Homily for the Funeral Mass of Fr. Paddy Gilligan.



6 AUGUST 2020


An African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child.  By that it means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.  I believe that one could ring the changes on that and state that it takes a community of faith to form a priest.  The family and the community into which we are born and reared will continue to exercise its influence on us although at times we may be unaware of it. 


Last year we gathered to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Fr. Paddy Gilligan – ordained on the 15th June 1969.  Strong, determined, generous in the sharing of his gifts Fr. Paddy was very flexible in his ministry.  Commencing in Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands for two years, his next appointment brought him to Claremorris for twelve years.  Then it was on to Castlebar, firstly as hospital chaplain and then as curate.  This was territory which was very well known to him since his school days in St. Gerald’s College. 


After 14 years in Castlebar Fr. Paddy was appointed as Parish Priest in Achill.  This was at a time when the number of priests available for parish ministry was decreasing and rationalisation was required. It took great ingenuity, persuasion and vision to successfully reduce the number of Masses so that no community would be unfairly deprived of the Eucharist.  The situation which he was instrumental in bringing about in Achill formed a blue print for other parishes throughout the Archdiocese. 


At that time many parishes had succeeded in establishing pastoral councils as people were encouraged to take responsibility for various areas of Church planning which found expression in different ministries.  This was something that needed to be fostered and encouraged.  In one particular parish at the time when the Parish Priest became ill the people succeeded in continuing the work of evangelisation.  The appointment of Fr. Paddy to that particular parish in Kilkerrin ensured that the Parish would continue to maintain its initiative, dynamism and focus. He built on the infrastructure which was there and consolidated the gains which had been made as he encouraged and challenged more people to greater involvement. 


From his days on the playing field Fr. Paddy was always a team player and he utilised his GAA experience to good effect in his pastoral and priestly ministry.  He was very conscious of the need to lend his support to situations outside his own parish where the priest and people needed his help.  When he became Parish Priest of Cong he was a great motivator in detecting when a neighbouring parish might require assistance.  During his time as Parish Priest of Cong he was called upon to reach out pastorally to a neighbouring parish which had been through a very tough time.  His experience as Hospital Chaplain in Castlebar and his great work with Accord which provided great service in preparation for marriage and in counselling in marital situations, enabled him to be very supportive in addressing the complicated challenges of the situation in the neighbouring parish. 

During his tenure as Parish Priest of Cong Paddy had to carry the cross of ill-health. This must have been an enormous challenge for him.  A man of enormous strength who seemed to be indestructible having to cope with the limitations of illness and treatment involved a huge change for him.  Yet, in the midst of it all he remained positive, and was eager to provide the people he served with encouragement, hope and reassurance. 


I know that he looked forward in his retirement, when having laid aside the burden of administration, he would support priests by being available to supply for them in providing the sacraments and particularly celebrating Mass.  The return of his illness has been a huge cross, for Paddy himself and for his family and those who were close to him.  Yet in the midst of it all there was no sense of self-pity.  He was grateful to God for what he considered the extra time that he had been given since his illness was first diagnosed.  Today as we entrust him to the Lord we thank God for the way in which Fr. Paddy has shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  We thank Fr. Paddy’s family for the encouragement and support they provided for him in his priestly ministry, with his close friends, and the people he served.


Fr. Paddy was called home the morning the Church was celebrating the Feast of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, Patron Saint of Parish Priests.  We lay him to rest today on the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Every priest ought to be a vehicle of transfiguration for his people.  He does this as a minister of the Word and the sacraments and particularly in celebrating the Eucharist with his people and feeding them with the body of Christ.


We join in thanking Fr. Paddy himself for the generous manner in which he utilised his God-given gifts in the service of God’s people in all the places he ministered.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.