Bishop Denis celebrated Mass in the Church of Mary, Mother of God, Daingean yesterday (Sunday 14th January) to mark the 200th Anniversary of the death of Fr Andrew Mullen, ‘Servant of God’. He was joined by Fr Mark Townsend, PP Daingean, Fr Paddy O’Byrne, PE CC Daingean and Bro Mattehew Farrell, OP.
In his introdution Bishop Denis gave a brief background of Fr Mullen “The Second Sunday in January 2018 brings us back to the reality of Ordinary Time in the Church; a reality that could be summed up simply as call and response. It is a privilege to be with you in Daingean this morning to honour the forever young Andrew Mullen who was born in Main Street, Daingean and responded very bravely then to the call to follow Christ.
A call that would initially see him study for a time at Carlow College, before matriculating and entering the seminary at Maynooth. This morning we mark the bicentenary of his death – January 15th 1818. Three words sum up todays celebration – courage; faith and example. I’ll expand on all three a little later.
Safe to say the same courage that allowed John the Baptist to point out Jesus: “Look, there is the lamb of God” – with those words he recognised, he approved and he anointed the one who was coming after him, Jesus. The same faith that allowed Andrew to convince his brother Simon Peter that he had “found the Messiah”.
As for the example just as Jesus looked hard at his early followers, so too he looks hard at us this morning, because, like with Andrew and Simon Peter, He loves us and wants nothing but the best for us…”
This very weekend last year, I had arrived in Rome for the beginning of my first Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to Pope Francis and the different Vatican departments and councils. One department I visited was that of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In a note on the situation of the causes in Ireland (Nota sullo Stato delle Cause dell’Irlanda) which was on our desk as we arrived for that scheduled meeting with the congregation, it listed causes for the Irish Church under just three of our dioceses: Cork & Ross; Dublin and Kildare & Leighlin.
The Cork & Ross one was obviously Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters; the Dublin ones, essentially too numerous to mention, included amongst others Blessed Edmund Rice; the Irish Martyrs, Catherine McAuley and our friend Blessed John Sullivan with deep connections to the Kildare end of our diocese.
Kildare & Leighlin was listed last with an attached Protocol Number 2043 titled: ‘Servi Dei: Andreae Mullen, Sacerdotis Dioecesani’ Servant of God: Andrew Mullen, Diocesan Priest’. He was the only diocesan priest listed amongst the Irish causes. His death is dated differently than tomorrows date, Rome sees his death as taking place on December 17th, 1817. I suppose it raises a health warning, when we are dealing with someone so far back, separating fact from fiction, peeling back those piously embellished layers is never so easy. There are some givens, there are some certainties and they are what I wish to concentrate on in this bicentenary commemoration.
In his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the great legacy of holiness that marked the Christian community on this island, urging us, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, to remember “the rock from which you were hewn”. That rock is the holy men and women, born in our land in every age, who achieved heroic sanctity and offered examples of authentic Christian living. I have come this morning to the rock where the forever young Servant of God, Fr. Andrew Mullen, was hewn from; the place that gave birth to him; the people who loved him in life and revered him in death. I very much look forward to visiting and offering prayers at his grave in Old Killaderry Cemetery later. I watched recently a splendid You-Tube short film by Mike Dunne celebrating Fr. Andrew Mullen’s resting place in Killaderry. No doubt my visit there will be all the more special after our Mass.
A phrase I’ve already used a number of times today around Fr. Andrew Mullen is that of ‘forever young’. Dying at the age of 28, just three years ordained, a curate in Clonmore in Carlow. I think those who die young, remain forever young in our memories and in our shared folklore handed down from one generation to the next. Three words crystallise our commemoration today – courage, faith and example. Daingean in 1800 was a place of terrible persecution for Catholics. The young Andrew Mullen and the Catholic community of that time in Daingean showed great courage to continue to identify with their faith. John the Baptist showed that same courage in recognising and singling out Jesus. “Look, there is the Lamb of God”. There could be no mistake and there can be no mistake that the story of Andrew Mullen is in the words of John Kearney in an Offaly Historical Society publication some time back “the story of a young, gifted, saintly and much loved priest who brought healing to souls and bodies during his short life and untimely death”.
The second word to frame today’s commemoration is faith. The death of a very gifted and talented priest was an enormous blow to Fr. Andrew Mullen’s mother and family. His close bond with his mother is evident in the very few existent original writings that have been handed down to this day. In a letter dated somewhere between 1810 and 1816 written while a student in Carlow College he basically tells his mother not to be worrying about him; he apologises for his lack of correspondence with her, but equally chastises her for not writing to him! As he signs off he enquires about his brothers, wondering if one of them Peter might also join him at Carlow College? Was he like his namesake in John’s gospel wanting to introduce his brother also to Jesus?
The third pillar with which to understand Fr. Andrew Mullen is example. For a man who has left behind practically nothing of great consequence, yet is remembered by the many who visit his grave at Killaderry, some even lying beneath the stone slab covering his grave. In the 2006 RTE documentary by Martina McGlynn ‘A light from the grave’ there was great store put on visiting his grave on a Good Friday. The people of Clonmore still remember their curate and still honour the space he rested in for a short time after his death. The Carloviana historical journal of 1981 reminds us: “This saintly priest was loved and esteemed by thousands. He cured the deaf, the dumb, the lame and the blind”. It is reputed that the reason he died so young was he gave away his only coat to a poor man.
So Fr. Andrew Mullen, Servant of God, his story is powerful for Daingean, for Offaly, for Kildare & Leighlin, even the Irish Church in 2018. A great message for all our familes, as we prepare next August for the World Meeting of Families, like the Mullen’s on the Main Street here in Daingean all those years back, are we living our faith fully? A great challenge to young men to ask themselves is God calling them to the priesthood, as he called Andrew Mullen all those years back. It took courage then and it takes great courage today, but like Fr. Andrew Mullen’s namesake in John’s gospel and his brother Simon Peter, once you answer that call, you never look back. A great example indeed for all of us to emulate as we endeavour to keep alive the light from the grave of one who remains ‘forever young’.