In tribute to Fr Anthony J Butler RIP

Fr Anthony J Butler SMA died on 16 October 2014 and was buried in Wilton, Cork on 20 October. Tony was a loyal ACP member and a frequent contributor to this site. In tribute to his passing, we re-publish his contribution of 1 August 2011 – “Looking Back and Forward”
Every year I make a pilgrimage back to the parish church where I was baptised- St. