“If I shall walk in the valley of darkness” - the opening words during the homily at the Funeral Mass of the Very Reverend, Dr Padraig McGowan last Wednesday.
Fr McGowan died unexpectedly on Friday, February 13 at the Parochial House in Ballymahon having served in the area for nearly 30 years.
“These words,” Monsignor Earley added, “Seem to sum up for me the feeling of this place at the present time - the sadness, the grief, the loss.
“Come to me all you who are laboured and overburdened and I will give you rest.”
The local priest went on to talk about Fr Padraig’s Funeral Mass and the poignancy of it taking place on Ash Wednesday.
“Bishop Francis was telling us that he was in the IT in Athlone today with all the young students there - it is afterall Ash Wednesday,” he smiled.
“It is a sobering day because we remember the frailty - our life is fragile - and how we don’t have that grip on life that we think we have.
“Today the ashes are put on our foreheads with the sign of the cross - the most powerful symbol of our Christian faith - Christ dying on the cross.
“So when we think of the cross today we think of our own sadness and pain; we think more fully that Padraig now shares in the full mystery of that cross sharing fully in the power and wisdom of God.”
Monsignor Earley knew the Very Reverend Dr Padraig McGowan for over 70 years.
“I have my own special memories to share about Padraig too; we go back very far - further than a lot of people here. Back to the mid 1940s - just after the war - no cars around or anything like that,” he continued.
“Padraig’s mother taught in a school just beyond Ballinalee. She brought Padraig to that school on the bicycle - there was no other way of going.
“That was the beginning of Padraig’s dream and his journey and the beginning of the development of his faith and his learning.
“It was also pointed out to me by my own family how often Padraig’s mum called to our house - we had a small little shop and she got very friendly with the family there. That is a very precious memory for all of us.”
Monsignor Earley went on to say to those gathered to celebrate the late priest’s life, that his was an enriching life and one well lived in deep faith.
“As we begin to look at Padraig’s life - his time in St Mel’s, Maynooth and sharing priestly ministry with him in this diocese, he always came across to me as a person who appeared deeper than at first sight.
“We are always told never to judge by appearances and I think that was very true of Fr Padraig.
“I remember him especially in recent years when my own eyesight began to fail- how Padraig was a tender supporter, adviser and helper to me at that point. I’d like to remember him for that today. We know that people in this parish remember his wonderful talents - especially his care of the sick.
“When he was with us, he was certainly more astute than a lot of us. We might be inclined to think we are astute but we fall into the shade in the face of Padraig’s dedication to learning and to books.
“His reflections on life, his meditations and his prayers continued all through his life. He reflected on the great mysteries of life - the mystery of life and death, searching for all these answers, and now today we can thank the Lord because he has received his answer in the eternal love and goodness of God.”
The Funeral Mass then heard that hundreds had gathered the previous night - ‘people of all generations and all ages’ - to show their respect and appreciation to a man that was a ‘wonderful parish priest’.
“Padraig was 28 years here in this parish and yesterday evening as we came along with the cortege I was deeply impressed with the extraordinary number of people of all ages and generations who were there to show their sympathy and appreciation of Padraig’s ministry here,” the monsignor continued.
“There was a night vigil here right through the night where Padraig’s body was accompanied and again large numbers of people came.
“Padraig had a great love for the Polish people in this community and he learned the Polish language so that he could greet them and speak to them, and that meant a lot to them.
“He also had a great love for young people - he wanted to share the joy of the Gospel with all the young people around here.
“He was particularly at home with young people; Padraig admired them, he respected them.”
See page 23 for Tribute to Fr McGowan.