10 December 2014

Columban Fr Francis Carey RIP

Fr Francis Carey
(19 August 1937 - 6 December 2014)

‘He had a gentle presence and a kind heart.’ That is how Fr Dan O’Malley, Regional Director of the Columbans in the Philippines, described Fr Francis Carey when he informed the membership of his death on Saturday 6 December. Father Frank was diagnosed with a form of cancer late in October. His death has been a great shock to all who knew him.

Father Frank was the son of Paul and Marion Carey and was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He attended a secondary school there run by the Christian Brothers. He received his formation as a Columban in Sassafras, Victoria, and in Wahroonga and Turramurra, New South Wales. He was ordained in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on 13 December 1962 by Archbishop Ernest Victor Tweedy, at the time the Archbishop Emeritus of Hobart, Tasmania. 

St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne [Wikipedia]

Father Frank often recounted the difficulty in finding a bishop and setting a date for his ordination, since all the active bishops in Australia were at the first session of the Second Vatican Council, which ended on 8 December. His father, a solicitor (lawyer), phoned the Columban superior at the time in Australia telling him that he understood the difficulty but that he, Paul, was responsible for arranging the family celebration and needed to know the date as soon as possible. The date was set very quickly!

A Columban who knew Father Frank very well wrote, ‘He had a great relationship with his father.  When he’d arrive home on holidays from the seminary Frank and his Dad would spend the whole night catching up. He got many of his priorities and values from his Dad. He hated to see people bossing others around.

St Michael's Cathedral, Iligan City [Wikipedia]

Father Frank arrived in the Philippines in September 1963 and was assigned to Mindanao. After language studies he spent more than five years in parish work, He served for relatively short periods in Oroquieta City and Bonifacio in Misamis Occidental, Kinoguitan, Balingaon and Linugos, Misamais Oriental, and Malabang, Lanao del Sur. He then spent almost four years in St Michael’s, Iligan City, now the cathedral of the Diocese of Iligan. There he formed a great friendship with the late Fr Peter Steen who was parish priest at the time.

Father Peter had a very sharp wit and once remarked at the breakfast table in Manila when we got news of the death of a Columban priest in Ireland who had been in the Philippines for many years and who tended to be on the strict side, ‘He’ll probably find that God is a lot kinder than he thought he was’. When told of this in an email some years later Father Frank responded, ‘The statement about X was the ultimate Steen. He certainly believed in a God of understanding.

Father Frank might have been speaking about himself. One who knew him very well described him as ‘unflappable, calm and non-judgmental. He was balanced, weighed things up and saw both sides. He allowed people to have their point of view and could sit with ambiguities and opposites. But he had great courage and always made up his own mind.’

Christ healing the blind, El Greco, 1570-75
Galleria Nozionale, Parma, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Carey’s life as a priest was guided especially by Luke 4:18-19: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”’ A friend noted, 'Even with the ecology it was about healing, reconciling and liberating.’  Luke 4:14-19 was the gospel read at his request at the funeral Mass in Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate, Manila, on 11 December, with the passage Jesus read, Isaiah 61:1-3, as the First Reading.

This is what guided him when he spent nearly seven years, from 1969 till 1976, in Australia, working as a chaplain to overseas students, promoting the work of Columbans throughout the world and seeking vocations to the missionary priesthood. He could be creatively practical. He once spent a month in an outback parish in Australia and told the people on his first Sunday there that he couldn’t cook and would appreciate it if each day of his stay a different family would invite him to their home for a hot meal. The people were delighted to do so and around 30 families by welcoming this friendly missionary priest learned quite a bit about the work of the Columbans in the Philippines.

Shearing the Rams, Tom Roberts, 1890
National Gallery of Victoria [Wikipedia]

On his return to the Philippines in 1976 Father Frank spent nearly a year in the parish of Tambulig, Zamboanga del Sur, before moving to Manila where he was to spend most of the rest of his life, apart from a stint on mission promotion in Australia from 1991 to 1996 in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales. From 1981 until 1991 he worked with third-level students in Manila, with periods as chaplain in Philippine Women’s University, Far Eastern University, and with Student Catholic Action, which was founded by Columban Fr Edward J. McCarthy in the 1930s.

Sanctuary, Our Lady of Remedies Church, Malate [Wikipedia]

From 1996 till 2002 Father Frank was an assistant priest at Our Lady of Remedies Parish, Malate, Manila. The Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) and the Eco-Farm Retreat Centre in Silang, Cavite, south of Manila, the brainchild of Columban Fr John Leydon whose vision was shared by Elin Mondejar, the owner of the land where CELL is located. Father Frank was part of this from its early days.  This Center demonstrates permaculture and organic farming and zero waste management in place of landfill. Malate Parish was also involved in this project. Fr Dominic Nolan, also from Melbourne and deeply involved in the project for many years, described Father Frank as ‘the glue that kept CELL together.’

A Columban employee who visited CELL in 2009 wrote in an online tribute, ‘Thank you for giving me inspiration in advocating and living a life dedicated to nourishing the earth and everything that God put in it. I remember my short time at CELL, feeling the earth, inhaling the freshness of the surroundings, enjoying the meals that were served to us straight from the lush garden, everything. I will never forget the excitement I saw in your eyes when you munched on some mint leaves just to convince us that these things are actually good and can nourish our bodies.’ This same person, a young married woman, said to me on hearing of his death, ‘I would have loved to have asked him to adopt me!’ This echoes what St Athanasius wrote in his life of St Anthony the Abbot: ‘And so all the people of the village, and the good men with whom he associated saw what kind of man he was, and they called him “The friend of God”. Some loved him as a son, and others as though he were a brother.’

Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral, Baguio City [Wikipedia]

Father Frank, who over the years quietly helped raise a considerable amount of money for the education of students, continued to be involved in CELL even though in recent years he was in charge of the Columban house in Baguio City, in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was there that he began to feel ill in October and returned to Manila.

Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, ‘When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s great and most beautiful gifts (No 272).’ May the gentle heart of Fr Francis Carey be opened wide to the gift of eternal life.

Father Frank loved jazz music. In the video above Stéphane Grappelli (on the left), one of the greatest jazz violinists, plays with Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great classical violinists. Yehudi Menuhin once lived in the house in Sassafras, Victoria, where Father Frank began his formation as a Columban seminarian.

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