Fr Edward Casey SMA – Funeral homily

The Funeral Mass for the late Fr Edward Casey, SMA, took place at 12 noon in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork on Saturday, 18 February, 2017. Fr Casey had died the previous Wednesday, 15 February at the SMA House, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork.

The Principal Celebrant for the Mass was the SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Michael McCabe.

In his Opening remarks before beginning the Mass, Fr McCabe welcomed all who had gathered in Wilton.

“We are gathered here today to bid farewell to our dear brother, Fr Edward (Fr Ned) Casey, and accompany him with our prayers as he returns to his Maker. He had a long and fruitful life – outliving all his classmates. He has spent almost 64 years in the service of the SMA as a missionary priest. On last Wednesday morning at around 11am, he died peacefully just as he was about to receive Holy Communion – 5 days short of his 89th birthday.

On behalf of the SMA, I wish to express my sincere condolence to Fr Ned’s sister, Margaret (Peggy), her son, Fintan; to his nieces – Eileen, Ann, Marie and Kathleen; nephews, John, Michael and Edward, cousins and all who mourn his passing. Among the messages of condolences I have received over the past few days are those of the Carmelite Community in Loughrea and a former Superior General of the SMA, Fr Joseph Hardy, who is now living in retirement in France.

We welcome here today Fr Ned’s cousins, relatives, his housekeeper from his years in Kinvara parish, friends, visiting priests and Sisters, especially the members of the OLA.

We remember in this Eucharist the all the deceased members of Fr Ned’s family, his parents William and Mary Anne, his sister Mary, his brothers, Thomas, John-Joe, and Patrick, and other deceased relations and his SMA classmates.

Celebrating with me at the Altar are Fr Ned’s cousin, Fr Frank Larkin (who worked with Fr Ned in Kinvara parish), Fr Michael Igoe SMA (who ministered with him in Ondo Diocese, Nigeria), Fr Bernie Cotter SMA (a member of the 1978 – 1983 Provincial Council of which Fr Ned was also a member and Fr Eamonn Finnegan SMA, Leader of the SMA Community in Claregalway.

After the Readings from the Prophet Isaiah, the First Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians and the 5th chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, Fr McCabe preached the following homily.

“‘He will destroy death for ever.’

‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.’

‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage’.

The readings we have just heard express our faith in the One who has destroyed the power of death once and for all. Our core belief as Christians is that Christ, who rose from the dead, will also raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory. If death were really the end of everything, we would be, of all creatures, the most miserable because, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, we carry within our hearts ‘the seed of eternity’. It is for this reason that we rebel against death, as the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, does in his famous poem about his dying father entitled: “Do Not go Gentle into that good Night”.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Fr Ned, however, did not rage against the dying of the light because he carried within his heart a light that could not be extinguished – the light of Christ. He did indeed slip away quietly and without fuss into ‘that good night’ (as Thomas terms it), but he did so confident that the Lord and Master whom he had served all his life held in store for him a glorious destiny – “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). Hence, while saddened at his passing, we draw strength from the same faith that nourished Fr Ned and are encouraged by the example his long life of service to mission.

On 20 February 1928, Ned was born in Kilcrimple, Gort, Co Galway. He was the fourth son in a family of six (four boys and two girls) of William Casey and Mary Anne Hourigan. [He had an uncle, Br Edna, OP, and an aunt, Sr Vincent, OP, in religious life). After completing his primary and secondary education, Ned entered the SMA Novitiate at Cloughballymore, Co Galway, where he also completed his study of Philosophy This was followed by four further years of training, including theological studies, in the major Seminary of the Province in Dromantine, Newry. On 17 June 1953, along with 10 classmates, Ned was ordained a priest in St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, Co Down.

Following his ordination, Fr Ned was appointed to the Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, where he ministered from 1953 to 1969. Fr Ned worked in several missions, in Ondo, Okitipupa, Ado-Ekiti, Oyo and Akure. He was building Supervisor for the diocese – and oversaw the construction of several churches, school and clinics, including Sacred Heart Cathedral in Akure. This was a time of dramatic change and development in a Nigeria moving from being a British colony to an Independent Republic and a Church moving out of period of stability into a maelstrom of change under the impact of the Second Vatican Council. It was also a time of remarkable growth for the Church in Nigeria.

