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Homily of Bishop Denis at Requiem Mass of Fr Jim Gahan PE

Requiem Mass: Fr. Jim Gahan RIP 04.11.23
Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Tullow
Mass @ 12noon


We gather this Saturday to offer our Requiem for Fr. Jim Gahan or as the family called him Fr. James or Uncle James. Jim never served here in Tullow but grew up here. Tullow was the Gahan home, out the Hacketstown Road, and it was his expressed wish to return here for his Funeral Mass when his time would come and to be buried later alongside his parents in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

Our prayers and thoughts are with you Rita, Jim’s sister, the last of the Gahan siblings, his sister-in-law Terry, nieces and nephews, grand and great-grand nieces and nephews, extended family and friends. Of special mention I include Stasia and her husband Neville and their family, who cared for Jim day and night over close to five years. The diocese, the family and Fr. Jim’s friends owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

I include in my welcome his longtime housekeeper Liz who joins by webcam from the United States; Catriona and family in Melbourne; Patricia in Hamiliton, New Zealand and Eugene serving in the Lebanon.

And our thoughts are with the priests of the diocese who lose another colleague and the parishioners in the many parishes where Jim served who lose a priest and a friend: Birmingham, Arles, Hacketstown, Allen, Boston, Nurney, Clonaslee and most recently Clonmore. It was so wonderful Fr. Jim got to spend his last evening in Ballyconnell and I know that was deeply appreciated by Fr. John and the parishioners of Clonmore.

Our scripture brings us back to All Saints Day, as it was on that morning, around 7.45am that Fr. Jim slipped into the arms of a forgiving and merciful God. The Book of the Apocalypse offers an image of Judgement Day, the letter of St. John assures us the believer is destined for a contact with God that is more intimate and immediate that we can ever imagine, while St. Matthew clearly outlines how we can gain access to the Kingdom of God.

Fr. Thomas, we are all with you in prayer this morning as you bury your uncle.

All of us are in need of God’s grace to transform our broken lives and so we pray …


November is the month we remember, we call to mind those gone before us leaving “footprints on the sands of time”, now adding Fr. Jim Gahan to that list. The Greek word ‘kairos’ translates for us as memory, a living memory. November brings this word alive. God enveloping our lives in a very special way, assuring us those gone, have not gone very far, because they are with God and He is very near.

Our scripture is rich when it comes to mourning. The psalmist reminds us: “the Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” . The Book of Deuteronomy recounts that the Israelites mourned Moses in the plain of Moab for thirty days. Matthew’s gospel reminds us “blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” . From the earliest times the Church has honoured the memory of the dead with great respect. It is part of our faith and tradition and I might add culture. The Irish tradition of the wake still holds strong and was richly honoured over the past two evenings in Danesfort and in Ballyconnell.

These are the days when we draw up our lists, we write names tags on memorial trees, we carry up candles at Parish Bereavement Masses, we leave in our ‘Lists of the Dead’ – we do many things to mark that liminal moment of time with family and friends and eternal life with a loving and merciful God. Bishop Eric Varden reminds us “when I remember I am dust from dust, I make peace with where I came from. I choose to be what I am in fact while voicing my desire to be more” . It’s a sobering thought, and I imagine it ran through Fr. Jim’s mind in recent times as he waited for the Lord to call him.

Facing him on the wall as he may have pondered those thoughts was his St. Patrick’s College, Carlow, Classpiece of 1968. A class of 32 responding to the motto “Go you also into my Vineyard”. And Jim went into several vineyards from Birmingham to Ballyconnell over his years of ministry. Savannah, Patterson, Sacramento featured strongly on that classpiece; men who have done huge work in vineyards elsewhere.

Jim’s first appointment was to Holy Trinity Church, Birmingham, then briefly to Arles before going to Hacketstown for fifteen years where he is well remembered for Autumn Fairs and his kindness to all. Then it was off to Allen where he continued his interest in plants, flowers and vegetables. Of course this time of the year Jim would have had 100’s of Poinsettias for sale.

In Boston he worked for a time with the large Irish diaspora finding their feet and nurturing their faith, before returning to the diocese to take up a curacy in Nurney. He was appointed PP of Clonaslee in 1998 and is well remembered there as is testament to the moving tributes on, before taking up the appointment in Clonmore in 2006. Jim will be remembered for many things, he was hard working, enterprising, he was generous. The distinguishing mark in any of the parishes Jim served in are the car-parks. Only recently I was in Kilquiggan, enough parking there for a fleet of tour buses! While Pope Francis often uses the image of the tent when he speaks of our ongoing synodal journey, Jim might have preferred if he used the image of a poly tunnel.

There is a story told of a Papal Audience in 1962 with the then Pope John XXIII. There were a number of priests lined up to meet the Pope, as each one approached they listed their appointments, one a college rector, one a formator, one a hospital chaplain until the last approached and almost inaudibly whispered “Holy Father, all I am is a parish priest”. Whereupon Pope John is reputed to have jumped to his feet, kissed his hands and embraced him saying “that’s the greatest priestly work of all”. All of us as priests and people are called to holiness. St. John suggests we are “called God’s children” . It is a holiness not born in sanctity but in actions, actions that have Christs love as their core. Jim lived this holiness throughout his priestly life.

There is a beautiful story, well told to me the other evening by Fr. Owen Lambert, of Jim visiting him during the severe drought in Ethiopia. He brought 40 tonne of potatoes and a few sally rods with him. He went about finding water using his gifts as a diviner and would indicate where a well was to be dug. Owen estimated 80 wells were discovered on that trip. Of course some of the locals thought he was some sort of ‘witchdoctor’. So Jim told them the story of Moses drawing water from the stone and then proceeded to show them how to do the diving. When he returned home he sent out another 40 tonne. Within a few years the people were self-sufficient. What talents he had, he generously shared them with others.

There is another story of a time when a colleague wanted to run a field day for some event and asked Jim if he might borrow his ‘Swinging Boats’, a typical fairground amusement, which Jim owned from his own autumn fairs. Jim gave it to the colleague, but on one condition, that Jim’s chipper van was the only one allowed into the field that day! Jim saw the work in the field day, the work in the poly tunnel, the work in Ethiopia as a fleshing out of his priestly work, a priestly holiness that had its roots very much in parish ministry.

His brother John predeceased him by 34 years. Indeed 84 priests have gone to eternal rest since John died in Stradbally on July 3rd, 1989. The past twelve months have been tough on our diocesan family as we paid a faith-filled farewell to six of our colleagues. Our faith doesn’t sweeten the bitterness of death but it reassures of what awaits all of us – our belief in the resurrection. I love that Irish phrase: “Ní imithe uainn atá, ach imithe romhainn” (they are not gone from us, but gone before us). May Fr. Jim’s soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.