Bishop MacDaid’s homily at Funeral Mass for the late Canon Gerard McGreevy

Funeral Mass for

Very Rev Canon Gerard McGreevy, P.E.

St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 11.30am

14 August 2015



My brother Bishop, brother priests, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Charles Plumb was a U.S. Navy Pilot in Vietnam. After seventy-five combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a Communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now he spends his time lecturing on the lessons he has learned from that experience. He didn’t know it but he was about to learn another lesson.

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said excitedly, “You’re Plumb. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” “How in the world did you know that?” asked the amazed Plumb. The man replied, “I packed your parachute.” Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. While he was speechless, the man pumped his hand and said, “Well, I guess it worked!” Plumb regained his composure and assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.” And they parted.

Plumb did not sleep so well that night. He wondered how many times he might have seen that man and not even said, “Good morning, how are you?” Plumb was a fighter pilot, he was just a sailor. Plumb then began to think of the many hours that sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

After reflecting on this meeting, Plumb now asks his audience when he lectures, “who packs your parachutes? All of us have people who pack our parachutes, who bless us in so many ways and who provide what we need to make it through each day. Who blessed you this week? Who made your lunch? Did your laundry, took your pulse, left out your tablets, listened to your woes, spoke a word of encouragement? Parents are very much in that category. So are teachers. What about priests? Have you ever thought of them in that role, now that they are more and more relegated to the ranks of the taken for granted and generally not very much acknowledged.

Today we gather to pay our final respects to a colleague and to lay his body to rest. Born in January 1929 in Belfast he had a long life, eighty six years. His father, Paddy died at a young age and was buried in Faughert. His mother Mary took both boys (Gerry and Raymond) to her native Togan in Threemilehouse, where she is buried with sisters and brothers. Canon Gerry will be buried beside her. She qualified as a nurse/midwife and later lived in Emyvale.

Gerry was a boarder in St. Macartan’s College and later studied in Maynooth. He took degrees in Science and Divinity and showed exceptional academic ability. After ordination, he continued his studies in Physics in UCD and later taught in University College Galway. He returned to the diocese for a short while and helped to set up the science department in the newly opened St. Michael’s College in Enniskillen. Then he returned to Maynooth as a professor of experimental Physics. He was to spend 25 years in Maynooth where he was later appointed Registrar of the university, secretary to the College Trustees and secretary to the Maynooth Union.

He came back to the diocese as Parish Priest in Bundoran in 1982 to pack parachutes for the likes of my mother, who asked me one day what was experimental physics about and never felt she got a satisfactory explanation. The Canon was marvelled at by people who wondered how so much information and knowledge could be packed into such a small parcel. He was respected greatly for the time he gave to the elderly, both socially and sacramentally.

In 1990, after eight years facing Atlantic winds, the Canon retreated eastwardly to Donaghmoyne as Parish Priest. Encouraged by success achieved by nieces in particular, the Canon began to wonder if he might have a future whacking and chasing and sometimes swearing at a small white ball. He jolted the local farmers into thinking about setting up their own golf course and then surprised them by knocking on their doors until he found one prepared to rent a piece of land suitable for golf. If his steps were short they were decidedly focused and in recognition of the miles he put up he was awarded the honorary title of President of Mannan Castle Golf Club to acknowledge his exceptional efforts and a deputation from there were here last evening to honour their parachute folder.

At the end of another twelve years the Canon retired from parish administration in 2002 and moved to quieter pastures in Magherarney where there was no golf course and little demand for experimental physics. But the Canon believed in making his pension work. With the help and protection of minders like Canon Phil Connolly a band of world travellers set out from mid Monaghan every year who rivalled the Vikings in reverse in search of new discoveries. The visited the Americas, Russia, Egypt, China, the Holy Land and Europe. Russian fur hats became fashionable in Doohamlet and in Smithboro the Christmas turkeys did not know what to make of this intrusion. These intrepid travellers made an unsuccessful attempt on their journey through China to visit the burial place of Fr. Cornelius Tierney but Chinese security did not understand a word of what they were saying and in any case considered them too suspicious in appearance and apparent intent to risk letting loose in their territory.

There was a racing man I knew who was called by his friends the ‘corncrake’. He was small in stature, had a low and husky voice and was generally heard before he was seen. The Conon’s call was a few semi-tones too high for comparison with the corncrake. If he was small in stature he was big in heart and mind. He folded many parachutes and he blessed many people educationally and pastorally. He had a special feel for the small man and the neglected or downtrodden people. This was reflected in his travels and in his lobbying in favour of those immigrants who found themselves languishing in accommodation centres. He gave special care to the old and the sick. He fought for rights for refugees and tried to help them find ways to preserve their culture and traditions.

No account of the Canon’s life would be complete without mention of Anna Fitzpatrick, his faithful and caring housekeeper of 34 years. I could not do justice in words to the care she gave him nor indeed to the care which he reciprocated. Anna you could not have done more than you did and you take with you to your retirement in Bundoran the good wishes, the respect and the gratitude of parishioners and of the McGreevy family. It was a wonderful house to go to, to enjoy Anna’s excellent cooking and baking while the Canon cooed like a wealthy arab host. And a marvellous host he was especially when he reached for the post-prandial liqueur and what seemed to be a jumbo cigar. There was nothing he enjoyed more than getting off with an unsuspecting and outrageous bluff on those who prided themselves as good readers of poker faces and tables. When he was caught he could laugh at himself from the toes up.

He was fortunate in having Raymond, Veronica and their children so close to him and so supportive in their care. He appreciated that and all his friends besides like Mgr Gerry McSorley. In a sense nothing became him more than his leaving us. He was never a complainer. He was never a person who sought notice or the limelight. He was never arrogant. If he encouraged high standards in others he demanded them first of all from himself. He was unashamedly traditional in his ways and in his worship. He was a straight talker and had a strong chin. If he did not always recognise that other chins were not as robust as his own he was still very forgiving. He was a conscientious worker, a faithful and loyal priest. He died as he lived surrounded by care from Anna and his family, slipping away unobtrusively with just Fr. John Flanagan and family members present. Gerry, thank you for your company and your generosity. We pray that the Lord will be as kind to you as you were to others. May you rest in peace.

+Liam S. MacDaid

Bishop of Clogher

14 August 2015


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