Sacred Heart Church, Borris @ 12noon on Thursday July 27th, 2023
Fr’s Rory Nolan; Shem Furlong; Bernard & Paddy Cushen; Joe Fleming & Seamus Whelan CP
We gather to honour the diamond jubilee of Fr. Phil. Sixty years ordained last June. In fact I was one day old when Phil was ordained a priest! I welcome family and friends who gather with Fr. Rory, Fr. Shem and myself.
As we gather to offer these sacred mysteries, as Phil does every day of his priestly life, we call to mind our sins aware that as much as we have to be thankful to the Lord, we also must ask forgiveness for our failings …
The Jesuit priest Fr. Frank Browne has left us the most powerfully evocative collection of images documenting the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The prolific photographer died three years before Fr. Phil was ordained. In April 1912 he received a present from his uncle, a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton to Cobh (then Queenstown) via Cherbourg. He boarded it on 10th April 1912, booked into cabin no. A-37 on the promenade deck.
During that early voyage he befriended an American millionaire couple who offered to pay his way to New York and back. Browne telegraphed his superior, requesting permission, but the reply was an unambiguous: “Get off that ship – Provincial”, as reported in Jennifer Roche’s article: ‘How Holy Obedience Saved a Priest’s Life on the Titanic’. Browne disembarked at Cobh and the rest is history!
Fr. Phil never had a problem with the promise of obedience! He served in his beloved Myshall from 1963-1972; then Clonmore from 1972-1975, then Killeigh from 1975-1988 and Clonegal from 1988-1991. He became Parish Priest of Myshall in 1991, retiring in 2012.
Nine men ordained for the Diocese in his year 1963. There has never been a year like it since! I have no doubt such a year will never be seen in our lifetime. Three men ordained from Maynooth, five from Rome and Fr. Phil from St. Patrick’s College, Carlow. The three ordained from Maynooth were Eddie Aughney, Eddie Moore and the late Tommy O’Malley. The five were ordained for Kildare & Leighlin that year in Rome were Sean Conlon and the recently deceased Fr. Ger O’Byrne and their classmates the late Pat Ramsbottom, Paddy McDonald and Dick Hogan. The Ireland of 1963 that Fr. Phil and his co-diocesans were ordained for was a very different place to the Ireland of 2023.
Just for context, a few weeks later in June 1963 President John F. Kennedy would arrive in Ireland for a four day visit, a visit that put Ireland in the lens of the world media and in many respects announce our entry onto the world stage. Again another vintage moment for the camera lens.
Returning to the Jesuit Fr. Browne and his invaluable collection of photographs. Anyone who has ever visited Phil will know of his love for photographs. His lovely home in Clonagoose is a treasure trove of moments captured through the lens of a camera. Every time I visit he promises me he is putting them in some order! There are many on the walls, but many more in boxes on the table. Always leaving him, there is just one more photograph to see.
The new smartphones have ruined our capacity to remember moments, recall events, even admire photographs. They might be on the phone, but you can never find them! Fr. Phil has no problem laying his hands on the particular snap he wants to bring to your attention.
A year has just begun especially dedicated to the promotion and encouragement of vocations to the diocesan priesthood. The theme is “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” with the tag line ‘Take the Risk for Christ’.
When Priests are ordained, when Permanent Deacons are invited forward, when the names of Confirmation Candidates are called out, the only response all are invited to give is ‘Present’. A Diamond Jubilee is a celebration of sixty years of that presence, that response, in several parishes, in several appointments. For Fr. Phil it was Myshall, Ballyconnell, Geashill, Clonegal before returning to Myshall and more recently enjoying a more relaxed retired time here in Borris.
In every appointment, a priests vocation is endorsed and affirmed by the privileged intimacy he enjoys with those he serves. An intimacy where boundaries are respected. An intimacy where trust is core. An intimacy where ministry is affirmed.
I absolutely accept that the culture today is not near as conducive or receptive to religious vocations as in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s. There are less going to Sunday Mass, the pandemic has done a huge disservice to public worship and for some, even in family, it has simply slipped off their radar.
The decline in the interest of things spiritual accompanied by sickening reports and enquires where the abuse of the most precious was uncovered has rightly so angered many, including our very good priests. Religion is not at the centre of society, we have been relegated to the side-lines but the voice of Church is still important and must be heard today.
We need priests. And we need them very much in Kildare & Leighlin. And I’m speaking in this the most prolific parish for promoting and fostering vocations to the diocesan priesthood – Borris, which looked splendidly, by the way, on last Monday’s RTÉ Nationwide.
My message on this Diamond Jubilee Day to you family and friends of Fr. Phil, to you concelebrating priests if a young man confides in you, encourage them. If you think someone would make a good priest one day, hold them in your prayers and gently invite them to consider the priesthood. Nothing would make Fr. Phil O’Shea happier than to see someone following in his footsteps. Fr. Phil, Ad Multos Annos!