28 April 2011

'He was the natural captain of every team' - the late Fr Nicholas Murray

Fr Nicholas Murray, 1938-2011

In Ireland it is the custom to bring the remains to the church the evening before burial for a service of the word. In cities and towns this usually takes place around 5:30pm or 6pm so that people coming home from work may attend. Most of these would be unable to attend the funeral Mass the following day. The remains are left overnight in the locked church, which must sound very strange to Filipinos. We call this service 'The Removal'. I'm told it is becoming less common now with the wake being continued at home or at a funeral home and the remains being brought directly to the church for the funeral Mass. We rarely if ever have a funeral on Sunday.

It is also the custom in Ireland to hold the funeral within two days, or maybe three, of the death. In the case of Father Nicholas Murray it was four days, since he died on Holy Thursday.

Here are the words spoken by Father Nick's classmate, Fr Gerry French, who is based in Ireland but who worked before in Korea and in Britain, a the removal. I have highlighted parts of it and added [comments].

'I would like to welcome all of Nicholas’ family and friends again to our Columban home in Dalgan Park. [Most of the Irish Columbans studied there, some work there, some are retired there and most Columbans who died in Ireland are buried there. It truly is our home.]

My name is Gerry French, a classmate of Nicholas, it is my privilege to share some reflections and memories with you.

During Nicholas’s struggle this past week to go over to the other side, I thought of Gerald Manley Hopkins, the English Jesuit and poet who often visited Felix Randal in his blacksmith’s forge:

(We) who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

I met the big-boned and hardy-handsome Nick Murray nearly fifty-five years ago here in this building. I remember the very welcoming Columban priest then who said, 'You must be very generous men to come here to prepare for the far east'.

Nick was truly generous from day one. He and his friend Tony O’Dwyer were champion athletes and, unusually for athletes, were great hurlers and footballers too.

In Dalgan we were also encouraged to develop household skills. Nick turned out to be a champion at carpentery, tailoring and hairdressing. For some of us who were all thumbs he was constantly repairing our clothes and replacing our buttons, all laced with terrific humour. Of me, he’d say, 'Gerry has given me a button but expects me to make a jacket!'

I told him that I was from Mayo and he said he was from Ballymacward where his National School [primary school] teacher was from Mayo. [County allegiances are very important in Ireland, especially in competitions in Galeic football and hurling, the two main national sports. Ironically, the 32 counties of Ireland were created by the English!] He had a great influence on Nick. He said that Ballymac was the place that football ended and hurling had not yet really begun. He also said that Ballymac was the last parish in [the Diocese of] Clonfert before [the Archdiocese of] Tuam or [the Diocese of ] Elphin. (Nick and Bishop Kirby would way that Ballymac was the first parish!) That Mayo teacher gave Nick a long life love for Irish music and for sport.

Parish Church, Ballymacward and Gurteen [Wikipedia]

Like the road to Emmaus, journey was woven into Nick’s life. His first journey was to Garbally Park [diocesan secondary school for boys] and then to Dalgan, carrying with him the deep roots of Ballymac where tidy farming and tasty workers abounded. Nick’s room, desk, car and clothes were always immaculate. The years of writing many letters and memos only improved his writing, unlike the rest of us.

He was the oldest of his family and he seemed to have a great relationship and understanding with his father. He brought that understanding of authority forward to very phase of his life. He was the natural captain of every team, [this describes Father Nick perfectly] the natural chairperson of every meeting. He also had a great understanding of people, especially some of who had difficulties with authority figures, whether referees, mentors, parish priests, teachers or deans.

In 1956, Nick was to be captain of the Galway minor team [I'm not sure if this was in Gaelic football or in hurling. 'Minor' means 'under 18' at whatever date the cut-off date is]. The team mentors heard rumour that he had played another sport/code under an assumed name, so he wasn’t picked for the team. [The game referred to is rugby. At the time the Gaelic Athleitc Association or GAA banned its members from playing or watching the 'foreign', ie English, games of soccer, rugby, cricket and hockey. This ban was rooted in recent history.] What a blow to any 18-year-old, but Nick never held it against the poor GAA official, Jack by name. He readily understand the prejudice of an older generation.

Another memory I have of him as a young man was his sustained interest in people. He brought that with him to the Philippines and back: remembering people, relationships, remembering those he had met whether in New York or New Zealand.

He was proud of his sporting achievements, gaining the equivalent of a 'colors cap’ for all Dalgan representative teams. He was hugely disappointed that his rapid improvement at Gaelic didn’t continue. Seán Purcell’s mother was from Ballymac and Seán encouraged Nick to keep at it, for Galway needed a big centre-field man. [Seán Purcell was a great Galway Gaelic footballer who played between 1947 and 1962.] Nick found his rugby prowess was an obstacle to his improvement on the Gaelic pitch.

His disciplined reliability was part of his character – a man who never forgot to reply to a letter of to answer a phone call – even the oppressive heat of the Philippines didn’t take that away from him. He treated the sprawling city of Manila as if it were a little village.

In his middle years, Nick took on mission leadership and church administration in the Philippines and Ireland with extraordinary aplomb, culminating in election as our Superior General for not one but two terms. His generosity, reliability and ease with authority served him and his confreres very well. I remember one of my colleagues saying of his election, 'Nick never thought of himself as superior or inferior to anyone else' - what a beautiful tribute. [As we say in Irish, ‘fear ann féin’, a man at home with himself.]

The older Nick was even better. He enjoyed mission in China. He loved networking there, before physical discomfort brought him home to a wonderful two years in Kilconnell in Clonfert. And more recently, his delving into the mystery of his debilitating ailments when he was just enjoying hands on experiences of pastoral ministry.

Sacred Heart Church, Kilconnell, Diocese of Clonfert

In this more complex segment of his Emmaus journey he was seeing to the full the mystery of suffering. I’m sure his heart is burning within him in the manner that American actor Gregory Peck said at the end of the Columban mission film Path to Glory: He sees it all so clearly the future hidden from his eyes till now. [Path to Glory was a movie made by the Columbans more than 40 years ago telling the story of how Koreans brought the faith to their own country and how they suffered for the faith. Gregory Peck was the voice of Columban Fr Anthony Collier, murdered at the beginning of the Korean War, who was the 'narrator' in the film.]

I still see him mending a hurley.

Hurley and ball, (Irish: Camán agus sliotar)

Of all the young men who came here in 1956 he was the one that changed least and developed most. As the writer Bryan MacMahon [an Irish writer and teacher, 1909-1998] has written:

Beyond this place of time and tide
Beyond this house of woe
There is a bourn in paradise
Where all the hurlers go.

And there in pride their goaling
As they race across the sod
To thrill our dead forefathers
On the level lawns of God.

You can see some photos take at Father Murray's funeral here.

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