Fr. John Fennelly, RIP

Homily for the Funeral Mass of Rev. John Fennelly, 28/12/2013

This season of Christmas is a great family time. People make a special effort to return to their roots, be with their own and express their dependence on and love for those dear to them.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Flight into Egypt and massacre of the Holy Innocents illustrate the opposition of darkness to the light which Christ brought. The prologue of St. John’s Gospel reminds us “He came to his own and his own received him not”.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family and the family, as Pope Paul VI in the Office of Readings for the Feast states “is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus – the school of the Gospel”. He continues “the first lesson we learn here is to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning of this very simple, very humble, very beautiful manifestation of the Son of God”.

In his long life John Fennelly had come to know and gave generous expression to his faith in Jesus Christ. Born on 4th April 1925 in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, always proud of his roots. He held a very responsible position with C.I.E. in Railway Operations. His portfolio called for attention to detail while at the same time maintaining an overview of the broader picture. Those who worked with him remember him as a very conscientious man, exceptionally generous, caring and kind, quiet in manner but most competent.

Very happily married and devoted to his wife Lucy, when she died he began to consider a vocation to priesthood. In a letter to the Archdiocese requesting to be considered as a candidate he acknowledged that he had discussed this possibility with Lucy shortly before her death.

It called for great courage on his part to set out for the Beda College in Rome and commence study. He applied himself diligently with his customary precision and, on the recommendation of the staff of the Beda College, he was ordained in Dalkey on 30th November 1996.

His priesthood was inspired by a great love of Our Lady. He frequently spoke of the consolation he had received as a pilgrim here to Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.

After ordination he became a vehicle through which many pilgrims would in their turn receive the compassion and forgiveness of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation. He was a friendly welcoming presence here at the Shrine, chatted with and listened to pilgrims who in turn would have been inspired by seeing him spend time in private prayer in the Shrine Chapel.

Always very calm in disposition and considered in his comments he proved to be very good company. As priests we are frequently accused of seeing things in black and white – not so Fr. John, it was always ‘black and amber’! Many a time I enjoyed reminding him that, come championship time, Galway would be waiting in the long grass for Kilkenny but with a name like Fennelly he would always take that in his stride.

He ministered for a time in Athenry where his gentle, compassionate approach made a deep impression on both young and not so young. In spite of his years he always remained young at heart and used his great sporting interests in the service of the Lord and his Gospel.

He returned to Knock as a devoted stalwart of the team of confessors where he continued to minister until his retirement due to ill health.

He retired to Our Lady’s Manor Nursing Home in Dalkey where he was very happy and provided daily Mass for the residents while his health permitted. Whenever one visited him the breviery was always either open or close to hand. The conversation would invariably come around to a question about Our Lady’s Shrine and how the priests were managing.

There is something very appropriate about Knock becoming Fr. John’s final earthly resting place. Today we thank God and Our Lady for his life and for his priestly ministry into which he packed so much.

I take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to the Sisters and the devoted staff of Our Lady’s Manor Nursing Home where the exemplary care and dedication he received was an expression of the love of Christ.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal gaelach.

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