Earlier today we celebrated Fr Tom’s Funeral Mass in Kilmovee. Bishop Brendan presided and was joined by Bishop Flynn, Fr Rémi Hublier – the Vicar General of Beauvais Diocese, Fr Philip Kearney (Beauvais Diocese), priests from Knock, Diocese of Achonry and other friends. A large number attended the Mass and the church was filled almost to capacity. People travelled from France, England and many parts of Ireland. Our local choir sang powerfully and the addition of musicians and voice was much appreciated. Fr Tom’s family members – especially his nieces Margaret and Mary and his nephew Peter were involved in the liturgy through reading the Scripture, leading us in Prayers of The Faithful and the Offertory Procession.
Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns had sent greetings to Fr Tom’ family and wished to be associated with prayers offered at the Funeral Mass. Tom was ordained in St Peter’s College, Wexford since the seminary in Beauvais was closed during the war. Tom had to return to Ireland and completed his studies in St Peter’s.
Tom is buried beside the Parish Church in Kilmovee – the spot he had chosen many years ago. I am happy we were able to fulfil his wishes.
Based on notes Fr Tom had written, I tried to compile something of his CV over the years. I hope it is relatively accurate:
- Born 25th November 1917
- Student St Nathy’s College 1930-1935
- Seminary in Beauvais 1935
- Seminary in Wexford 1940
- Ordained St Peter’s Wexford, 8th June 1941
- First Mass in Kilmovee 9th June 1941
- RAF Chaplain (various postings) 1942-1962
- Parish Appointment (Beauvais) 1962-1968
- School Chaplain – Hamm, Germany 1968
- Bonniconlon Parish – 1970-1973
- Parish of Guisard – 1973-1983
- Parish of Chantilly – 1983-2001
- Knock Shrine – 2001-2013
- Died 31st May 2013
- Buried in Kilmovee 3rd June 2013. R.I.P.
The following is the text of the homily I preached at Mass. I tried, since then, to recall the words spoken and I think what follows is fairly accurate.
HOMILY AT FUNERAL MASS
The words I try to find today are, in some way, intended to speak to Fr Tom’s family and many friends from France, Knock, England, Kilmovee and elsewhere. My hope is that they will do him justice but I am absolutely aware I need not speak on his behalf or to heap praise on him. He is at rest and deservedly so.
Over twenty years ago a man died in the neighbouring parish of Carracastle. I was there at the time, working with Fr Gerry Walsh – my first Parish Priest and a man I was blessed to be able to begin my priestly ministry with. The man that died was called Martin and Fr Gerry celebrated his funeral Mass. He spoke of the last time he had met Martin. It was the First Friday in May. Martin used come to a neighbour’s house to receive the Eucharist and he’d walk with Gerry back to the car. “Do you like the month of May Father?” Martin asked. Gerry replied that it was his favourite month. It was the month of Our Lady. The month of summer promise, new life, plants and farmers’ work. “If Heaven were a month Martin,” Fr Gerry said, “It would be the month of May”.
I’m struck by the fact that Tom died on the 31st day of May. You could say “Heaven at its fullest” and I think it not an accident. Tom had a deep and profound love for Our Lady. He once spoke about how much he enjoyed being at Knock Shrine and wondered was his being allowed so many years there a gift from Our Lady in recognition of all the times he walked to Knock from Kilmovee during his childhood years. If it were such a gift, Tom was happy to accept it. He thanked her for it. I think his death on the last day of May was her way of journeying with him through this special month, likened by Fr Gerry Walsh, to Heaven. There’s a message here somewhere that when Heaven was at its highest point, the time was right for Fr Tom to enter and be at home.
He loved Knock as do we all. I imagine him at the “Gable Wall” – that place where Heaven met Earth on an August evening in 1879 and where God reassured people they were not alone. He was with them always – “yes, to the end of time”. Mary stood there quietly. No angry messages for the world just a standing “with” people. She pointed them towards the Altar and the Lamb of God.
