Homily for Funeral Mass for Canon John Fitzgerald, RIP, Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011, Church of St. John the Baptist, Knock
In the words of Jesus in the Gospel on last Sunday, the day Canon John went to God we heard “set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
In many ways that captures some of the spirit of Canon John – a man who set his heart on the Kingdom of God and applied himself to working out and living the details of that Kingdom on a day to day basis in his life and ministry as a priest of Jesus Christ.
Remembrance and Prayer
We gather to remember him with great fondness. A man that was deeply respected and liked by so many. In this requiem Mass we pray for his eternal salvation. We thank God for the example of his life. We pray for the consolation of many who remember him dearly especially close family, his brother priests, past parishioners and a wide circle of friends.
Theology of Hope – People of Resurrection
In gathering today as people of hope we are confident that the Lord is with us in our time of loss and grief. The second reading today from Isaiah reminds us of this
On this mountain he will remove
The mourning veil covering all peoples
And the shroud enwrapping all nations
He will destroy death forever.
Ordination to Priesthood
On the 17th of June, 1951 at the height of difficult economic and social times in post war era four exceptionally bright and able young men were ordained for service in the Archdiocese of Tuam, Sean Blake, Charlie O’Malley, Tadhg Ó Móráin and John Fitzgerald. These four young men gave generous and life long service in the vineyard of the Lord as pastors of the faithful of the Archdiocse of Tuam.
Early Ministry – Teaching and Chaplaincy
Much of John’s early ministry was spent the Cathedral town of Tuam between teaching in St. Jarlath’s College and as chaplain in the Grove Hospital. A man of keen intellect and razor sharp memory he taught in the Diocesan College for almost twenty years. He had a great interest in Celtic Studies and took his degree in this area. Léirigh sé an-spéis sa Ghaeilge, i gcultúr agus i dtadisiúin na hÉireann i gcaitheamh a shaol. His memory was phenomenal. He enjoyed been mischievous in a good humoured way. Priests recognised that if John Fitzgerald asked you a question – one would be well advised to think twice as he was sure to know the answer himself! The diocesan historian Kieran Waldron often consulted Canon John to confirm a detail of a story or a historical fact, knowing that John was an impeccable source
In his role as hospital chaplain – John showed a great empathy, gentleness, kindness, courteousness and goodness to the many patients there. He had an extraordinary interest and knowledge of people, considering their connections, and the relationships between people. With the many people that passed through the Grove Hospital – Canon John was ideally placed to get to know people far and wide. Through his ministry there he established many a friendship that he would so often revisit and develop in later years.
Much loved Pastor
Canon John is remembered and loved by many as a dedicated and genuinely holy priest in the many parishes he served. St. Nicholas Parish, Galway, Ballyconneely, Balla, Aughagower, Cortoon, Lavally and in latter years as chaplain to the Mercy Sisters in Tuam while he resided in Cunnane place for the past five years.
Man of the Earth / In Touch with Nature
John was a man that kept himself grounded, not only in being in close contact with so many people, but also in being rooted in the changing cycles of nature and the rhythms of the seasons. He was an expert beekeeper. For many years he tended to the needs of the many hives that he developed and colonised and he was much sought after for advice and expertise in this area.
Sporting Interest, along with many others
They say the Glory of God is a human being fully alive, and true enough Canon John certainly had many interests and kept himself as busy as a bee. He had a keen interest in local news. He devoured the local newspapers and kept up to date with current affairs. He was a keen local historian, perhaps being too modest to put pen to paper, despite the many requests to do so. A keen angler, he often headed off to the Moy to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of game fishing. One of his great passions in life was his life long interest in sport and particularly Gaelic Football. He was a close confidant of Fr. Brendan Kavanagh and it is often said that he was one of the main architects of the Hogan Cup Win of 1958. His memory of games, who played where, where they were from, what their footballing pedigree was, what the score was, why the game was won or lost was just breath-taking. He really was the Jimmy McGee of the Tuam Archdiocese.
Final Illness and Courageous Battle
Being a native of Roscommon, John had some of the steely qualities of a Roscommon footballer. He battled through serious illness to the end. This he did with typical tenacity, dignity and courage. In the words of the second letter of Paul to Timothy in todays second reading:
I have fought the good fight to the end: I have run the race to the finish: I have kept the faith, all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his appearing.
We pray today that this will be the lot of Canon John, a man that lived life in a quiet, dignified, unassuming way, with integrity and faith, never giving up right to the very end. He was a thorough gentleman. He will be missed by many.
Condolences and Conclusion
My condolences to Canon John’s family, to his brothers Kevin, to Maurice and Anne, Dan to his nephews and nieces, to his extended family, to his classmate Canon Tadhg, his colleagues in the presbyterate of the Tuam Archdiocese, to his loyal and dedicated housekeeper of many years, Ms. Pauline Lardner, to the sisters of the Mercy Convent, Tuam, the sisters of the Bons Secours to whom he had a special ministry, to the Staff of the Queen of Peace Nursing Home who were so good to him in his final months.
May the God of our hope have mercy on the gentle soul of Canon John. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal Gaelach.
Funeral Arrangements for Canon John Fitzgerald, RIP.
Reposing in Queen of Peace Nursing Home on Tuesday, March 1st from 6.00 – 8.30 pm. Removal to Church of St. John the Baptist, Knock Parish Church at 8.00 pm.
Funeral Mass in Knock Parish Church of St. John the Baptist at 1.00 pm on Wednesday, March 2nd. Burial afterwards to Balllyhaunis.
Born : August 9th, 1926
Ordained: June 17th, 1951
Prefect, St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam : 1951-1953
Parish of St. Nicholas, Galway : 1953–1954
Chaplain, Bons Secours Hospital and Professor, St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam : 1954-1971
C.C., Ballyconneely : 1971-1979
C.C., Balla : 1979-1985
P.P., Aughagower : 1985- 2000
Appointed Canon of the Cathedral Chapter : December 1996
A.P. Cortoon / Lavally : 2000-2006
Died : February 27th, 2011
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam