Month’s Memory Mass of Fr Dan Sheridan

The virtuous man, though he die before his time will find rest.

The last year two years have taken their toll on us the priests of the diocese of Kilmore. Charlie Heerey died in April 2017, Felim McGovern in September, Brian MacNamara in October and Ray Brady in November of that same year. Gerry Kearns died in May of last year, and both Micheál Quinn and John O’Donnell died in July of last year. And then Fr Dan Sheridan died just over a month ago on 19 January.  In all eight of our diocesan priests have died in the last twenty one months.  Dan Sheridan, died at the relatively young age of seventy four, and today, as we gather for his Month’s Memory Mass, we give thanks to God for all the good he did in life. We pray that any wrong he may have done will be forgiven him and that he will be happy forever in heaven. We pray today too for his family and friends, his parishioners here in Killeshandra and elsewhere who loved him in life and now miss him greatly. We pray that God will bring comfort and healing to all of them.

The death of a love one brings grief and sadness and these emotions are felt by many people, family, friends and loved ones. When a priest dies he is mourned by the family he was born into, his sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, sisters in law and brothers in law and a wide circle of extended family. He is missed greatly by them, because he is known to them by his first name, not his title and he is a sort of father figure to all. They are the ones who can say things to him that no one else dare say. They are the ones he has laughed with and cried with, they are the ones who see beyond the collar and the cloth, they are the ones who loved him in life and miss him in death. And so today we pray that all of Fr Dan’s extended family will find comfort and be consoled as we gather together in prayer.

But of course the priest is a father figure to another, larger family, the people he has cared for along the way. They too are heartbroken and grieving because the one they have come to know and love is no longer with them. For all of these people the death of their priest is a death in the family and this much was very obvious last month here in Killeshandra as this parish set about saying goodbye to their beloved priest, sending him home to God on the back of their prayers. The people in the parishes as  Cavan, Maudabawn, Kilmainhamwood, Drumlane and Killeshandra and other places Fr Dan served, the pupils in the various schools he ministered in – all these are grieving too and today we pray for all of them and for all the friends he made along the road of life, and for us his brother priests – we pray today, that the prayers of Mary, who stood by the cross as her son was dying, will bring comfort to all of us at this time.

Fr Dan was an extraordinary man. He was as intelligent as they come and he could have chosen one of many careers. He could have been a doctor of medicine, an engineer, an architect, maybe even a Formula 1 rally driver! But he didn’t not choose any of these, instead, after he had completed his Leaving Certificate examination in 1962 he went to Maynooth College and then was ordained a priest almost fifty years ago, on 15 June 1969. And he faithfully and effectively ministered as a priest, here and there in this diocese and elsewhere ever since then.

Fr Dan had a great head on him, but he also had a big heart. He identified, very quickly, the people who were struggling, those with troubled minds or sick bodies. He identified all those who were limping along, those who were hurting, those needing a helping hand. He sought them out and spent time with them listening to them, praying with them and for them and he always had wise words of advice and encouragement for people helping them to find their feet again, take heart and move on in life. I know these things because I was in the Comprehensive school in Cootehill when Dan was in the same parish in Maudabawn. I know about this aspect of Dan’s ministry, which was always done quietly and without show, because I have met quite of the people he has ministered to, people whose lives he saved, by his human kindness and his deep faith in a loving and caring God.

Sir Christopher Wren, the great English architect who designed St Paul’s cathedral in London, has a plaque to his memory on the cathedral floor directly under the great dome which reads He lived not for his own profit but for the public good. If you seek his monument look around you’. And even though Dan Sheridan was not the architect of this beautiful church here in Killeshandra, his influence can be seen everywhere on its recent restoration, and the words on Christopher Wren’s plaque, could be applied to Dan Sheridan too and would not seem out of place in this church or indeed in the beautifully restored church and grounds in Maudabawn. ‘He lived not for his own profit but for the public good. If you seek his monument look around you’.

Cad a dheanfaimid feasta gan adhmad.  What will we do in the future without trees. They are the words written probably in the late 1700s  by an unknown Gaelic poet, as he watched the country being denuded of trees. Today, more than 200 years later, we wonder Cad a dheanfaimid feasta gan sagairt? What will we do in the future without priests?  Who will do the caring, the ministering to others that Fr Dan did?  Who will baptise and bless, who will preside at the Eucharist, who will bless the marriages, who will anoint the sick, who will bury the dead? Who will minister quietly and lovingly to those in need as Fr Dan did over a period of fifty years? We pray that people, perhaps even someone here present today, will answer the call to become priests and to serve God and others in the church. And we pray that you and all the baptised will realise that you have a vocation, and our hope is that you will find new ways of living out that vocation in your parish in an ever changing world.

There was and is great sadness at Fr Dan’s passing at the relatively young age of 74. But we take courage from the words of the Book of Wisdom, the first reading today, which tells us that The virtuous man, though he die before his time will find rest. And while we will be sad and we will grieve, we also take to heart the words of St Paul to the people of Thessalonika, who asked them and indeed us not to grieve as if we had no hope because we believe that Jesus died and rose again and that it will be the same for those who died in Jesus.

Dan Sheridan believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and saviour. Today we entrust him back to God. Dan had a great welcome for others in life. May the Lord now welcome him warmly. May he rest in peace.