24 April 2010

A joyful, generous and faithful priest for more than 71 years

The 'tsunami' of scandals involving priests and bishops that seem to be headline news every day lately is disheartening to many of us. The report of a death is not usually considered good news but when it is that of a missionary who has lived his priesthood joyfully, generously and faithfully for more than 71 years, and actively for 68 of those, it is a matter for rejoicing, for thanking and praising God.

I first met the late Fr Frank Gallagher when I went to study in New York as a young priest in 1968. He was born the same year as my late father and was 55 then. He was tall and swarthy with a deep voice and I was half 'afraid' of him. but I gradually got to know him as a kind and friendly man, happily living his priesthood. I later came across a photo of him with other Columbans interned in Korea by the Japanese during World War II. With his black beard he must have been an intimidating figure to the Japanese guards!

I last met Father Frank on 15 August 2000 at the celebrations in Ireland for our jubilarians of that year. I remarked on how well he and some of his contemparies looked. His response was 'Ah, we're in injury time now', alluding to the time added on in football. The Lord gave him nearly ten more years of 'injury time'. He retired from being a chaplain to a convent of Marist Sisters and the students in their school as recently as 2007. For some time before his death he was, as far as I know, the oldest living Columban.

The badge that Father Gallagher is wearing is that of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, a movement that is predominantly Irish, in which the members freely give up the right to alcoholic drinks. Members pray the daily 'Heroic Offering': 'For thy greater Glory and consolation, O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for Thy sake, to give good example, to practice self-denial, to make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks, Amen'.

Fr Cyril Lovett, editor of Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Ireland and Britain, wrote the obituary below.

Francis J. Gallagher (1913 - 2010)

Frank Gallagher was born on 2 August, 1913, at Cloontacunna, Doocastle, County Mayo. He was educated at Doocastle National School ('National School' is the term used in the Irish Republic for elementary schools, set up by the State but managed by the parish priest or by a religious community or by the pastor of other religious communities or faith groups) and St Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen. He came to the Old Dalgan Park in Shrule, Co. Galway in 1930 and was ordained on 21 December 1938.

He was appointed to Korea in 1939 and spent his first two years in Inchon and Kongwando. From 1941 to 1945 he was interned by the Japanese along with a number of fellow-Columbans. Once released he was assigned back to his old area, and to Chunchon in 1947.

In 1948 he was assigned to Ireland where he did promotion work until 1953. Assigned then to the United States he did parish work at St Mary Mother of Jesus Church, in Brooklyn, until 1957. He was engaged in promotion work from the Society house in Bristol until 1965, and from Bayside, New York, until 1971.

On his appointment back to Ireland in 1971, he went as Chaplain to the Marist Sisters’ Convent in Tubbercurry, and for many years taught religion in their Secondary School where he was greatly respected by both staff and students. In 2007 he retired back to St Columban’s Nursing Home in Dalgan.

Frank will be remembered as a quiet, pleasant giant, a conscientious and dedicated pastor. He was also a fascinating story-teller and an expert in all matters relating to the care of bees. In the Nursing Home he was an undemanding presence and accepted the burdens of old age with patience and dignity. He died there on Sunday, 18 April 2010.

May he rest in peace.


Crux Fidelis said...

What a marvellous life.

Euge, serve bone

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Crux Fidelis. There are many priests like him, thank God.