Last Saturday was a momentous day in the life of the mid-Monaghan parish of Tullycorbet and the Diocese of Clogher as the longest-serving priest in the diocese, Mgr Gerard McSorley, celebrated not just his 90th birthday but also 65 years of dedicated service as a priest.
The huge attendance that packed St Patrick’s Church, Ballybay for the special Mass of Thanksgiving was led by the Bishop of Clogher, Bishop Larry Duffy, and included priests from across the whole diocese, parishioners from Ballybay, Tullycorbet and Ballintra districts and surrounding areas, together with representatives from the various schools in the parish and from the Shrine of Lough Derg, representatives of other Christian denominations, as well as family and many personal friends of Mgr McSorley.
Members of the various ministry teams within the parish participated in the liturgy, especially the ministry of music which was drawn from the three church choirs of Tullycorbet parish and the McAdam family with the contribution of traditional Irish music. The music and Mass settings were drawn from the works of contemporary Irish composers such as Liam Lawton, Ephrem Feeley and Ian Callanan. All of this added much to aid full participation in the Mass.
Monsignor McSorley was the chief celebrant of the Mass and he presided over the assembly from a new and specially commissioned Presider’s Chair which was presented to St Patrick’s Church as a tribute to his years of ministry in Tullycorbet parish since he first came as Parish Priest in 1990. The special booklet produced for the occasion noted that the chair ‘placed in the sanctuary of St Patrick’s Church, recalls and celebrates the countless times Mgr McSorley presided at liturgies in all three churches of the parish, leading the people assembled in worship of the Father.’
Word of God
The readings of the Mass (Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Pslam 118 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) were proclaimed by Ministers of the Word and a psalmist while the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13-16, 28-35) proclaimed again the encounter of the disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, an encounter that allows the Scriptures to be opened up to them and allows them to recognise Jesus at the breaking of bread. This is what Mgr McSorley has done since 1954 for the people of the various parishes and schools he has ministered in and for the thousands of pilgrims at Lough Derg: he has allowed people to encounter Jesus through the Word of God, to be nourished by it and by the Eucharist and the other sacraments, so that the Word becomes ‘a lamp for my steps and a light for my path’ (Ps 118).
The homily was preached by the current Parish Priest of Tullycorbet, Fr Owen J McEneaney PP (see text of the homily below).
Presentation and Tributes
At the conclusion of the Mass, a symbolic presentation of various flags was made to Mgr McSorley on behalf of the people of the parish by Laura Finlay. The flags included those of Ballybay Pearse Brothers GAA, Drumhowan GAA, Scoil Éanna, Ballybay Community College, Monaghan GAA and his native Tyrone GAA.
Bishop Larry Duffy paid glowing tribute to Mgr McSorley for his priesthood, faithfully served, for his service to the diocese – where is great judgement and wisdom was greatly valued – and for the manner in which he nourished so many priests, religious and lay people with the light and love of God. His trust in God and in God’s plan was a great example to us all, he said. He noted his sporting prowess as a GAA player and as a golfer and he praised the way in which he still contributes to the life of the Church in so many ways.
In response, Monsignor McSorley said that he was overjoyed by the response of so many people. He noted that the period of his priesthood has been one of enormous change in the Church and in wider society. However, he said that he always trusted in God’s providence and that God always has a plan for us all. He thanked the people of the Parish of Tullycorbet for their kindness and support over the years; he recalled many different occasions – of joy and of pain – and he thanked all those who continue to make the parish a living community that is filled with love and mercy. He had a particular tribute to all the priests whom he served with and also for the priests and wider team at lough Derg. Thanking Bishop Duffy for his presence, he noted that he had known six bishops of Clogher in his lifetime, beginning with Bishop Patrick McKenna, who was bishop until 1942. Finally, Monsignor McSorley asked everyone to continue to pray for him and assured all of his prayers too.
Following the Mass everyone was invited to partake of refreshments in the Cuan Mhuire Centre.
The following is the homily preached by Fr Owen J McEneaney PP
‘Just exactly two months ago – the first Saturday in April – we gathered here in St. Patrick’s – to give thanks and praise to God. On that occasion – for the dedicated service that the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (the Ballybay Nuns) have given to our parish and wider community over many decades. The celebration with the Sisters and today’s celebration with Mgr. have much in common. Thanking and praising God for generous service in the Lord’s vineyard.
‘And there are other common threads as well……
‘When the first of the Sisters started arriving here in Ballybay in the summer 1932 – Gerard McSorley was already well established on this planet – he was by then a lively ‘three year old’ way up in County Tyrone.
