17 August 2016

Columban Fr Daniel Fitzgerald dies at the age of 100

Fr Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald
(28 June 1916 - 9 August 2016)

Father Dan celebrated his 100th birthday on 28 June, a celebration in which he delighted, and died peacefully exactly six weeks later.

With Fr Patrick Raleigh and Columban Sisters after Mass on his 100th birthday

Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, wrote about the celebration. Here are some extracts.

Fr Dan was born in the city of Cork on 28 June 1916. He grew up with the beginnings of the Society of St Columban. His great hero was Bishop Edward Galvin, Co-founder of the Society. Fr Dan was educated by the Christian Brothers at Sullivan’s Quay in Cork and entered the old Dalgan Park in Shrule, on the Galway - Mayo border in 1933. He was ordained there in December 1939.

Images of Cork city shortly before Fr Fitzgerald was born

When he was asked about the influences that drew him to the priesthood he spontaneously pointed to the influence of his parents who were daily Mass goers. The family Rosary was said each night in the house. Time and again he has expressed his deep gratitude to his parents for all that they did for him. Here in the Nursing Home in Dalgan Park the words 'thank you' are always on his lips. He is very much appreciated by all the staff in the Nursing Home. They left no stone unturned in making sure that everything would go well for the day. They put a huge effort into decorating the place beforehand.

Early years as a Columban

His first appointment was to the Philippines in 1940 but because of World War II he never got there. In the early 1940s he served as chaplain to the Maria Reparatrix Sisters in Cork. At this time he took up golf, a sport in which he became quite proficient. He has said on many occasions that to keep his mind off exile and not knowing the day or the hour he would be called he would hit golf balls in the golf course in Douglas in Cork.

Where Father Dan played golf [Source: Douglas Golf Club website]


In 1946 he set sail for China with five Columban priests and five Columban Sisters. Sr Damien Rooney, Columban Sister and now living in the Columban Sisters Home in Magheramore, County Wicklow, was one of those. It was indeed very symbolic that she was able to attend the Ceremony in Dalgan. While Father Dan was the centre of attention, Sr Damien made a great impression on those who attended. She is now in her 96th year. In a strong and very clear voice and without a microphone she read out the special message that she had prepared for Fr Dan. I’m very happy to be here today to celebrate the 100th birthday of Fr Dan. Fr Dan has been a life-long friend since we first met in Hanyang, China in 1946. That was a very difficult time in China; a time of great destruction during the communist regime. Through it all Fr Dan was always calm – a source of strength and consolation for all of us. For all my life Fr Dan’s friendship and his faithful life as a Columban missionary, has kept me going. We are both a little advanced in age now, but we are still on the way. We are both on the road with Jesus as our constant companion, and who could have a better companion than Jesus !

A young Fr Edward Galvin in China, 1912-1916

During his six years in China the political situation was quite chaotic. Nevertheless, for Fr Dan it was a great privilege to work in the diocese with his great hero and friend, Bishop Edward Galvin whom to this day he has held in such high esteem. His first impressions of China were of the heat and mosquitoes. The Diocese of Hanyang was roughly the size of Munster. Only one per cent of the population were Catholics.

Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr Dan Fitzgerald were forced to leave China in 1952

In 1952 he left China but he left it with a great love for the Chinese people which continues to this day. He says that they were like a sheep without a shepherd. It was indeed very fitting that Dan received a number of emails from China including emails from Columbans there.

After China

After his years in China Father Dan worked in Australia where he spent seven years. There was a lovely email from Fr Pat Baker in the Philippines to Fr Dan thanking him for all the help and encouragement he gave him as his Spiritual Director in Turramurra back in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Fr Pat said that Fr Dan was an inspiration to the students and he was delighted to have the opportunity to thank him. Fr Dan also worked on Promotion in Australia with the late Frs Gerry O’Collins and Pat Hennessy. In his email Fr Pat refers to them as the 'Dream Team'. Wonderful stories circulated about Fr Dan’s experiences in some of the parishes he visited, especially his feats on the golf course.


St Mary of the Rosary Church, Nenagh [Source: Parish website]

After his time in Australia, he was assigned to Scotland from ’73 to ’81.When he returned to Ireland he worked in many different places including being Chaplain for eight years at the Care Home run by the Bon Sauveur Sisters in Carriglea, Dungarvan, County Waterford. When most people would have considered retiring Dan in his seventies set out on a new Mission to the Diocese of Killaloe. He spent a short time in Sixmilebridge, County Clare before moving on to Nenagh. 

