking, he was dedicated to Community life and faithfully attended every gathering. At gatherings, Paddy loved to sing and also to dance. I don’t remember him dancing but I certainly remember him singing on many an occasion in Gort Muire. He had many party pieces: the Rocks of Bawn, Moonlight in Mayo, or Grace. In Regina Coeli Mission, the lay people nicknamed him ‘Ringo’ because he loved the guitar and singing.
It would take too long to cover sports, but he was loyal and dedicated. You can’t help but feel that he must have been delighted in last night’s miracle in Anfield.
Paddy was shrewd and stubborn, but often the moment was not right for what needed to be done. And he always liked to sit himself where he could keep an eye on everything. In fact, if I was meeting him and someone walked by a window, I had completely lost his attention until he had worked out who the person was and why they were there!
Timothy Radcliffe, the famous Dominican Preacher, once wrote that we often find time for many things that don’t bear fruits, but in the end there is only time for love. And Paddy had a loving kindness in abundance – hidden, but truly genuine.
Walk humbly with your God
‘To act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ Along with justice, and loving kindness, Israel was called, finally, to depend on God rather than their own abilities and to walk humbly with God. Paddy was certainly a man of humble faith. His devotion was sincere and found expression in his visits to Knock and Lourdes.
Pope Francis spoke recently about his admiration for consecrated people: those priests and religious men and women who are working to serve others. Francis said that these people have an ‘essential humility’ and live the theology of consecrated life in life and in prayer. They ‘do not have any expectations’. They ‘do not make much noise’ but ‘work without patting themselves on the back’. They ‘give their all in a very generous way’. And in many ways that sums up Paddy who acted justly, loved with kindness and walked humbly with his God. In many ways, his was a complete life.
We are hopeful
And as we grieve this morning and give thanks for Paddy’s life and all the witness he gave, we can also be hopeful: hopeful for Paddy and hopeful for ourselves. We who have been nourished by the Word of God, also gather to break the bread of life remembering that Jesus said that he who eats my bread and drinks my blood will inherit eternal life.
And that is why we can confidently say: Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
May Paddy rest in peace. Amen.