Very Rev Canon Gerry Ferguson PE,
13 December 2014
Fellow Bishops, Fellow Priests and Friends in Jesus Christ,
The road of bereavement and loss is strewn with many consolations. Among them, and high on the list, are memories and gratitude to the loved one. John Quinn’s short poem say:
A voice is sent
To calm our deepest fears
A hearty laugh
Will banish all our tears
Words will wing
Our dreaming ever higher
A mind will set
Imagination on fire.
Thirty-four years in all, serving the people of Ematris, spells a lot of memories and a lot of gratitude.
Born the 30th May 1926, the fourth of six children and son of the local schoolmaster, I’m quite sure everyone in the room sat up when Canon Gerry announced his arrival. After schooling in St Macartan’s and years of preparation in Maynooth, he was ordained in 1952 along with Canon Tom Marron of Trillick and was sent first to Coonian and later to Lisnaskea. He had little difficulty keeping massgoers awake on a Sunday morning. His words were spoken with conviction and enthusiasm was his middle name. His yearly mileage was way above average and he was known by name in every household.
In 1957 he packed his suitcase and crossed the border into County Monaghan where, apart from a sojourn in Ederney, he was to spend the rest of his life – in Castleblayney, Carrickmacross and finally Ematris. During all this time he never forgot his own family, and the younger members licked their lips when the saw the black Volkswagen FBI 561 arrive in the street, because that meant sweets, and at that time sweets had not been banished from the garden with Adam and Eve. But the days of sweets did not last and soon it was instruction on reading at Mass, knowing your prayers and getting used to the etiquette of serving Mass.
He played football in his day and, I’m told, with the same enthusiasm he brought to his preaching. He played the fiddle and had a keen interest in Irish Dancing and traditional music. Northern Sound will find it very difficult to find another voice with the same level of loyalty and commitment. As his working days were coming to an end he ventured into TV work and new horizons were opening up. When he helped out with school retreats he was the priest most in demand from the pupils. For young people, it’s hard to beat conviction, sincerity, enthusiasm and a lively mind.
He was a member of the Pioneer movement, and his only regret was that in Dublin one day he dropped and lost his 75 year-old pin. He never missed a social event in the parish and was a great mixer and conversationalist. He was never violent but I did pity an insurance representative one day when the Canon decided he was fleecing the poor people of Rockcorry, whom he said he represented, and let him know all this in no uncertain terms; and I understand his doctor was lucky to escape with his life when he refused to sign the form for his driving licence.
He was a great pray-er and very spiritual. He loved Lourdes and could not get there often enough. With the assistance of Fr Gallagher he made the pilgrimage five times in one year. On one occasion, in response to a call from Fr Kevin Cassidy, he answered a very late invitation to be chaplain to a pilgrimage and headed for the airport with a half-packed suitcase to meet his contact. He stood at the appointed spot for more than an hour, holding his suitcase like a Russian spy. After an hour there he put down his suitcase and began to look anxiously at his watch. Eventually a man sidled over to him and said, “You wouldn’t by any chance be Fr Ferguson?” “I am, praise the Lord”, said the Canon. “Fr Cassidy told me to look out for a tall, thin young man with long hair and a leather jacket”, said the contact.
His first loyalty was to the people of the parish of Ematris, whom he served with great generosity of spirit. He preached the Word of God to you, broke bread with you and brought you the sacraments, in and out of season. He gave great time and attention to your children and refurbished churches and other parish facilities. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he loved the people of this parish, and it would be equally true to say that you returned that love. In his days of decline he was deeply grateful to Noel Carney, Mark Sheridan, Veronica Mooney, Kathleen Daly, his carers, members of his own family, Fr Jerry White, his doctor and District Nurse, as well as the Medical and Nursing staff in Cavan, and so many others who looked after him so well.
The first reading of today’s Mass shows us that even before Christ came, people believed in a life after death. In the second reading, Paul tells the Thessalonians that the Lord himself will come down from heaven and we shall stay with the Lord forever. In the Gospel reading, John boldly proclaims “Whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” Canon Ferguson’s conviction was not built on sand but on the Word of God.
A Fermanagh woman, Joan Wilson, wrote in a letter to a friend:
“Easter Sunday is always my best day. I go to the graves of Gordon, Peter and Marie early and recall the words that the angel said to the women at the grave: ‘He is not here, He is risen.’ Great words – they give me healing and the glorious hope that one day we shall all be united again in the presence of the Lord. All shall be changed. All perfect.”
As we bring the body of our brother to its resting place in peace, thanking God for the witness of his life, we pray that many young people will respond with equal generosity to the Lord’s call and be inspired to give their lives to ministry in the same Church of Christ.
May he rest in peace.
+ Liam S. MacDaid
13 December 2014