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Homily at Platinum Jubilee Mass of Fr Jack O’Leary

Platinum Jubilee: Fr. Jack O’Leary                                          06.06.19

Gowran Nursing Home @ 3pm

Mairéad & Staff


There are very few occasions like this afternoon’s! Moments in life when we celebrate and applaud lifelong commitment. A Platinum Jubilee, which is of itself understandably rare, celebrates 70 years and how great it is to join with you Fr. Jack or as your family would know you Fr. Seán.

Your anniversary was by date yesterday, so today you are in your 71st year! Thank you to Mairéad & the staff here for the warm welcome always to Gowran. I am delighted to welcome your family who join with you as well as your friends here in Gowran.

For many of the concelebrants, including Bishop Jim we have crossed a diocesan border and how privileged we are to be with you Jack this day. Thank you for inviting us. Thank you for allowing us to celebrate the priesthood. Thank you for welcoming us to your new home here in Gowran Nursing Home.

As we prepare with you to celebrate these sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins …


I mentioned how your Jubilee by date was yesterday – June 5th. A long standing diary commitment for me, moved our celebration by one day. I was speaking to Focolare priests in Prosperous on the topic: ‘Priorities for our Church a year on from the World Meeting of Families’. During the talk I referred to your Jubilee and asked if any of them were celebrating significant Jubilees this year. Three hands shot into the air, one man was marking 25 years, another 35 years and a third 10 years. Between them they totalled 70; between them they total your commitment Jack and we today are here to say thanks and celebrate with you.

You were ordained on Pentecost Sunday or Whit Sunday as it was known then, June 5th 1949. Three ordained that day from Maynooth, Daniel Deady, Kieran O’Byrne & yourself, all to serve in Kildare & Leighlin. Your Ordination Ceremony with Bishop Tom Keogh was in St. Patrick’s College, Carlow where twenty other Carlow College students, all for the missions in England, Scotland & Australia were also ordained. June 5th 1949 also saw ordinations here in Ossory from St. Kieran’s College and over the way in Ferns from St. Peter’s College.

In the Ireland of 1949 there were 209 men ordained. Kildare & Leighlin then had 47 Parish Priests, 96 Administrators, Curates and others, 115 churches, 49 Parishes and the Bishop lived in the splendid Braganza overlooking the River Barrow. As I researched these statistics last night in The Irish Catholic Directory and Almanac editions for 1949 & 1950, I noted that amongst the 22 Columban missionaries ordained for the Chinese Mission in Dalgan Park, Navan was an uncle of mine Michael Balfe. Michael never even saw his Silver Jubilee, dying of a heart condition in 1973. Your Maynooth classmates Daniel Deady died in 1986 in a car accident near Nairobi, Kenya and Kieran O’Byrne in 1995. You have outlived all of them and I hear the words Bishop Paddy Lennon began in his homily on the death of Bishop Tom Keogh ringing in my ears: “No Panegyric” referring to a letter Bishop Keogh left to be opened after his death. Bishop Lennon continued “he placed a ban on formal praise, but there is no ban on memory and there is no disloyalty in thanking God for the memories[1].

Fr. Jack you didn’t travel on the missions to China like my uncle and his Columban classmates. You didn’t travel to Kenya like your classmate Dan Deady did the early 1980’s but you served in Clane from 1949-1955, the Cathedral from 1955-1978, the last four years its Administrator and Paulstown/Goresbridge from 1978-1996 as Parish Priest and returning to Curacy status for the next six years, formally retiring in 2002.

It’s not for me to go into the minutiae detail of every appointment, safe to say photographs tell a thousand words. The photograph I saw last night in The Nationalist & Leinster Times of February 1968 of you celebrating the first High Mass, facing the congregation, on an Austrian oak altar[2]. You were a priest who had to bridge the gap between the older more stoic Tridentine Rite and the newer post Vatican II form of ritual. Not an easy time to be a presider, to be a priest, but you bridged it very well. Other photographs will see the building of the Scouts Den in Carlow, the opening of Askea Church, Carlow Musical Society performances in Bishop Foley School and many other moments where your mission and ministry overlapped.

Retired now 17 years and living here in Gowran Nursing Home for the past seven of those years, you have carved a new ministry for yourself. And it’s not surprising the scripture passages you have chosen for today’s celebration. Both St. Paul and St. Matthew focus on Eucharist and Eucharist, the Mass is central to your prayer life and ministry. A ministry which is priestly to its core. Your celebration of daily Mass here. And for a number of those years your co-celebrants included the late Bishop Larry Forristal and Archbishop Thomas White. I vividly recall my first visit with you in the autumn of 2013, a few months after my Ordination in Carlow. Your opening words were “My Lord, where do you get trousers to fit you?!” Your pastoral care to residents and staff here at Gowran, your presence here, I know is deeply valued and keenly appreciated.  So often, now in your 96th year, your ministry is simply holding the hand of those on their journey from time with family and friends into eternity with God.

So, with Our Blessed Mother, always close to your heart Fr. Jack, we conclude:

Take my hand O Blessed Mother,

Hold it gently lest I fall;

I am nervous when I’m walking,

So to thee I humbly call.

Guide me over every crossing

Watch me while I am on the stairs.

Help me with my undertakings

Lessen many of my cares.

Then when darkness falls upon us

And I fear to be alone;

Take my hand O Blessed Mother,

Once again and lead me home.


[1] Lennon, Patrick: ‘We Still Have our Memories’, Carlovian Magazine 1970, pg. 5

[2] The Nationalist & Leinster Times, February 2, 1968, pg. 15.