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Fr Kieran O’Connell

Fr Kieran O’Connell was born on 3 February, 1949.  He was educated at All Hallows College and Trinity College, Dublin.  On 17 June 1973 he was ordained to the priesthood.  He spent his early years as a priest serving as a curate in the parishes of St Catherine of Alexandria, Sheffield and Holy Rood, Barnsley.

  Ten years after ordination he became a Parish Priest, initially at Our Lady and St James, Worsborough and then St Joseph and St Teresa, Woodlands.  More recently he was Parish Priest of St Joseph, Rawmarsh, St Joseph, Wath upon Dearne and St Gerard, Thrybergh.

  Fr Kieran died on 28 March, 2018 and his funeral was held on 27 April at St Mary’s, Herringthorpe.  At his Requiem Mass his friend and fellow priest, Mgr Kieran Heskin, spoke of Fr Kieran’s many talents.  His compassion for anyone who was suffering was evidenced in his work as Chaplain at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.  His sense of humour was known to many.  May he rest in peace.

Eulogy by Mgr Kieran Heskin

  We gather round Kieran’s coffin this morning with heavy hearts and many memories.  Anne and Fiona, your earliest memories are of your home at College Road, in Cork, of Kieran, your older and only brother, and of your parents Peg and Edwin – all of them now gone to their home in heaven.  Phil and Lauren, you have memories of Kieran welcoming you into the O Connell family circle, officiating at your weddings and being part of your and your children’s lives ever since.  Kevin, you deserve a very special mention today.  You have been a most supportive friend to Kieran for many, many years.  And you were there to provide heroic support as a professional and as a friend when he needed you most during his long and heart breaking illness.  It must have been a great final consolation and blessing to him that you and your family were there at his bedside showing your support and care for him, as his life ebbed away.

  Others of us here today have fond memories of Kieran as friend, colleague or parish priest.  I have memories going back over fifty years to our student days in All Hallow’s College in Dublin, memories of roads travelled together, of places visited and of experiences shared when the world and we were younger; memories of a sunny Sunday in June, 1973 when we were both ordained for the Diocese of Leeds before it was divided.  As I look back on those happy distant days, a few lines of an old poem come to mind:

  “They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, they brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.  I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky”.

  Kieran had many talents.  In our seminary days, he was one of the most creative and gifted students of our time: a formidable debater, a very fine actor, an accomplished mimic, a great communicator: he was awarded a summer scholarship in television production due to his communication skills.  He brought all of those gifts with him across the Irish Sea along with a pleasant, caring and kindly way of dealing with people.  His was the gift of bringing sunshine into the darkest day, as well as the intuition and tenderness to apply the balm of kindness to a hurting heart.

  His first appointment was to St Catherine’s Parish in Sheffield and much of his ministry while there took place in the Northern General Hospital, where he was chaplain.  He loved that job and he excelled in it because he had great compassion for anyone who was suffering.  In view of his experience, I remember asking his advice on how to deal with patients who were unconscious or semiconscious.  His reply was: throw the book aside.  Hold their hand.  Go close to their ear and assure them that God is near, very near to them; use short sentences and warm words such as: “May God give you courage; may God give you strength; may God give you hope” – do the other things you need to do quietly and, for God’s sake, don’t frighten them.  I have acted on his advice ever since and countless times as I have said these words I have remembered that it was he who gave them to me.  It’s ironic that it was in the Northern General Hospital that his gentle ministry began and it was there that his gentle life came to its end.

  There was of course also the unconventional and fun side to Kieran.  Some in Worsbrough may remember the Easter Vigil when one moment he was in the well-lit sanctuary at the front of the church and very soon after he was creeping quietly into the back of the church in darkness where he proclaimed in a loud voice: “The Light of Christ”.  A woman in the back row whom he startled shouted out “Oh, Jesus Christ!” to which Kieran replied “that’s right Katie, he has risen”.  That will have made his night: he loved it when things like this happened.

