Frank McMullan's blog

My post-retirement blog adventures

Fr John McKay RIP

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Here’s a classical bit of personal homophobia.  When I first heard in the late ’60s or early ’70s that the Legion of Mary had an outreach group for gay men in Dublin, my immediate reaction was: “Why in heaven’s name would they do that?  Sure that only encourages them!”  Haven’t I come a long long way?

Reach, a largely Catholic Christian group formed in the early ’80s, grew out of the original Legion of Mary group.  It functioned for over 20 years, meeting in Marianella, a Redemptorist house in Dublin.  I joined shortly after it started: A Carmelite priest in Whitefriar Street – I kid you not – gave me as Penance in Confession the task of making contact with the group.  He will never know the truly life-enriching favour he did me.  I belonged to Reach for many years.  As much as I gave to the group, especially on the musical side of the liturgy, I got so much more in return.

Fr John McKay

Confidentiality was probably the single most important characteristic of Reach.  People who were not involved in any other way on the gay scene in Dublin could feel comfortable attending its meetings and liturgies.  Indeed, some people travelled very great distances to attend meetings.  In one of its first tentative steps at being a more open group, the annual Reach carol service was brought to St Bart’s Church in Ballsbridge.  Fr John McKay was the Vicar at the time and he made us feel extremely welcome.  Previously, the late Canon Cecil Wilson gave us use of All Saints’ Church in Raheny for the carol service, but this was still only on a private basis.  The service at St Bart’s was open to the public.  [Confidentiality, in the form of closetedness, was probably the main cause of the eventual demise of Reach, although the annual carol service continues to this day – though now it is held in the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green.  This year’s service there will be on Saturday, 11th December.]

It is almost unheard of for a Church of Ireland priest to referred to as Father, or for the letters RIP [Rest in Peace] to be used when a church member dies.  The high church anglo-catholic credentials of St Bart’s would be an exception here.  John had a great interest in the writings and life of Cardinal Newman, a convert from Anglicanism.  Canon Mark Gardner makes the following observations about John: “He was a wise pastor and a large-hearted man.  He was international in his outlook and inclusive in his ministry, a family man and a priest to his fingertips.”

Fr John died recently.  Very Revd Nigel Dunne, Dean of Cork – who, in his days as curate at St Bart’s, officiated at several Reach services – gave the sermon at John’s funeral.  He concluded with this story:

The Dream of Gerontius [Edward Elgar’s oratorio based on John Henry Newman’s epic poem] was probably John’s favourite work and one that so much reflects his own understanding of life, death and resurrection.  I remember being at a performance of the work in the National Concert Hall, somewhat sceptical of John’s enthusiasm for it and turning to him during the angel’s presentation of the soul and realising that both of us had tears flowing down our cheeks.  And we – like the angel – commend John to God’s mercy and protection here today; and what more fitting way than to make our prayer with these words from the angel at the end of The Dream:

“Angels to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend and nurse and lull thee, as thou liest;
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.”

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Written by Frank McMullan

10 September 2010 at 21:54

Posted in Church

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