Monsignor Liam Kelly preached the following homily during the Funeral Mass for the late Very Reverend Eugene Clarke, P.E., which was celebrated in St. Patrick’s Church, Drumcor on Monday 4 January 2021:
The priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote a lovely poem about a blacksmith called Felix Randal, a man that he had attended to and anointed before he died. Hopkins understood how we priests and other carers get close to the sick people that we minister to. He wrote in that poem: This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears. And when Hopkins heard that Felix his sick friend had died he wrote in the poem he had penned in his memory: Ah well God rest him all road ever he offended.
Fr Eugene Clarke, whose funeral Mass we celebrate today, was a priest of the diocese of Kilmore for sixty three years, and God alone knows all the sick and dying people that he ministered to during that time, treating them with gentleness and kindness, bringing them Holy Communion, anointing them with the blessed oils and bringing peace to people who were faced with their own mortality. Today, we thank God for all the good that Fr Eugene did throughout his life and we pray that any wrong he may have done will be forgiven him. He was an inoffensive man. But we too, like Hopkins the poet, say: Ah well God rest him all road ever he offended.
Eugene Clarke was born almost ninety years ago on 10 June 1931, one of seven children born to Michael Clarke and May Gargan in the townland of Tullynaskeagh, near Bailieborough in County Cavan. He grew up there going to National School before entering St Patrick’s College, Cavan in September 1945, just as World War 11 was ending. Twelve years later, on 23 June 1957, he was ordained a priest in St Patrick’s College Maynooth. He spent one year in Birmingham diocese before being appointed a curate in Lower Drumreilly in September 1958 and for the next twenty nine years he ministered in parishes in County Leitrim – in Doobally, Killargue and Aughnasheelin – and endeared himself to people everywhere he went, with his gentle and kind ways. Then in 1987 he was appointed to this parish of Kilmore and he served here both as parish priest and curate for the next twenty years before retiring to Cavan town in 2007.
It seems very appropriate that the Gospel reading for Fr Eugene’s funeral Mass is the Sermon on the Mount, taken from St Matthew’s gospel chapter five. Happy are the poor in spirit, happy the gentle, happy the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It would appear that the values which Jesus promoted in his Sermon on the Mount, were the values that Eugene Clarke based his life on. And because of Fr Eugene’s gentle, kind and courteous ways, people got an insight into, a glimpse of the loving God that he believed in so much that he dedicated his life to serving him in the priesthood.
I first got to know Fr Eugene back more than sixty two years ago when he was, in September 1958, appointed to our parish in Aughawillan. He was just a year ordained at the time when he arrived in the parish with his sister Maureen as his housekeeper. They were both lovely people and the parishioners took to them instantly. Two years after he came to the parish I began to train as an altar server, learning the Latin responses and the different duties of an altar server. I was teamed up with my older brother Frankie, who was already an old hand at serving. Having served Mass for the first time Fr Eugene refrained from pointing out the mistakes I had made and instead with a smile said: ‘You will soon be as good as the ould fella!’
Another memory from sixty years ago was walking a mile of road to confession in Aughawillan church. Because it was dark I brought a flash lamp with me and to my great embarrassment, when I was in the confession box the lamp switched on lighting up the whole place. Another man would have given out to me, but Fr Eugene just smiled, put me at ease, and gave me absolution both for my sins and for the flash lamp and I went away very grateful for all the forgiveness. These acts of human kindness, the gentle ways, are the things we remember, when most other things are forgotten. Fr Eugene’s whole life was peppered with such acts of kindness and care and today we hope and pray that God will reward him for his goodness.
The first reading from the book of Ecclesiastes chapter three states that There is a season for everything, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what has been planted. Eugene Clarke, who loved nature, understood the truth of this statement. Coming from a farming background, he never lost the love of the soil, and everywhere he went he kept a garden and, with a variety of flowers, added colour and beauty to the place. He loved animals too and always made sure that the birds were fed especially in this the winter time of the year. He also enjoyed his game of golf and, being an avid supporter of Cavan football, he got great satisfaction from seeing his beloved team win the Ulster championship a couple months ago.
Today as we join with Bishop Martin in celebrating this funeral Mass, we thank Fr Eugene’s family, friends and neighbours for the way they supported him especially in recent years. We thank Bernie Brady who took over the housekeeping duties when Maureen was no longer able to do so and we thank Catriona, Patricia, Eileen, Christine and Anne – his other carers who looked after him so well. We thank God for them and we pray that all who are grieving for him, his brother Fr Bosco who is in Buckinghamshire and all his nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, Fr Barney Doyle and his other fellow priests and his many friends will all be comforted at this time.
As we pray for Fr Eugene, we pray too for his deceased parents, Michael and May, his sisters Maureen, Lil and Rosie, his brothers Benny and Philip and all the deceased members of the Clarke and Gargan families. We pray that they will all have a happy re-union in heaven. Fr Eugene had great devotion to the Virgin Mary and visiting her shrine at Knock was one of his favourite outings each year. There is a time to be born and a time to die. It seems very fitting that Fr Eugene died early on 1 January, the feast of Mary the Mother of God.
Today we pray that this good man who has died will join with Mary and all the saints in heaven. May he rest in peace.