DEPARTURE OF THE PRESENTATION BROTHERS FROM DUNGANNON
HOMILY GIVEN BY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
SATURDAY 18 JUNE 2005
I was in my native Cavan earlier today and now, here I am in Tyrone on the eve of an Ulster semi-final involving those two same counties so you would have to say that I am being very ecumenical.
We are all here in Dungannon this evening to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to God who is the giver of all gifts – the gift I have in mind is the presence of the Presentation Brothers in Dungannon over the past 100 years.
They arrived here in 1902. They came because the Parish Priest invited them. They came to take charge of the Boys’ National School which, at that time, was in Ann Street. However, they soon moved to an older but bigger Chapel School here in the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church. Then, four years after they came, a new two-storey building was opened across the road, which was extended in 1958.
Why did this group of men come to Dungannon? They are a teaching Order. They came to teach but, as we all know, they did a lot more than that.
They looked after sick people;
They comforted those who were mourning the death of a loved one;
They trained choirs;
They managed football and hurling teams;
They prayed with people and for people.
They were able to do all of those things because of a number of reasons. They were not married and so they were freer and had more free time. They had taken a vow of poverty and so they were not in the business of making big money and getting rich in the eyes of the world. They had also taken a vow of obedience. So, when they were asked by their Superior to answer the invitation of Dean Burn, they responded generously and graciously.
And so, this evening we thank God for all of that. And while there may be an inclination to be sad at the thought of Brother Majella leaving Dungannon and of our saying farewell, of course that is right and proper, but there is also a note of great hope. We are closing one chapter in the history book of God’s dealings with His people here in Dungannon, and a new chapter is opening.
I am quite sure that the good seeds planted here in the hearts of so many children will continue to grow and bear fruit. The Lord is, as always, at the side of His people. God is, as always, the strength of His people. People share in God’s life. So, as we thank God for all Brothers, but especially for Dom Brother Andrew team, from the Superior down to Brother Majella Burke, and the lately deceased Brother Canning, we give thanks. We give thanks first of all for what they are in themselves before we give thanks for what they have done and what they are doing.
Presentation Brothers are, like all religious, people who have dedicated themselves and their lives to God. Like Jesus, they do not marry so that they may be free to serve and love people as Jesus did. Free to go and visit the sick and bring some healing. To go and visit the bereaved and offer sympathy and consolation like Jesus did. All religious are people who have chosen this road through life so that they may, like Christ, have time and energy to pray for people and with people and teach them to pray.
I think, for example, of Brother Majella and his involvement in so many aspects of life in Dungannon. Giving of himself and his time and his talent in order to make Dungannon a better place in which to live – the kind of town where people can come to know that we have in Christ a mighty hero at our side at all times. For he is One who has won the victory over sin and death.
I would hope that, that Reading this evening would help us all to understand what the Church is. The Church is the Body of Christ, which has the task of continuing the presence of Christ. We all have a part to play in that work. This evening we are celebrating and honouring the memory of the part played over the last 100 years of the Presentation Brothers. The Church has to go on saying and doing what Jesus Christ said and did, preaching his message, in season and out of season. Just as Jesus met opposition, so all true followers of Christ can reasonably be expected to be criticised and opposed and taunted and put to shame and even sometimes persecuted and martyred. But, we must not be afraid. We must be afraid of only one thing – the loss of our friendship with God.
Those who instruct many in virtue will shine brightly in glory. That sentence from the Old Testament promises a rich reward to all who teach people in virtue. It should give fresh heart and encouragement to every parent who teaches his or her child the difference between right and wrong, who tries to persuade others that they are to try and live good lives by doing good and avoiding evil; it should delight all teachers, and I think it should especially delight the Presentation Brothers who, ever since 1902 have had the job of educating the young people here in Dungannon.
Yes the departure of the last Presentation Brothers from Dungannon is an occasion of mixed emotions. In one sense there is a sense of pride and joy and deep gratitude that when Dean Burns sent out his invitation there were these men willing to come to a strange town. Men who were willing to leave their native place and willing give of their very best to help families that were complete strangers. In a sense, I suppose, we could be disappointed that there are no more to replace them but that, I think, would be going down the wrong avenue.