‘The Evangelarium that Bishop Larry dedicated in the name of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart – is now a permanent reminder here in our parish Church of the how the Sisters “took the word of God to themselves and yielded a harvest through their perseverance.” Inscribed on it is the line from psalm 118 – Your word (O Lord) a lamp for my steps and a light for my path – our sung response a little while ago when we prayed the psalm. In the presence of our beautifully decorated Easter Candle – Your word O Lord a lamp for our steps and a light for our path!
‘”Did not our hearts burn within as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”- asks the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In their new experience of Jesus as Lord, the disciples’ past is changed. They take the light of Easter Sunday back into the darkness of Good Friday, and everything looks different now. Only the risen Jesus makes sense of everything that went before. In his word and in the breaking of the bread the past is brought up to date. The past is now interpreted in the light of the great truth that Jesus is risen and is Lord.
‘When we gather in our parishes each weekend to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, we too listen to the word of God and break bread together. Jesus comes among us, not as the stranger; rather, he comes to us in word and sacrament to give us new hope to face the future with faith in him. Our own stories may not sound very different (at times) from those of the two forlorn disciples on the road to Emmaus. But we are invited to tell our stories to the ‘Lord, to listen to him as he speaks his word, and to recognise him in the breaking of the bread. Only then can we look with understanding at the past, and with hope to the future. ‘Did not our hearts burn within as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
‘This line from the gospel has many beautiful echoes for us as we gather here today. paraphrasing ever so slightly – ‘Did not our hearts burn within as ‘Mgr’ talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
‘I’ve lost count of the number of times people have remarked in recent weeks ‘how Mgr’s words of advice and wise counsel has meant so much to them at different times along the way.’ Matched by his understanding and compassion for life’s struggles as he broke and shared the bread of the word with you, his parishioners, Sunday after Sunday. There were many times to be grateful to you Mgr, be it over a cup of tea around a kitchen table or here at the Lord’s table for the Sunday Mass, grateful for the encouraging, caring words that came from your lips – again ‘a lamp for our steps and a light for our path.’
‘Another piece, again recalled with a deep sense of gratitude, your great care for parishioners and their families in times of sickness and bereavement. This prompted the inclusion towards the end of the booklet of a couple of paragraphs from the Pope’s Homily at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s where he speaks very beautifully about the “anointing.” Pope Francis is saying to us priests: “we anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart.” These words find a real place in our celebration today – as we thank God for the way you, Mgr. have shared yourself, your heart, your priesthood with us over all these years.
‘As Bishop Larry remarks in his greeting at the front of the booklet today – Lough Derg deserves a special mention. I’m delighted that we have some people with us today who worked side by side with you Mgr. during your ‘ten’ years as Prior at Lough Derg. The big building programme of the 1980s – saw a new hospice – work on the sanctuary of the Basilica – preserving what is unique to Lough Derg while at the same time bringing to bear on it the ‘new developments in liturgy at the time’ – so that ‘tired but renewed pilgrims’ could likewise go on their way with those immortal words of the two disciples echoing deep within – ‘did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us.’
‘Mgr. – you very distinctive ‘Mass voice!’ I’ve often thought that if a 30 second recording of your ‘Mass voice’ was played on Radio some morning – that voice of yours would be instantly recognised at the voice of Mgr. McSorley from the 6.30am morning Mass on Lough Derg.
‘Fr La Flynn, is disappointed that he is not able to be with us today (the three-day pilgrimage season 2019 opened yesterday). But he has asked Maureen Boyle and Sharon Hearty to represent Lough Derg today- you are very welcome Maureen & Sharon and thanks for being here. ‘
‘No doubt in the weeks ahead when Fr La is asked ‘how is Mgr McSorley keeping (or is he still alive)?’ – Fr La will delight in telling the pilgrims about what it is that we have celebrated with you today 65 years of priesthood & you 90th birthday.
‘Your presence Mgr. at priest gatherings always a joy and a blessing – where we have often had you regale us with stories from the past – among those stories your time as secretary to Bishop Eugene O’Callaghan – and those of us of a different vintage reminding you that we never knew Bishop O’Callaghan!
‘Of course we cannot forget to mention his successor, Bishop Patrick Mulligan (and the close family link between the Mulligans and the McSorleys) – your sister Teresa (who is with is today, along with your brothers Donal & Michael) – your sister Teresa being married to Bishop Mulligan’s brother Tim – God rest all those who have journeyed ahead of us.