I put some lines on yesterday’s parish bulletin and again in the leaflet you have here today. Lines written by Fr Tom describing his return to Kilmovee in 2001 after a lifetime’s ministry in England, France, Germany and Bonniconlon! He spoke so beautifully about Kilmovee and, in particular, about this church. His earliest memories are rooted here. He remembers coming to church with his mother and of having a deep sense of Mass as “mystery” and being drawn to the “distant” candles on the Marble Altar. We stand now around that same Altar. We reverenced it with “kiss” and incense in the belief that it takes us into unity with all gone before, all happening now and all we need to focus on in life. This Altar spoke to the boy in Tom Freyne and called him to its service. How many times he stood at the Altar during his long priestly life. Two years ago, at his Jubilee celebration, Martin Frain put a few lines together by way of reflection. In the lines, he tried to count the number of times Fr Tom had celebrated Mass. I tried to do likewise over the weekend and think it must be somewhere in the region of 25000 times. Incredible! 25000 times he stood at the Altar – not always marble, I’m sure sometimes a makeshift altar in an RAF barracks or field, maybe in his mobile home, at a house Mass but always the “Altar” nonetheless. He celebrated there the brokenness of life and the call to healing what is broken. It’s again no accident that his death spans those days that include “Corpus Christi”. Surely he served “The Body of Christ” in so many ways. Not least that broken body. So often I’ve seen him here at funerals – sharing the cross with family and community. He didn’t just come to the Mass but called to the homes as well. He was anxious to be with people in their hour of need. He sought to heal and strengthen people to bring peace again, hope again and faith again. Loyalty to “Corpus Christi” and loyalty to The Altar, remained at the heart of his ministry.
He had his own hours on the Cross too. Not least in recent weeks when sickness laid a heavier hand on him but into that sickness came support and strength in the shape of family and friends. Last Wednesday night, as Fr Stephen Farragher just told me, healing came in that special moment that is the Sacrament of The Sick. We can only begin to imagine how much that meant to him. As he had brought healing to others, so it was brought to him.
Tom had a way of bringing more out of you. Whenever I met him, he’d have some bit of direction for me: “Vincent, why don’t you bring the choir up to the front of the church. That’s where it needs to be! People need to be able to see them and hear them. Vincent you should bring the choir up to the front of the Church!” He also used to speak to me about the Parish Bulletin. I put it on line each week and sometimes it might be Sunday morning – that didn’t suit Tom! “Vincent, why don’t you put the newsletter on line on Saturdays? People want to be able to see it. You should put it up on Saturdays”!! I always felt this was based on a survey of “ONE””!! I think Tom wanted it up on Saturdays! That’s the sort he was though. He always seemed to think there was a bit more in you! Yes, you’re doing okay but there’s room for more. In fairness, he may well be right. Certainly the call to do that bit more is a worthy one and he was more than willing to do the calling.
There is much excitement in the music world when an album goes “Platinum”. Usually there are press releases and blurbs. It’s quite an achievement. We were very proud two years ago when Tom’s Priesthood went Platinum. I had to Google to find out what the term was for seventy years. He came to visit me some weeks before the event. He told me about the celebration that took place around his Diamond Jubilee – “Well Farrell organised the most wonderful celebration. I don’t know how he did it Vincent. There was such a gathering of people from all over. It was wonderful and I don’t know how he did it”!! I knew exactly what he was saying – “Now you do the same!!” We were happy to do it and a wonderful night was had here in the Church and the Community Centre. It was a wonderful occasion and we are all so delighted it happened.
He spoke with passion that night – challenging parents to promote vocations in their family, encouraging people to take full advantage of their Faith, to come to church, say their prayers. No stone was left unturned. He had a powerful voice and I remember thinking “he still has fire in the belly”. He was so convinced about the Church and its place in our lives. Such a powerful witness.
As we conclude now, it seems so appropriate that Tom moves from that Gable Wall in Knock to be buried close to the gable wall of this church in Kilmovee. That was so important to him. Indeed I was scarcely weeks in the parish when he called to see me. He welcomed me but I think the real purpose of the visit was to let me know that he wished to be buried beside this church. He told me he had arranged this with Fr Farrell Cawley and maybe feared I didn’t know that. Of course Fr Farrell had told me. In fairness, he had written that were this not possible, he’d be happy to be buried in the Cemetery but I am so pleased we’re able to fulfil his wish. May he find rest at this gable wall and draw ever closer to those no longer distant candles burning in God’s presence in Eternity. He was so proud of this parish. It is my hope – our hope – that he now realises this parish also was very proud of him. May he rest in peace. Amen.