Canon Patrick McCaughey (1918-2009)
Homily at funeral 31 March 2009
Bishop Joseph Duffy
Gospel: John 12:20-30
We mourn today the late Canon McCaughey, pastor emeritus and former
parish priest of this parish of Aghavea/Aghintain. It was about a month ago,
about the beginning of Lent, that the painful illness which claimed his life
began to take over.
I’m told the Canon kept his suffering to himself as much as possible; there was no self-pity, no complaining. He achieved his dearest wish, which was to die in his own house, with the minimum of commotion, as he would have said himself. He has taught us all how to die. You might say he took his approaching death in his stride, as he took life itself. He had a blunt unconditional faith that refused to be put down, a quality that more than any other defined him as a person, whether in the parish here , or among his wide family circle to which he was so attached, in a patriarchal kind of way, or in the company of his fellow-priests.
The Canon had much in common with that Gospel passage we have had read for us today, and which, you will have noticed, was also the Gospel of last Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent. It’s a passage that turns up in the Divine Office today, in the Second Reading, and that anticipates next week, Holy Week.
“The grain of wheat must be allowed to fall on the ground and die”. Letting go does not come naturally to any of us. It’s so human to hold on to what we know and love most, to where we have put down our roots. And when it comes to life and death, we instinctively hold on to life as long as possible. We want to survive; that’s the way we are made. The deceased fought this battle much longer than most; he would have been 91 next birthday. Giving up was not his way. Up to a month ago he was celebrating Mass here when he could scarcely walk or stand. I know that this was not easy for parishioners, that you, too, were sharing his ordeal. But he would not have it any other way. Reminiscent of the late Pope John Paul at the end of his days when he too insisted on giving public witness to physical disability and frailty. Not a pleasant sight and requiring patience but rewarding for all that. We know that Jesus himself was disturbed by the physical and mental debility he saw all around him. He recoiled even more from what was in store for himself: “Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? ”
But then Jesus goes on to say – and this is the point – : “It was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name”. Similarly, our Canon knew what he was doing and why. He fought the good fight in your presence to the very end and when that public stage was over he bowed humbly to the reality that we all dread, and that Jesus himself dreaded, even with his unique and unfailing assurance of the Father’s glory. The Canon accepted his lot with exceptional courage. He was a man of God, through and through: at no time was this more obvious than over the past few weeks. Those who looked after him, Philomena, Dr Porteous, his nephews, Eugene and Francie, Father Dolan, have told me of this. On Sunday Eugene showed me the little oratory at his house. You could see that this was a place that was used, where the Lord was present, where there was listening and dialogue.
The story of his vocation to priesthood began a long time ago, in the lean hills overlooking the Clogher Valley. His father died when he was a boy; his mother, as so many women did in those days, brought up the large family on her own, on the proceeds of a modest farm, and lived to a ripe old age herself. She died only in 1973, the year after Father came to Brookeborough. The people of the parish may not be aware that Canon McCaughey was an accomplished Gaelic scholar. He learned to speak Irish really well from his first teacher, Seosamh Mac Cába of Newbliss, and later from Mgr Ward, an Sagart Mac A Bhaird, in St Macartan’s . Until the end he loved to speak Irish to anyone willing to respond. He always addressed the Bishop in the plural, the traditional plural of respect reserved for clergy, Sé bhur mbeatha, a Thiarna. I was never totally sure whether or not he was having a little fun at my expense.
After ordination in 1944 in Maynooth he taught for a number of years in the Seminary in Monaghan, but the truth is that the classroom, and certainly the system as it was then, didn’t suit him. Some would say he was too decent and trusting. Like many another priest teacher of those days and in spite of his natural intelligence and wide reading, his talents lay elsewhere. I’m afraid that as boys we gave him a hard time but he survived it all with humour and humility. He served long stretches in Broomfield, Magheracloone and finally here in Brookeborough where he came in 1972, all of 37 years ago. He was greatly respected and looked up to in all these places; he was careful and meticulous in his ministry; he didn’t believe in getting too close to people even though he knew all about them; he was known for his wise counsel. He was always there when needed and was quite outspoken about anything he considered to be out of order, false posturing or showmanship.
As his bishop for nearly 30 years I always found him generous and understanding; a man with an abiding interest in diocesan affairs. He was quite unmoved of course by Vatican Two: Liturgical Renewal or the Priesthood of the Laity or Ecumenism were simply not on his agenda. He knew my views and we left it at that. He loved news but only from sources he considered trustworthy. His comments at diocesan conferences were often memorable, mainly for their abrupt wit and originality. Unfortunately, his deafness in recent years cramped his style and was a severe affliction.
Because he served up to the end he will be missed by the people of this parish where he was much loved. In today’s Gospel Jesus said: “If a man serves me he must follow me. Wherever I am, my servant will be there too.” We are laying to rest tody a true servant of the Lord. On behalf of all of us, family, parish and clergy, and especially Father Denis Dolan, PP, I wish to thank all those who looked after Canon McCaughey so faithfully in his recent illness. It would be impossible to thank sufficiently Philomena Robinson and her family, his two doctors and members of the District Nursing Service who made it possible for him to remain in his own house, a favour he so dearly wanted and so richly deserved. Let me conclude with a simple verse from a 17th-century poet, Dáiví O Bruadair, which I think the Canon would have appreciated. It’s the final verse of a lament for a deceased school companion.
Nó go gcastar sinn le chéile / Lá an Luain ar shlua an tSléibhe
Mo bheannacht agus beannacht Dé leat / A bheith mar ataoi-se críoch gach éinne.
Until we meet on Judgement day, may my blessing and the blessing of God be with you.
To be as you are is the last end of everyone.