He immersed himself wholeheartedly in the life of Nenagh and its people. Over the years in Nenagh Dan spent many hours every day praying in St Mary of the Rosary Church. As the people of Nenagh dropped in to the Church to say a prayer Fr Dan could be seen praying before Our Lady’s Altar. He built up many very genuine and strong rapport with everyone with a special attachment to Hospital visitation. During his time in Nenagh he visited the Hospital every night. Almost every family in Nenagh and in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan and his kindness to them. His nightly visits to the Hospital were eagerly looked forward to by not only the patients of all creeds but also by their families and the staff in the Hospital. His words of encouragement were always very much appreciated. 

His daily Communion rounds to the sick are legendary. Fr Dan has often said that the people of Nenagh are a very decent people. When in Nenagh he spent many hours in the Confessional. During his time there he brought something very special to the people.. When the time came for him to return to Dalgan Park to the Nursing Home the people made every effort to keep him there and had organised a rota of nurses to look after his medical needs. As Columbans we owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many people in Nenagh, too numerous to mention. He continues to receive visitors from there on a weekly basis.

A visit from Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly SMA of Cashel and Emly, previously Bishop of Killaloe

His endearing presence

Since his return to Dalgan he has endeared himself to so many. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the very caring staff in the Nursing Home here in Dalgan for the very special way that they minister to his needs.

After the celebration of the Eucharist people were very anxious to gather around him to greet him and have their photo taken with him. He certainly rose to the occasion and was very effusive in his words of gratitude. Everybody enjoyed an excellent meal after Mass in the College dining room. 

St Columban's, Dalgan Park

Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, from Nenagh, spoke in his homily at the 100th birthday celebration of how Fr Fitzgerald had served the people of the parish of St Mary of the Rosary.

His daily communion rounds were legendary. He brought my own mother communion every day for the last six-and-a-half years of her life when she was housebound.

During his 23 years of service, Fr Dan visited the hospital every night. Almost every family in North Tipperary has some story to tell about meeting Fr Dan on nightly rounds. I remember my own mother being rushed into Nenagh hospital. I received a call to come home as they thought my mother was dying. When I reached the hospital it seemed that she was dying. It was only after Fr Dan’s visit that I wondered whether her potassium levels had fallen. In fact, her potassium levels had fallen. The procedure to address that helped save her life.
Not alone the patients, but all the hospital staff valued Fr Dan’s contribution to healing in the hospital. In an email to Fr Donal Hogan (who at the time was the Columban Regional Director) in March 2012, Fr Pat Malone, the parish priest of Nenagh, wrote: 'Fr Dan is deeply loved, highly respected and greatly valued by the whole community.' He wrote that 21 nurses were willing to organise a rota to look after Fr Dan’s medical needs.
Fr Dan also spent many hours in the confessional serving the needs of people. His pastoral presence at the Christian Brothers School was deeply appreciated by both the staff and the students.
Fr Pat Raleigh concluded his article about Father Dan's 100th birthday celebration with these words: The occasion would not have been complete without the singing of the The Banks and with great gusto everybody joined in the singing.

(‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee’, usually referred to colloquially as ‘De Banks’, is the anthem of Cork people, especially those from the city. It was sung again after the lunch that followed the funeral Mass and burial of Father Dan on 12 August.)

Father Dan died in the evening of 9 August. That afternoon he prayed the Rosary for the last time. In his homily at the Mass on Father Dan's 100th birthday and at the funeral Mass Fr Sean McDonagh spoke of the great devotion of this holy priest to our Blessed Mother. As the people of Nenagh know very well – any time you would visit the Church to say a prayer, Fr Dan could be seen praying right before Our Lady’s Altar . . . I   wondered   whether there was anything akin to a   Guinness   Book   of Records in Heaven. If there is Fr Dan would certainly be close to winning the prize for the person who has said the most rosaries in his life.

Nenagh is in County Tipperary, as is Clonmel, where the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson was from. In this video he is singing this hymn to our Blessed Mother, not as a performer but as the man of faith he was.

know very well any time you would visit the Church to say a prayer, Fr. Dan
could be seen praying right before Our Lady’s Altar.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal. May his noble soul be at the right hand of God.

Thanks to Frs Cyril Lovett, Patrick Raleigh and Sean McDonagh.

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