Fr Pat McCaffrey Last Hours
This account of Father Patrick McCaffrey’s last few hours were written by Srs Patricia, Eilish and Gretta Gill, Presentation Sisters, Murree, Pakistan. Murree, which could be called 'The Baguio of Pakistan' is at an elevation of 2,291 metres (7,517 feet) while Baguio, in the northern Philippines, is at 1,500 metres (5,100 feet). Wikipedia says 'The name Murree is derived from "marhi", "high place" although there is a popular belief it is named after the Virgin Mary'. Father Pat was my classmate. We entered St Columban's, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland, together in September 1961 and were ordained on 21 December 1967, he in St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry, and I in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.
The reading of the day on which our good friend Fr Pat McCaffrey unexpectedly left us for his eternal abode was very apt indeed. With St Paul, Father Pat could truly address those very words to us all: ‘You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia. How I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me.’ Fr Pat McCaffrey arrived in Presentation Convent Murree on the 17 May in the afternoon. He was visiting three Columban lay missionaries, Paula Matakiviwa, Pita Qolikivikivi, two men recently arrived from Fiji, and Carmela Capistrano, a Filipina on her second term, studying Urdu there. After school at 2:00pm he joined us for a bowl of soup.
Then he went out for lunch with the students but offered to celebrate Holy Mass for us in the evening at 6.30. We were delighted because, not having a resident priest here in Murree, we have Mass only on Sundays. We informed the Jesus and Mary Sisters too and they joined us for Holy Mass. Father Pat was in the chapel praying away on his own long before Mass time. When the Sisters arrived he came to the front where they were seated and shook hands with each one, welcoming the Jesus and Mary Sisters and asking if they wouldn’t mind waiting for the lay missionaries who would soon be there. During the Mass he spoke beautifully about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus being with us always and the importance of the oft repeated words of Jesus, ‘Be not afraid’. He pointed out that we were eleven people present from five different nationalities. Wasn’t that wonderful? At the end of his sermon he wished us all a happy feast of the Holy Spirit and said he wouldn’t be with us to celebrate but encouraged us to enjoy this great feast of the Church.
After Mass we all stood outside the chapel chatting. He was the last to come out and we teased him saying we were all waiting for the Spirit to come. He started breathing on us saying ‘Here comes the spirit’. He was in great form. Early the following morning, 18 May, at 5:45 we heard a big bang at our small school gate and the man cleaning the road, named Latief, told our watchman that Father Pat had fallen on the road. Sister Eilish and two of our workers rushed out to see what had happened to him and Sister Patricia ran to call Sister Gretta. The other workers brought out the charpai (bed) to put him on it. All our workers and Sister Eilish and Gretta were out in no time. As Sister Gretta blessed him there with holy water and a very special Irish cross handed to her by Sister Patricia. The workers and Sister Gretta rushed him to the Combine Military Hospital (CMH), which is just beside us, on the same charpai. He was attended by Dr Kamran and the staff of CMH without any delay but it was too late to do anything for him. He had already reached his heavenly Father for his reward. At the same time Sisters Eilish and Patricia, who were in the convent, had contacted some people on the phone and three Sisters of Jesus and Mary had also joined Sister Gretta at the hospital. By then we were in the process of getting the doctor to make his death certificate and were calling a few friends to make the arrangements to bring his body down to Pindi and from there to Lahore ,where Father Pat had been working.
Father Pat was brought to the same Chapel where he had celebrated Holy Mass only a few hours before and was now laid out to rest. Prayers were offered by both Christian and Muslim staff members, while all the teaching staff and students of Presentation Convent were stunned, sadly wondering what had happened as they turned the students’ vehicles homewards.
The ambulance was taking time to come so we decided to remove the seats of the big wagon of the Jesus and Mary Convent and take his body down to Pindi in it as soon as possible. Sisters Eilish and Gretta, some workers from the Presentation Convent and some from the Joseph and Mary Convent, as well as Mr Zaffar, Mr Ayub and the Columban lay missionaries travelled down with the body, praying on the way for the soul of this great priest. On our arrival at St Catherine’s Convent, Pindi, we were met by many Sisters from different congregations and Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. The prayers were led by Bishop Rufin in the compound. After the prayers we transferred the body to the ambulance to be taken to Lahore in the company of the three lay missionaries and Mr Zaffar. We very sadly said good bye to him in tears but it was so symbolic to see two Pakistani men, two men from Fiji and a woman from the Philippines travelling with him on his last journey to Lahore. This was to acknowledge him as a great missionary in the true sense. May his soul rest in peace and may the love he had for God and His people continue in many parts of the world. Amen.