‘Bishop Joseph Duffy & Bishop Liam MacDaid, both send their congratulations and prayerful good wishes to you for a joyous celebration. And of course we are all so pleased to have our new man – Bishop Larry with us today.
‘Your dear friend of many years – the late Fr Tom Mohan – whose name often comes up in conversation – another of nature’s gentlemen – and as you tell it yourself Mgr. – Fr Tom loved nothing more than getting a good debate going on some theological matter – and his great line was (particularly when he’d have a wee whiskey in him) – “your argument is making no sense because your premise is all wrong.”
‘Different ‘families’ are present here today – the parish family – the diocesan family – and your own family, your own flesh and blood – the extended McSorley clan. If our people here in Ballintra, Ballybay & Tullycorbet have appreciated your wise counsel – so too has your family – as one of your nieces has captured in a comment she made – “every family should have a Fr Gerard in their midst!” This expresses the depth of appreciation for what you have meant to your family over all these years.
‘We live in strange times when it comes to Church and faith-life – much has changed – and we grieve the loss of so much that has disappeared before our very eyes. But you Mgr. – your life as a priest – your contentment as a priest – your freedom in allowing people be close to you – your faithfulness to the Gospel in and out of season – your prayerfulness – your devotion – your openness to emerging realities and your ability to step back and see it as part of the greater mystery – allows us today to celebrate everything that is good and beautiful and wholesome about priesthood. The priesthood you have inhabited – where you have given unwavering witness for the past 65 years – has surely been The Joy of the Gospel in action. The verse from the World Meeting of Families hymn that our choir will sing:
This is what God asks of us: to act with justice,
to love with tenderness, to walk humbly with God,
to give our lives in service to others.
The joy of the Gospel is the joyful love of Christ!
‘We have often talked about it among ourselves as priests – your natural, God given gifts of personality and wisdom – no doubt inherited from your parents Dan and Winifred – those natural gifts of personality and the call of the diocesan priesthood – in your case Mgr. fitting like ‘hand & glove.’ You had so many of the attributes that Pope Francis reminds us about again and again – particularly the ‘shepherding imagery’ of the pastoral priest who knows his people by name – and who in turn are comforted by the familiar sound of his voice.
‘The new presider’s chair here in the Sanctuary – the one that Mgr. is sitting on – – is the parish’s way of acknowledging and remembering the many, many times that you Mgr. assumed your role as spiritual leader and shepherd to us all – on happy occasions and on difficult days – leading the of the parish gathered in worship of our God in the three Churches of the parish – presiding at the Sunday Eucharist, the source and summit of all that we hold dear as a believing community. Hence the placing of the new presider’s chair here in the sanctuary – coinciding with this gathering in your honour today.
‘The parish of Tullycorbet (and many others besides) is deeply indebted to you Mgr. and simply wants to say a very sincere thanks to you today.
‘The one thing that you were keen on in relation to today was that we would truly return thanks to God ……. thank and praise God for the many graces and blessings that you have known on your life’s journey and that all of us have known.
‘As you continue now to lead us in the prayer of this Mass – taking us with you into intimate communion with the Lord – and knowing your devotion to Mary – we simply place Mary’s words of praise on our lips – My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. ‘
Monsignor Gerard McSorley is a native of Eskra, Co Tyrone, where he was born on 29 May 1929, He was educated at Newtownsaville National School, Omagh CBS and St Macartan’s College, Monaghan, before embarking on his studies at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. He was ordained in Rome by the future Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Archbishop Luigi Traglia, on 13 May 1954.
Following ordination, he continued to work in Rome for a further year before being appointed to Tempo in 1955 and then Errigal Truagh in 1956. In August 1957 he was appointed to the staff of St Macartan’s College where he served until 1971 when he was transferred to the parish of Monaghan and Rackwallace.
In 1980 he was appointed as Prior of Lough Derg and Administrator of the Parish of Pettigo. He was conferred with the title Monsignor by Pope John Paul II shortly after this appointment. For the following ten years he oversaw a renewal of the Lough Derg pilgrimage itself and a major re-development of the pilgrimage shrine, including the building of new accommodation and dining areas, together with the refurbishment and renewal of St Patrick’s Basilica. In 1990 he was appointed Parish Priest of Tullycorbet, a post he held until September 2004. He has continued to serve in the parish as Pastor-Emeritus.
A former player with Tyrone Minor teams in the 1940s, Mgr McSorley still retains a keen interest in GAA and in other sports, especially soccer and golf. He is former Captain of Rossmore Golf Club.