The words of the book of Ecclesiastes set the tone of our liturgy as we come together to take leave of Fr Dan Sheridan:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to pluck up what was planted. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Six months ago, none of us who knew Fr Dan – Dannie to his family – none of us could have guessed that his time would be so short. He had had his share, and indeed more than his share, of illness over the years but he had weathered those storms and seemed to be moving in calmer waters health-wise as he entered his 50th year of ministry as a priest last June. True, he had begun to feel the strain of being in charge of a busy parish. He didn’t have the boundless energy that he once had but he put that down to his advancing years. He was looking forward to continuing his priestly work in some quieter role after his golden jubilee next June. But that was not to be. There is a time to be born and a time to die, and Fr Dan’s time came more quickly than expected. It came quietly and very peacefully in the end, on Saturday afternoon last in College View nursing home in Cavan.
For all who knew Fr Dan and especially for his family and close friends, now is a time to weep, a time to grieve the loss of a beloved brother, a loving uncle and granduncle, a devoted pastor, a cherished brother priest and a good friend. We mourn his passing, but, as St Paul says, we do not mourn as people who have no hope. We share the faith and the hope that Fr Dan himself had and which he shared with so many during his long and dedicated priestly ministry.
If you visited the parochial house across the road from here, where Fr Dan lived, you might have noticed a small name-plaque near the front door with the strange sounding name, ‘Elifelet’. It’s a Hebrew word and it points to Dan’s faith in God, and to one of the passions of his life – his love of God’s word and of the bible. For many years he led pilgrimages to the Holy Land to help bring people closer to the story of Jesus, to help them understand its background and meaning. He was an expert in many things but his knowledge of the Holy Land was exceptional and he loved to share it. ‘Elifelet’ sums up Dan’s deep faith in one word – although it takes two words to put it into English. It means, ‘God is deliverance’. God is salvation. Fr Dan had a deep and solid faith in God that stood him in good stead as he faced his final illness and death.
In conversations I had with him since his diagnosis in August, he was always realistic about his condition. He knew too much about medicine and had too much experience of life and death as a priest, to delude himself with false hopes. But knowing and accepting are different things. It took a while to accept the finality of his illness. But acceptance came in its own time. As the weeks went on he talked less of his illness and more about the things he had to be grateful for, and about preparing for death. His faith enabled him to face the future with great courage and serenity. He has left us a wonderful example, a great lesson in living and dying.
So, although we are sad, and it’s the most natural thing in the world to mourn the loss of somebody we loved so much, we are consoled and strengthened by our faith that God is deliverance. God has delivered Dan from death and will bring him to the glory of the resurrection. We have the confidence of St Paul who can say in the second reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We have trust in the love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ which assures us that “neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation can come between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The seed of Fr Dan’s faith and of his vocation to the priesthood was sown in his home where the faith of his parents Celia and John shaped their own lives and the lives of their family. That faith was nourished in his primary school in Curravagh and later in St Patrick’s College, Cavan, where he and Fr Eamonn Bredin and I were classmates. We continued the journey together in Maynooth and were ordained together in the Cathedral on 15 June 1969. I shared a room with Dan in one of our years in Maynooth and saw at first hand his dedication to work, his genius at science and, at that time, his passion for cross country running.
In his priestly ministry Dan did his first year in Down and Connor diocese and was then appointed chaplain and catechist to Cavan Vocational School, now Breifne College. From there he was sent to Paris for two years to study liturgy and became Director of Liturgy and Adult Religious Education in the diocese. He served as curate in Milltown, Cavan and Maudabawn before becoming parish priest of Kilmainhamwood. He was later P.P. in Drumlane before coming to Killeshandra in 2010. He oversaw the renovation of a number of historic churches, including Maudabawn and Killeshandra and the beautiful results of his labours speak for themselves. In addition to all of that he chaired school boards in all the parishes he served in and did so very effectively. He was chair of the board of management of St Patrick’s College for three terms – a total of nine years. During that time the new school was planned and built and his steady leadership and able management skills ensured that the project and the transition were accomplished smoothly and seamlessly.
However, it was in his care for people that Fr Dan excelled. Fr Dan was greatly respected and appreciated in every place where he served, but more than that, he was loved. He will be missed, not only by his family to whom he was so close and so committed. He will be missed by his brother priests and by you, parishioners from Killeshandra and the many other places where he served with such dedication and love. May he now hear the words of Jesus: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’