The spotlight must now focus on the parish and the community that has enjoyed their services for the past 100 years. Now the challenge is to find people who will pick up the baton of Catholic education and carry it to the finishing line. The torch is now being passed to another generation to continue to build on the excellent foundations already set by the Brothers. And, we can be absolutely sure of this; God does not abandon His Church. People are to be found or are already found in the many excellent lay teachers. Just as Dean Burn identified the Presentation Brothers in 1902, now we must look to the signs of 2005 and assess the situation.
Catholic parents, Catholic teachers and the Catholic parish must work closely together to ensure that the children of this generation and the generations to come will not want for the best possible Catholic education. It will mean working together, for example, in preparation for the sacraments of First Confession and First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
We have been greatly enriched by the Presentation Brothers here in Dungannon. I think there are three ways in particular in which we have been enriched.
Firstly, we have been enriched by the statement, which their religious life makes to all of us, namely, that God is our first beginning. God is our last end. Therefore God should have first place in our lives. We live in a world where the sense of God’s presence is often diminished, if not completely eliminated. It is the world where God is often missing but not missed. But people like the Presentation Brothers or the Sisters of Charity are a powerful witness to the primacy of God and to the existence of a life beyond the life on this earth. That witness is a treasure of great price. We all count on people like religious. They are our guides in the search for God. It is a search, which has always stirred, in the human heart that reveals itself today in so many forms.
Secondly, by living in community, religious bear witness to the values of Christian fraternity – Christian brotherhood. They bear witness to the transforming power of the Good News. We live in a time when the family is under fierce pressure. The evidence of family breakdown is all around us. Family breakdown is essentially a breakdown in community living but religious, by living in community, can provide inspiration for families to stay together and not to split up. No community is perfect or totally happy. It is a constant struggle. But the temptation nowadays is for people to feel that they are not as happy in marriage as they had expected and so the temptation is to draw the conclusion that, since I am not happy, and I should be happy, and I have a right to be happy, so I must be in the wrong place, let me get out of here. But the witness of people living together in community, with all their different temperaments, all their different views and yet, holding together, can be a powerful inspiration.
The final sign, I think, that can be very powerful and which has been very powerful and we have already commented on it here, is the sign of unselfish, generous service to others. In all the accounts of the work of the Presentation Brothers here in Dungannon over the last 100 years, there emerges this self-giving love for other people. It is something, which inspires Christians and non-christians alike, down through the centuries. It is the kind of thing which has moved people to go beyond the nine to five job and to involve themselves in sporting activities, in religious activities and cultural activities.
So today we thank God and the Presentation Brothers for the enrichment which your presence and your ministry has brought to Dungannon over the past 100 years. I thank you for constantly reminding all of us, by word and example, that we have not here a lasting kingdom but we seek one that is to come. Thank you for recalling to all of us that Christ, who is the wisdom of God, is not only preached by his ministers and not only taught in the class or in the pulpit, but is also manifested and made real in his servants.
We pray for the eternal rest of all the Brothers who have gone to their eternal reward. May they enjoy their just rewards in the presence of God. We pray finally for the people of Dungannon that the lessons which have been given by the Brothers and their co-workers in the schools and in the parish down through the years, will not fall on stoney ground but will fall on rich soil and will continue to bear fruit. It will require self-sacrifice, it will require courage, it always does, but the only thing we must fear is the One who can destroy both body and soul and cast us into eternal sin. It is not that God wants to do that, not at all. His plans are peace and reconciliation but if we, or anyone, persist in ignoring His word and ignoring His promise, well then, the future is bleak. But I know, and I hope and I am quite sure that there are people here, great and generous people in Dungannon who will not let the memory of the Presentation Brothers die.
Yesterday I was in Cavan for the unveiling of a plaque in honour of Pope John Paul II in Cavan town. About 25 years ago they named a street there called John Paul Avenue. While it was a fairly enlightened vision, of course as the years past, they got more and more inspiration, I suppose, from the man after whom it was named and now want to put on record that inspiration with this memorial. But the more important memorial is the memorial in our hearts. The memory that inspiring teachers produces I know that in the hearts of the Dungannon people the ideals and the values and the lessons imparted by those generous self-sacrificing men called the Presentation Brothers I am sure that will continue to bear fruit for many a day.
Do not be afraid, Jesus tells us. You are worth more than hundreds of sparrows. We pray for the courage to declare ourselves for Jesus in the presence of men and women. No matter what the cost – because if we don’t, then He has promised to declare himself for us in the presence of His Father and that is what matters. We must dread and avoid at all cost disowning Jesus here on earth.