  On his first Sunday in Rawmarsh he went out on the sanctuary wearing trainers.  On being told of the surprise of some, he walked to the front of the sanctuary the next Sunday after Mass, lifted his alb and said, “I hear you have been admiring my trainers.  My predecessor, Fr Brady, very kindly left them behind for me when he was moving and they’re a perfect fit”.  The congregation knew that Fr Owen Brady would need to be anaesthetised to get him into trainers.  They immediately saw that their new Parish Priest had a sense of humour and a sense of fun and they took to him in a big way, trainers and all.  And then there was the sequel: Bishop Rawsthorne heard of the trainers’ episode and on visiting the parish one weekend and seeing Kieran wearing black shoes, he complimented him at the Saturday evening Mass for showing such great and unexpected deference to his bishop.  The next morning they were on the Sanctuary together again for Mass and Bishop John was about to make the same remarks but he discovered that the black shoes had disappeared and the trainers had returned.  Kieran immediately offered an explanation: “I’m terribly sorry, my Lord,” he said, “Michael Flatley is on stage tonight and he needed his black shoes back for “Riverdance”.

  In choosing a Gospel for Kieran’s Mass, the story of Lazarus, the man who, like Kieran, had two sisters, seemed particularly appropriate.  What a scene there must have been at Bethany on that day when Lazarus who had spent three nights as one of the dead in the cemetery walked again and talked and entered through his own front door to sleep in his own bed.  Jesus got Lazarus breathing and moving again: he revivified a dead body but what he did for Lazarus was only to be a temporary measure.  Lazarus had to face death again.  Since the first Easter Sunday, which seems to have been 9 April, 30 AD, that greatest of all days when Jesus rose from the dead, things have been very different.  Jesus of Nazareth no longer stands on this side of the grave calling the dead back for a temporary reprieve – as Risen Lord, he stands on the other side calling them forward to eternal life.

  As death approached, when priest friends visited Kieran, he requested them, as many had requested him over the years, for a blessing.  In doing this, he was clearly facing up to the end of his earthly days but he was doing so with “the rich hope of immortality” in his heart: with the Christian hope that his death would be nothing more than a falling asleep in time before immediately waking up to the dawn of an eternal day.  Then on Wednesday evening of Holy Week, shortly before the Passover moon appeared in the Sheffield sky, he breathed his last and we can trust that Jesus of Nazareth who called his friend Lazarus back to this life at Bethany, now as Risen Lord called his friend Kieran forward to eternal life from his hospital bed in the Northern General Hospital.  The Book of Revelation provides a fitting epilogue: “Happy are those who die in the Lord!”  Happy indeed, the Spirit says: now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them”.

  The readings of the funeral Mass give us courage and hope but they do not remove the pain of bereavement.  There’s still the reality of the separation that exists between heaven and earth, between the living and the dead.  We no longer see their faces.  We no longer hear their voices.  We cannot reach out and touch them.  We can however keep in contact by continuing to remember them, by praying for them and by holding on to the hope of seeing them again.  So despite the separation let us remember that death does not end relationships: they continue.  Death does not have the power to break the bond of who we were to each other and what we meant to each other.  Kieran will remain what he always was to us.  There will be many times when you, his family, and those of us who were closest to him, will include him in our conversations, when we will talk about things he said and did, and when we will wonder, and well we might wonder, what he might have said or thought in particular situations!  Kieran will always have a home in our hearts.  So, despite our pain, let us hold on to hope.  Despite this separation, let us hold on to the conviction that he is now with God and that we will meet him again and enjoy his company, his humour and his effervescence – I’m not sure what he might have said about that last word!

  As we gather round Kieran’s coffin on this April day, it is our hope that he now enjoys the fullness of eternal life with his mother, Peg, and his father, Edwin, as Padraig Pearse said, “san tir ina mbionn se ina shamradh i gconai”, [in the land where it is always summer] and that in that land may we all meet again one sunny eternal day.  It has often been said that it is only when the day has come to an end that we can begin to see how wonderful the day has been.  Now that the days of Kieran’s earthly life have come to an end, days of health and days of illness bravely borne, and what bravery he showed during his illness, forty-five years of ministry – most of them in this diocese – a few in India, we can look back and think how wonderful he and his days have been.

  Over the years, Kieran, neither of us knew which of us would leave this world first.  But now that’s clear: God wanted you ahead of me.  What I am doing for you today, you’d have done for me.  Your role now is not to see me off but to be there on the other side to welcome me and all those others here today when our time comes.  Until then, until we will meet again: farewell dear friend and may God grant eternal rest and happiness to your noble soul.