St. Macartan’s Day,
St. Macartan’s College
24 March 2011
My dear friends,
Fellow priests, teachers, staff and pupils it is a great joy and privilege for me to join you on St. Macartan’s Day and lead you in the celebration of the Eucharist. Even though this beautiful Sports Hall was not there in my time, I still feel as if I am coming home. After spending five years here as a boarding pupil and later twenty years as a member of the staff, I could hardly feel a stranger in your midst. I am very conscious of the noble tradition we have inherited and which we celebrate to-day. Our inspiration and our guidance come to us from God the Creator, especially through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. All of this has been modeled and passed on through St. Patrick, St. Macartan and St. Brigid and later through people like Fr. Cornelius Tierney. Many priests and lay members of staff in this school have over the years given a splendid witness to this tradition and set high standards for the rest of us. We thank God this morning in our Eucharist for all his gifts to us. We ask God’s continued guidance and blessing on our teachers and on our school. In listening to the word of God, we will reflect on what challenges it may be putting before us if we are to honour the tradition passed on to us. To prepare us to do this more worthily let us ask forgiveness for our failures.
My dear friends,
Fellow-priests, teachers, staff and students, just a month ago to-day I was in Kenya. I went there with a school group from a Dublin school, twelve boys of an age with your senior pupils, who were accompanied by their leader and a number of parents and adults which brought the group to thirty. The twelve boys were members of a sports club in the school. Each year they fund-raise and over a ten year period have contributed more than €1million in total to various mission projects in Third World countries.
Their purpose in going to Kenya was to see how the money was being used and to learn from the experience. Each pupil paid his own fare. The leader of the group, a teacher in the school, is a past pupil of St. Macartan’s College.
Over the nine days of the trip the group travelled to remote parts of Kenya to see schools, clinics, water projects and other facilities which they had funded. One of the more unusual visits taken in was to a herd of camels which the group had funded. They were imported from Afghanistan and brought in to improve the diet of the local Pokot tribe, especially the children, because the camel’s milk is particularly rich in vitamins.
One of the tasks which I was asked to perform during the trip was to bless a dormitory and a little kitchen area in a school which had just been completed in a remote part of Northern Kenya. Because there are no roads and no schools provided by the state, the children have to board if they are to receive an education in schools which are funded and run by missionaries, in this case Irish missionaries. The dormitory was very basic. It housed one hundred pupils, twenty five sections with two bunk beds in each, a mattress and no furniture. There was a section for toilets and another section for a few washbasins and shower units.
The kitchen area was basic. Very little cooking apparatus was required for the simple fare provided. Their staple diet was porridge and soup so the table did not need to be highly decorated with cutlery – a dish and a spoon were sufficient. The dormitory and kitchen were paid for by another past pupil of St. Macartan’s College, a classmate of my own who was a boarder here for five years. He had money which he judged not to be needed by himself or his wife or his children, who are all in jobs and making their way. He decided this was a way in which he could make a difference and best use what he could do without when others were in greater need.
My dear friends, we are all in one way or another part of the St. Macartan’s tradition. He and Patrick are credited with being the first ones to offer the word and grace of Christ to the people living in this part of the world. Since its acceptance, the way of Christ has been passed on from parents to children as a worldview and a way of life. Our people have accepted the Christian message and lived by it; many have given their lives in its service and some have died for it.
Among those, I wish to mention Fr. Cornelius Tierney because this year we remember the 80th anniversary of his death as part of our school’s St. Macartan’s Day celebrations. A native of Clones, he was a student here and after ordination in 1899, returned to the college as teacher and bursar. He was then curate in Ballyshannon for six years (the football field there is named after him), before volunteering to join the Maynooth Mission to China in 1918. He worked as a missionary in China for over ten years until one cold November morning at 6.00am as he was about to celebrate Mass at the Shang Tang Hsu mission station he was arrested by a communist gang who had just taken over the local area.
There was a demand made for a ransom of €50,000.00. In his last letter to a friend, he concluded with a reference to the St. Macartan’s College motto “Ora Deum et omnes sanctos pro me ut fortis et fidelis sim (Pray to God and all the saints for me that I may be strong and faithful)”. He died at the hands of his captors in the purple mountains of Central China on 28 February, 1931. To-day we recall the courage and generosity which inspired his life and ultimately the self-sacrifice of his death. We honour his memory and we embrace him as an integral part of our St. Macartan’s tradition.
In the Gospel Reading, we were brought back to the centre and foundation of our tradition which in our reflections to-day brought us from Kenya to China to home. We listen to Christ say to us in his disciples “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last” and also “love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” It was this love that inspired St. Patrick and St. Macartan; that gave us this college on the hill and a Cathedral on a facing hill; that inspired Cornelius Tierney and many others to give their life-blood in the service of others and that moved many to give of their time, their energy and resources to improve the quality of life of the poor and needy in other parts of our world.
My dear pupils, you have your lives in front of you. You have choices to make. There are lots of careers in which you could find happiness and fulfillment. There are few ways of life in which your talents are more needed than in the service of God and His people. God’s call to follow Jesus Christ and share in his mission is still there as it was in the time of St. Macartan, Fr. Cornelius Tierney and so many others who have studied, played and matured on this hill of Mullamurphy. You are being challenged to respond and to say “unworthy and undeserving as I may be, I am willing to give my life over to the service of God and His people and allow God’s grace to do the rest. This way I can follow a noble tradition and make a difference. What I give will come back to me a hundred fold.” As Jesus says in the Gospel reading, “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.”