The Diocese of Ondo to which Fr Ned was appointed had been erected in 1950. Over the next quarter a century, it would be divided into three dioceses (Ilorin, Ekiti and Ondo) with African bishops gradually taking over the leadership from the hands of the missionaries. This building up of the Church and then handing it over to local leadership is part and parcel of the job description of the missionary and an index of the success of the missionary enterprise. It was an exciting but, as with all change, not an easy time to be a missionary. In the midst of all these developments, Fr Ned was a quiet and reassuring presence, a missionary of rare equanimity and great common sense, a dependable bridge between the familiar past and the uncertain future, a sure and solid anchor in a turbulent sea.

Highly esteemed by his confreres and Superiors, Fr Ned was, from a relatively young age, entrusted with important leadership and administrative posts, both on the Missions and in Ireland. In 1966, he was appointed Deputy Regional Superior of Southern Nigeria by the then Provincial Superior of the Irish Province, Fr Laurence Carr. Three year later, he was elected Regional Superior – a post he held until 1978. He was an ex-officio delegate at three Provincial Assemblies: 1973, ’78 and ’83. He was also a delegate at the 1973 General Assembly. These Assemblies set out to renew and update the missionary goals and strategies of the Society in light of the renewed and expanded vision of mission, arising from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent Church teaching. Fr Ned was to be part of the team with responsibility for implementing the programme of the 1978 Assembly as he was elected a Provincial Councillor from 1978-83. He was also Superior of SMA House, Blackrock Road, during those years. The 1978 Assembly has underlined the importance of the spiritual renewal of the missionaries, reflecting the emphasis of Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nundiandi, which stated that the witness of one’s life was the primary way of proclaiming the Gospel.  And Fr Ned was first and foremost a missionary who taught others by the example of his life. His commitment to the SMA and the service of others was sustained by a life of regular prayer and fidelity to his spiritual exercises.  

In 1983 Fr Ned did a sabbatical Programme at the Redemptorist Renewal Centre in Marianella, Dublin, taking a short and well-earned break from his responsibilities, and updating himself on the latest trends in mission. In 1984 he returned to Ondo Diocese and was engaged in pastoral ministry in Ikare-Akoko until in 1988 ill health forced him to leave Nigeria. However, his missionary career was far from over. On his return to Ireland, he was appointed Superior of the SMA House, Wellington Road, Dublin, and was part of the SMA Promotions Team in Leinster for the next 12 years, a role he carried out faithfully and conscientiously, visiting and encouraging our many supporters and benefactors. This was followed by nine years in the service of Galway diocese in the parish of Kinvara, where he was noted for his kindness, generosity and pastoral concern for people. These were especially happy years in Fr Ned’s life. In 2010, at 82 years of age, he returned to Cloughballymore – the place where he had started his journey with the SMA – and served as Chaplain at Blakemanor Nursing Home, Ballindereen until 2015. Almost two years ago, in declining health, he came to Blackrock Road where he was well cared for by the nurses and carers in St Theresa, and where he participated as fully as he could in the life of the community.

Reflecting back on his life on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee in 2013, Fr Ned expressed his gratitude for having had the opportunity to be part of the missionary developments of the past sixty years, and especially for the variety of areas that he had worked in: primary evangelisation [preaching the Gospel to people who had never heard of Jesus Christ]; administration and leadership, missionary promotion and pastoral service in his home diocese. Looking ahead to whatever plan the Lord had in store for him, Fr Ned said he had no great plans (no ‘bucket list’) except to be reasonably happy and to continue being of some help to others. And right up to the end of his life that is what he did. As he had lived, so he died, a truly contented man – at peace with himself, with the Lord and with others.

Fr Ned brought the light of Christ’s presence in the lives of many people. He ministered God’s healing and forgiveness wherever he was. His gentle and calm disposition made him an approachable and trustworthy minister of God’s grace and a wonderful witness to the Good News of Christ. What is before him now as he ascends the mountain of God, is, as Isaiah tells us in the first reading, the great heavenly banquet where “every tear will be wiped away” and he will experience that unimaginable joy that the Lord has prepared for all his faithful servants.  

May his gentle soul rest in peace.

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