Date of Birth: 18 March 1939
Date of Ordination: 9 March 1963
CC Portarlington: 1963-1973
CC Borris: 1973-1984
CC Killeigh: 1984-1989
PP Rathangan: 1989-2014
Adm. Rathangan: 2014-2019
PE CC Rathangan: 2019
May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Reposing in the Church of the Assumption and St Patrick, Rathangan from 6.30pm to 9pm with Rosary at 7pm
Reposing from 10am to 9pm with Prayer Service at 7pm
Morning Mass at 10am
Funeral Mass on Tuesday at 2pm followed by burial in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Rathangan.
Homily of Bishop Denis at Funeral Mass
We gather this Tuesday afternoon, June 6th, to pay a faith-filled farewell to Fr. Gerard O’Byrne. The family call him Gerard, his colleagues and friends Ger and his beloved parishioners here in Rathangan and in earlier appointments in Portarlington, Borris and Killeigh, knew him simply as Fr. O‘Byrne.
It’s been a long bedside vigil in Craddock House Nursing Home for around ten days, when plans were put on hold as we waited on God to call Fr. Ger home. It was a great lesson for us all on the gift of life, the value of life from the cradle to the grave, from the womb to the tomb.
Our thoughts and prayers this afternoon are very much with Fr. Ger’s brothers John and Fr. Willie, his sisters-in-law, his brother-in-law, his nephew Fr. Tom and his other nephews and nieces, parishioners, friends, brother priests and religious.
Fr. Ger makes history today as he becomes the first Parish Priest of Rathangan to be buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Previously Rathangan was attached to Kildare and the pastors were laid to rest there. Of course Ger was only the third Parish Priest of Rathangan. For him it makes huge sense to be buried alongside the people he faithfully served for over 30 years.
I’m conscious there are relatives and friends joining us through Facebook live this afternoon. I’m delighted Bishop Paul joins us today as indeed joining us on webcam is Fr. Ger’s classmate and friend from their days in Rome together Bishop Michael Smith. Wherever you are joining us from, you are most welcome as indeed are all of you who gather here this beautiful afternoon as we prepare to offer these sacred mysteries in memory of a beloved pastor, brother, uncle, granduncle and colleague, and so we call to mind our sins …
The shorter version of Luke’s account of the Supper at Emmaus has that beautiful line: “‘It is nearly evening’, they said ‘and the day is almost over’ ” It was last Saturday evening at around twenty-five minutes past five that Fr. Ger gently slipped into the arms of God. It was a journey where for days he had been accompanied by family and friends. A journey where the staff at Craddock House once again couldn’t do enough to make that journey comfortable, they were there at every turn. And for you John and Fr. Willie, this was the loss of another sibling and you have lost too many in recent times. Around Ger’s bedside stories were told, memories were relived, blessings were recounted and vigil was kept, day and night.
Another line from St. Luke: “Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Everyone has their story of Fr. Ger, how he made their heart burn, his gentle pastoral style that accompanied many in their moments of joy and sorrow. I read some of the tributes on rip.ie and on Facebook Live of the moments that Fr. Ger helped a family cope with grief. He was there. I even had an email from Fiji telling me how Ger was so supportive during a particular family bereavement back in 1968. So many stories, all told so well.
When Ger was ordained in St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome on 9th March 1963 the only word he was asked, like every priest is asked to say on Ordination Day, is the word “Present” and he has been a constant faithful presence in the life of parishioners, family and friends ever since. A presence in Portarlington from the time of his ordination for ten years. A presence in Borris from 1973-1984 and in Killeigh from 1984-1989, before becoming Parish Priest here in 1989. On Fr. Bill’s appointment he took on a gentler role as curate until his health necessitated a move to more fulltime nursing care.
Some months ago I gave him a copy of his classmate, Bishop Michael Smith’s book, on ‘Vatican Council Memories’. As we sat in Craddock House his face lit up as I regaled stories from the book of the Rome of 1957 – 1963. What a time to be a clerical student in Rome as Pope John XXIII announced his intention of convening an Ecumenical Council. No one then realised the import of that action, some might add, some still don’t. Joseph O’Connor’s most recent book ‘My Father’s House’ is a curious read if we want to get some appreciation of the journey the young Gerard O’Byrne left from Ballykealy and Knockbeg to travel to study for the priesthood as a Kildare & Leighlin seminarian.
Ger’s other Kildare & Leighlin classmates who travelled with him that October 1957 were Sean Conlon, Dick Hogan, PB McDonald and the late Pat Ramsbottom. The subject of Joseph O’Connor’s book is of course the scarlet pimpernel Mgr. Hugh O’Flaherty from Kerry who saved many Jews from the Nazi’s and helped allied personnel leave Italy. O’Flaherty would still have been a familiar figure around the Vatican when Ger and his eleven classmates reached Rome that October 1957. Meeting them on the steps of St. Peter’s their first Sunday in Rome O’Flaherty brought the twelve Irish seminarians for a tour of St. Peter’s using a guidebook in English he had written for the Holy Year in 1950.
2023 is a year especially dedicated to the promotion of the Diocesan Priesthood. Over the past seventy years there have been thirteen sets of brothers at different times ministering in the diocese. The death of Fr. Ger sadly brings to an end the last set of brothers in active ministry. Mind you, Fr. Willie’s curate Matt Kelly and his brother Joe are still very active, while serving in different dioceses. Brothers, nephews and cousins in ministry shows the importance still today of the family promoting vocations. The home in Ballykealy, Ballon was without a doubt a home where vocations flourished.
Fr. Ger gave his life to his vocation. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium reminds us “a parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration” . There is so much to the living testimony of this man’s ministry here and in earlier appointments. The Day Care Centre, the sheltered housing units, the Parish Welfare Association, his works in the schools – Primary and Post Primary. Fr. Ger’s willingness to pilot new programmes, new ways of engaging with people on matters of faith. Fr. Ger was very aware the missionary impulse is not restricted to priestly ministry, he ensured others lived fully their baptismal calling.
The first thing that impeded Ger’s life were his feet and this was so unfortunate for a man who loved his walks. Luke’s gospel has the two disciples on their feet journeying to Emmaus. They are slow to recognise it is Jesus who walked with them. Ger will have no difficulty recognising the Lord in eternity, and the Lord will have no difficulty recognising him.
I acknowledge particularly those who were very close to Fr. Ger, you all know who you are. Particular mention to Fr. Bill, Caitriona, Mary the secretary and Martina. In appointing Fr. Bill here in 2019, I knew Ger would have someone who would be a very good friend to him and he was all of that. In the words of St. John Henry Newman we pray “may the Lord support us all the day long, until the shades lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then in his mercy, may he give us a safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last. Amen”.