FUNERAL MASS FOR THE LATE MONSIGNOR DENIS FAUL.
ST. COLMCILLE’S CHURCH, CARRICKMORE, CO TYRONE 23 JUNE 2006
HOMILY BY BISHOP GERARD CLIFFORD
AUXILIARY BISHOP OF ARMAGH
The readings we just listened to set the scene for our funeral Mass today. We gather to pray for and remember the late Monsignor Denis Faul. Today we grieve at the death of one we loved so much;. a priest of our diocese for 50 years, a man who was an inspiration and an ideal to us all. We remember Fr Denis Faul greatly, we remember his commitment and dedication as a priest of our diocese and we remember one who was in many way a prophet of our times during the 30 years of what we call the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
On behalf of Cardinal Brady, who is presently in Africa , on behalf of Cardinal Daly and the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Armagh I extend our deepest sympathies to his sister Brigid, his brothers Dr Peter, Stephen, Terence, his brother -in-law, his sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, his housekeeper Margaret and his many relatives and friends.
The Gospel of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5; 1-12) we just listened sets before us the ideal for Christian living. In many ways it sums up the life and work of the late Denis Faul.
‘How happy are the gentle’ they shall have the earth as their heritage’. Denis Faul was first and foremost a good priest, faithful to his ministry but more than that faithful to the Church. The core of his life was influenced by his commitment to his priesthood and to the Church. That was the inspiration of his life. Out of that grew his involvement in justice, peace, reconciliation and education. It was the driving force in his life. That was the compelling force that directed his involvement in civil rights and in campaigning for the rights of others. His mother’s words to him left an indelible mark on his life. She said; ‘remember there is nobody better than you, although there will be some as good as you are’.
The tributes have all been made to Denis Faul’s involvement in working for peace and reconciliation for more than 30 years. All of that sprung from his up-bringing in Louth, the close family bonds, the home where respect, trust, care for others was the cornerstone of his up-bringing. Denis was from his earliest days a young man of principle. I am told that even on his Confirmation day he declared he wanted to become a priest. He had two uncles who were priests on his mother’s side of the family. He knew what priesthood was about and he wanted that more than anything else. That brought him to St Mary’s College, Dundalk, to St Patrick’s College, Armagh, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and later to the Gregorian University in Rome. All his life he encouraged young men to join the priesthood and it is interesting that over the years the two parishes of Louth and Carrickmore Parish gave an unprecedented number of young men to the diocese and to the religious orders.
After studies Denis Faul was appointed to St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon. He would spend the next 40 years of his life in education. He believed that education was the key to liberating people from repression, unemployment, discrimination and injustice. He was an ardent advocate of education for all. He worked endlessly to provide the very best opportunities for all regardless of ability and he strived more than anything to make available a system of education for those who sought an academic career. Education was about formation spiritually, intellectually, academically and religiously. His great boast was that for a generation he helped young men develop their character and helped them take their place in society. Underpinning all of that was his commitment to Catholic education. He was in the forefront in promoting Catholic education. He believed that was the right and obligation of every catholic. And he did his utmost to create an awareness of that among the Catholic community.
‘Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right; they shall be satisfied’.
A hunger for justice, for peace, for reconciliation was the driving force behind the life of Denis Faul. Over thirty years he was the prophetic voice for the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. He was the voice for the voiceless, the friend of the repressed. He saw the injustices in society. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s; he condemned violence from whatever quarter. He spoke out courageously about the abuse of internees and collaborated with many other, particularly with Monsignor Raymond Murray, and the late Fr Brian Brady and Sr Sarah Clarke in forming an ad hoc network of support for those in distress. This group of social campaigners exercise every sinew in defence of those oppressed and produced a stream of publications to document human rights abuse and individual violations of civil and political rights. Fr. Faul and Fr Murray’s booklet ‘The Bimingham Framework’ was seminal in bringing attention nationally and internationally to the miscarriage of justices on behalf of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and others Irish prisoners he believed to have been wrongly imprisoned.
In 1981 he played a pivotal role in the brokering of an end to the hunger strikes.
He fought fearlessly on behalf of victims of violence no matter what the source. He is remembered as the priest who exposed the injustice of violence. He condemned murder repeatedly. In particular he was trenchant in his condemnation of the murder of Tom Oliver in Cooley in 1991. He saw the threat of violence extending to the Republic of Ireland and he was forthright in his condemnation.
Later he addressed the plight of those exiled from the community by various groups and forces. In particular he campaigned on behalf of the ‘disappeared’, those who had been abducted and whose bodies had never been found. His plea even on his death- bed was addressed to those who had any knowledge or hint of where these bodies had been placed. His words were clear; ‘Anyone who has knowledge of the unburied bodies bears the responsibility for that’.
But Fr Faul was more than a campaigner. He was a fried and support to anyone in grief. He said Mass on different occasions for the ‘disappeared’ – an annual Mass held in Armagh to remember those who had disappeared. He supported families and relatives and I know that was greatly appreciated.
‘Blessed those who mourn , they shall be comforted.
Denis Faul knew what it was to mourn for those suffering. His name was a household name in many families throughout Northern Ireland. He published his name and telephone number for people to make contace with him when needed. It was a phone number that was well known. He walked behind many coffins, grieving with people and sat patiently with families torn apart by the death of a loved one. Today many people are grateful to him for all of that.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called sons of God.’
For some thirty years Denis Faul was the voice for justice in society. He stood up for what be believed in. He was relentless in the pursuit of justice and human rights. Denis Faul can justly be called a ‘son’of God.
I return to the Denis Faul we knew in the Archdiocese of Armagh. He was a deeply spiritual man, faithful to his calling as a priest. He enjoyed the company of priests He was always the student, an avid reader. His voluminous library bear witness to that. He was always the scholar interested in everything to do with the Irish language and culture. ‘Bhi gra as chuimse aige sa Ghaeilge. Gach uile bhliain chaith se seal mar sheiplineach sa Ghaeltacht,go mor mhor I dTeileann i dTir Conaill agus bhain se an-taithneamh as na laethanna a chait se ann bliain i ndiaidh bliana’.
On the 13th of June he had planned to be in Maynooth for the celebrations with his class-mates of 50 years of priesthood. He even got a new suit for the occasion but sadly he was not to make the gathering. His classmates Fr John Bradley and Fr Tommy McGeough were there to answer the many queries of friends and class mates. On the day some 40 priests gathered to celebrate. Each one signed a card wishing Monsignor Faul well and assuring him of their prayers. He was to die a week later.
Today we mourn one of the great icons of priesthood in our diocese. We mourn a man committed to his priesthood and to his work for people. He was one of the great priests of out time. Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris. May he rest in peace.