The gospel of the woman at the well might seem an unusual choice for a funeral Mass. The conversation between Jesus and the woman both fascinated and inspired St Teresa of Avila. It also fascinated and inspired Fr Eugene. It was the thirst of Jesus for the woman’s love, for her heart that inspired them. It was a thirst they experienced in their own lives. Just as Teresa had done four centuries ago so Eugene spent his life trying to respond to that thirst of Jesus, to give Jesus that “something to drink” that he requested of the Samaritan woman. He not only responded to the thirst of Jesus for his heart, but he helped so many others to experience that thirst and give their hearts to Jesus.
The words of Jesus that true worship would be a matter of the spirit and not of a place also helped Fr Eugene to find prayer experiences in people of other faith traditions. A notable example of this was his addressing a conference on contemplative prayer in Oxford with the Dalai Lama.
Fr Eugene was blessed to be born on March 26,1936 into a family of faith in Sligo – a place for which he always retained a great love. He was the youngest of seven children. He and his two brothers, Fr Des and Fr Jimmy, became Discalced Carmelite priests, while his sisters Maureen, Phil, Colette and Bernie married. All have predeceased him. His early years followed the same pattern as that of many of us Carmelites: primary school at home, secondary education at St Therese College, Castlemartyr; noviciate and studies of philosophy and theology. He made his first profession on the Birthday of Our Lady, September 8,1955. It was a profession date that he shared with his beloved St Therese and which was also to be the date of his death. He was ordained priest on December 23,1961 and went on to study for a BA in arts.
During his early years as a Carmelite Fr Eugene developed a great interest in the spiritual heritage of the Order. He once told us that when he was a novice there were not enough copies of the Story of a Soul for all the novices. He was given St Therese’s Letters instead. He was always grateful for that because as he said he saw a different side of Therese and it led to a great interest in her life and teaching. He became something of an authority on St Therese. He also read and studied the works of Sts Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross and would later develop a great interest in St Elizabeth of the Trinity. He imbibed their spirituality and lived it deeply. When he was speaking or preaching, it came from the richness in his heart. As someone commented on him this past week, “He lived what he said.”
Eugene had a very varied and rich ministry. His first appointment was as a history teacher in Castlemartyr. He was a breath of fresh air for us students. His approach to history was very different from anything we were used to and it enthused us. That fresh approach is something he brought to every one of his subsequent appointments. He embodied God’s desire to make all things new, that we heard about in the first reading.
After six years as prior there, he was asked to take on the role of formator of students. This role has always been considered one of the most important roles in the order. Fr Eugene carried that role out with dedication and sensitivity for six years and tried to implement the new developments on formation that the Second Vatican Council had inspired. Those who were in formation speak fondly of his influence on their lives. During those years he attended theology course in Milltown Park to update his theology. One of his strengths was that he read continually to ensure that he was up to date on current thinking on theology and spirituality.
In 1978 Eugene was invited to go to Australia to take up leadership of the retreat centre at Varroville near Sydney. Through his hard work he revitalized the centre and made it one of the foremost spirituality centres in Australia. Eight years later, tired and somewhat burnt out by his exertions, he returned to Ireland and lived in St Joseph’s parish in Berkeley Road. He later became parish priest there. When he had completed his term as parish priest, he went back into retreat work in Preston.
Eugene was very creative and everywhere he went he introduced new initiatives. In Varroville it was the School of Prayer; in Berkeley Rd it was summer camps for the children of the parish. He brought the School of Prayer concept to Preston and started a meditation group. To share his great interest in literature he started a book club. He would later bring all of these of Avila when he returned to Ireland.
Fr Eugene had a remarkable gift for friendship. He had a listening ear and a listening heart and many confided in him. He had an ability to make everyone feel special. Many who did become friends remained so for life. He maintained those friendships right through his life and was extraordinarily generous with his time for his friends.
It was in Preston that the first signs of cardiac issues appeared. These issues were to stay with him for the rest of his life. Even though the cardiac issues limited him physically, they never dulled his spirit or his creative output. He returned to Dublin and continued his work in retreats and spiritual direction in the Avila Centre. Eugene had a great interest in different expressions of prayer. Thanks to a good friend, Professor Dermot Kenny, he was able to welcome Fr Robert Kennedy, SJ to Avila to give his Zen prayer retreats. They became very close friends. I would like here to pay tribute for Dermot for the way he has looked after Eugene’s medical needs these past years. It has been an invaluable gift to Eugene and to us.
The death of Fr Eugene’s brother, Fr Jimmy’s on Christmas Day, 2017 was a devastating blow. There were brothers but also soul friends. In a very moving tribute, Fr Eugene used the words of the poet W. H. Auden to describe their relationship:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I am not sure that he ever recovered from Fr Jimmy’s death.
Eugene’s last years were signed with the cross of suffering. For a man who had been so active, acknowledging that he had very limited energy was difficult. But he faced that situation with courage and determination. His determination sometimes reminded me of the St Teresa’s expression: “determined determination.” The cross of suffering was lightened in no small way by his finding a home at Our Lady’s Manor. We are so grateful to Sr Bernadette for making a room available for him – as she has done on so many other occasions when we needed accommodation for an ailing friar. Fr Eugene was very happy in Our Lady’s Manor. We thank Sr/Dr Mary Crowe for her devoted medical care. We owe a great debt to all the sisters and staff of Our Lady’s Manor who looked after him in a most loving and dedicated way – something that we saw this at first hand in his last illness.
Fr Vincent of this community sometimes quotes the words of a young child in response to the question, “What is a saint?” – “Someone that light shines through.” All of us who knew Eugene would say that light shone through him. He has in the words of the St Paul “fought the good fight.” He has poured out every ounce of himself for Christ, for the Church and for the Order.
I’d like to end with lines that Fr Eugene loved to quote when speaking about he resurrection:
Is it true that after this life of ours we shall one day be awakened by a terrifying
clamour of trumpets? Forgive me, God, but I console myself that the beginning and resurrection of all of us dead will simply be announced by the crowing of the cock. After that we’ll remain lying down a while… The first to get up will be Mother.. We’ll hear her quietly laying the fire, quietly putting the kettle on the stove and cosily taking the teapot out of the cupboard. We’ll be home once more.
We pray that this good and faithful servant has now entered the joy of his Lord, that he is home once more. May he rest in peace.