Fr Eugene Edward (Ned) Ward, O.Carm. (1935-2011)

Given at the Requiem Mass in the Carmelite Church, Moate, Co Westmeath, on July 28, 2011, by M. Kilmurray, O.Carm.

Each time we gather for Mass, we come together as God’s people to give him thanks and praise. We praise God for who he is, our Creator and the One who gives us life; and we thank him because in every age he has generously blessed his people.

This afternoon we have a special reason for giving thanks and praise to God as we remember and celebrate the life of Eugene Edward Ward, Carmelite and Priest, and a dear brother to Pauline, John, Noel and the late Sheila.

We have brought his body to this beautiful church and later we will lay it to rest in the church grounds on the edge of the town where he was born in 1935, and close to the buildings where he received his secondary education. Eugene Ward was among the early pupils of the then newly founded Carmelite College and it was here that he was helped to respond to the call of God to be a Carmelite and priest. Of course, the seeds of his faith were sown in the home by his parents, Eileen and John, and alongside his brothers and sisters.

When Eugene joined the Carmelite Order at Kinsale in 1953 he was given the name Edward to mark the beginning of a new way of life. I don’t know which St Edward he was named after but Eugene Edward gradually became known affectionately as Ned within the Order.

Eugene Ward had been a keen sportsman while at school and he played as a Minor for County Westmeath in 1952/53. It is appropriate that his coffin has been borne into the church today by members of Moate GAA Club. He would have appreciated this gesture very much because he never lost interest in the mixed fortunes of his native county.

Despite his gradual loss of memory over the past few years Ned was still able to recall his youth in Moate: going to primary school in Tubber; learning to play the violin at the Convent of Mercy; playing football. On the night of his sudden death he had been talking with Brid Bergin, the nurse at Gort Muire for that evening, about his youth here and how his late father had helped to develop the Boxing Club in the town.

Eugene Edward was ordained priest in 1962 and in 1963 he, P. Staunton, who read the Gospel today and F. Lally, who unfortunately cannot be with us, sailed for Southern Africa and Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, on the Pendennis Castle. I am sure that it was a great adventure for three young men but, nevertheless, it must have been a bit daunting. However, I gather that they enjoyed the journey to Capetown and on to Harare, then called Salisbury, by train.

Ned and his travelling companions had been assigned to the developing Carmelite Mission in Zimbabwe. For Ned it was the beginning of some fifty years of service to the people there. During the independence struggle he was forced to return to Ireland for a short time when in ministered in Waterford and in Beaumont Parish. Ned’s gentleness and kindness endeared him to people in both places and he is still remembered with affection.

Eugene Edward was a committed Christian and Carmelite. His faith in God in Jesus Christ inspired him to serve others. His is the living faith that St James extolled in the Second Reading of this Mass – if good works do not go with faith it is quite dead. Ned gave his all in Zimbabwe over the years, nothing was too much for him. He ministered at St Joseph’s Hatfield, Triashill Mission, Regina Coeli Mission and St Simon Stock Rusape. He served as Commissary Provincial from 1991 to 1997.

Ned was at Triashill Mission in the nineteen seventies, a time of violence and war in Zimbabwe. There are many stories of bravery and narrow escapes from that time. One day Ned was driving in a hurry, I am told, from Avila Mission to Mount Mellary Mission when the bus travelling immediately behind him was blown up by a landmine. Ned’s car had just missed it. Carmelites like Ned, some of whom are here today, never made much of such incidents but they were living very much at the edge during those years. They kept close to the people in their areas and tried to help them in whatever way possible.

Ned had a deep sense of fraternity. He enjoyed being with his Carmelite brothers. He liked to celebrate with them. He had great sense of humour. He loved a sing song and I have been told that a favourite of his was Little Red Fox – I can’t say that I had ever heard of it! – and that he could be persuaded to sing it later in the evening.

On a Christmas Day during the struggle in Zimbabwe another Carmelite, the late Michael Kenny, was on his own at St Barbara’s Mission. The Mission was occupied by the freedom fighters but Ned felt that a Carmelite brother should not be alone on such an important day so he went with some difficulty to spend the evening with Michael; again, Christian faith in action.         

Personally, I always remember his kind words to me during the illness of my mother and when I was caring for my brother. Those words meant a great deal to me at the time and reminded me of how powerful a kind and encouraging word can be for another.           

Eugene Edward gave himself unstintingly as Carmelite and priest. I saw him depart from the Priory in Mutare late one evening driving a truck filled with food and other provisions for Regina Coeli Mission. At the school on this Mission he developed Form V and VI during the late nineteen nineties, again a time of some difficulty in Zimbabwe due to shortages. Ned raised the money, supplied the building materials and supervised the building of extra classrooms at the School. It could be said that he worked himself to the bone on this project.

Ned later served at St Simon Stock Rusape but his health was beginning to be a cause for concern. He came back permanently to Ireland in 2007. It would not have been his choice but his health was such that he could no longer remain in the country and among the people he had served through thick and thin.

We have gathered in a spirit of thanksgiving, but a thanks­giving tinged with sadness, for a life that was defined by a deep practical faith and a deep commitment to the Carmelite way of prayer, fraternity and service. The past few years were not easy for Ned as his health declined further; the gradual loss of memory and the confusion that resulted were difficult for him, for the family and for all of us who were close to him. But Ned’s innate gentleness and kindness still shone through and there were flashes of his great sense of humour.

It has been said that it is a great good to know a truly gentle person: it can mark a whole life. Eugene Edward Ward was such a person and he has marked all our lives. None of us – in the family circle, in the Carmelite Order, among friends and neighbours, those he ministered to in Zimbabwe – will forget the qualities of gentleness and kindness in the life of one we loved greatly. And in the words of the Prophet Micah: “he walked humbly with God”.

Eugene – Ned – rest in peace and remember all of us at the Mercy Seat of God.