30 January 2009

Burial of a faithful missionary priest

Yesterday we buried Father John Doohan, one of two brothers from County Clare, Ireland, who have spent all their lives as priests here in the Philippines. One of their sisters was the late Columban Sister Philomena who had worked in Burma, the Philippines and Chile. Last August another sister, Mary Doohan, who founded The Little Way Association in London. That has helped the Church greatly in a number of countries, especially in the area of the formation of seminarians, in helping local religious congregations and in building churches in financially impoverished areas. In 1996 Pope John Paul II awarded her the ‘Damehood of St Gregory the Great for her work for the missions’.

Father John, ordained in December 1947, came to the Philippines in 1948 and was sent to Mindanao. When the new Columban mission in the southern part of the province of Negros Occidental was opened in 1950 he and three others in Mindanao joined the pioneering group. He worked there in different parishes for 50 years until ill-health forced him to retire to Manila in 2000. He slowly declined, with great cheerfulness, but we knew for the last six months or so, when he was more or less in a coma, that the end would come sooner rather than later. It did, last Saturday, quietly and peacefully.

Father Michael, his brother, was unable to come as he’s in hospital at the moment. But two bishops were there and many priests. I was moved when I saw a group of young diocesan priests carry his coffin into the church. When he came to Negros there were only four parishes and the only local priest was transferred to Bacolod City where he later became Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich. The four parishes have become 16, all with local priests, and the area the Diocese of Kabankalan, with Bishop Patricio Buzon SDB from Cebu as the ordinary.

The only one of the pioneers still here is Fr Patrick Hurley, one of three brothers who became Columban priests and also with a sister who not only became a Columban Sister but Superior General of the congregation, Sister Catherine. Father Dermot and Gerard spent most of their lives in Fiji, though Fr Gerard also spent a stint in Britain.

Father Hurley preached the homily and one of the things he mentioned was that Father John was a 'Sheenite' priest because, inspired by Bishop Fulton Sheen, he spent an hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. He also had a great devotion to St Thérèse of Lisieux.

I helped carry Father John’s coffin from the church to the place prepared for his burial in the church grounds of Immaculate Conception Church, Dancalan, which he built. As I saw and heard Father Patrick Hurley tap the coffin with his hand and say ‘Goodbye, John’ – they had known each other since 1942 – just before it was placed in the tomb I couldn’t but think of a short poem by Ogden Nash. Nash was to English poetry what PG Wodehouse was to English fiction, both of them masters of the comic word. That makes this poem all the more poignant.

Old Men

By Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

People expect old men to die,

They do not really mourn old men.

Old men are different. People look

At them with eyes that wonder when...

People watch with unshocked eyes;

But the old men know when an old man dies.


I'm going to Manila this afternoon for some meetings and may not be posting anything for about a week.

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