In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy pays tribute to the life of Fr. Lar Fleming who passed away recently.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 19 July 2011.

Fr. Lar Fleming, former Parish Priest of Ballyadams died on the 2nd of July 2011.  Fr. Lar was born on the 20th of April, 1927. He was reared and educated in Ballynoe, Ardattin, Co. Carlow. His secondary education was in the Patrician Brothers Tullow and Knockbeg College. He studied for the priesthood, in St. Patricks College Maynooth. His ordination took place on the 22nd of June 1952. Next year would have been the Diamond Jubilee (60th) Anniversary of his Ordination.

His pastoral ministry included service in the parishes of Clonmore, Clonaslee and in his beloved Ballyadams where he served the people of God,  with generosity and faith filled integrity. Lar, also spent 14 happy years, serving in the Curragh, as an Army Chaplain, including a U.N. peace keeping mission to Cyprus. For the past 10 yrs, despite poor health, Lar, was an active presence here in Carlow. He was a great friend to the staff and residents of our local nursing homes.

I valued Lar as a wise and compassionate man. His image and experience of the institutional church was very different than mine. After the layers of formality and tradition were peeled away, I always sensed Lars love and enthusiasm for his living God. Fr Lar’s almost 60years as a priest, has seen a dramatic change in our culture and church. A comment that he often made to me, ‘that these present days are more hopeful times to minister as opposed to years gone by’. The late Fr PJ Brophy (columnist on this paper for so many years) recorded memories of his formation to priesthood in Maynooth, in his personal memoir, “Circle of Friends”. “We were like fish in a bowl under observation at all times, we were isolated from the ‘world outside’. A phrase which re occurred by deans and Spiritual Directors. We were six hundred strong, always dressed in our black anonymous Soutanes, in bleak surrounding for the long winter months. We were training to be men of God, servants of the church, repressing our ebullient personalities in the interest of developing a priestly ideal of a man for God’s people. The seminary system as then experienced lacked warmth, sensitivity and compassion.”

The harsh formation described by Fr. PJ, did in no way take away Lar’s spirit of love and compassion for the people he served so faithfully throughout his long life. However, my memory of his black hat and attire certainly lent itself to this disciplined regime. His genuine, caring and sincere manner, endeared him to young and old alike. He was a great friend to the sick and listening ear for those who wanted to share burden with a discreet and confidential ear. His love of sport and horse racing was legendary. He often said “one can celebrate a win but suffer a loss silently”.

I am proud, that 10 years ago Fr Lar vested me in my priestly chausible, to celebrate my first Mass. A humble, sensitive and faithful disciple of the Risen Lord. I pray that his love of the Lord especially in his patient endurance of  poor health for so many years will be an inspiration for all who carry heavy crosses. His advice to me on Ordination Day will always be relevant. “Always error on the side of generosity and compassion”.

Lar has ‘ fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.’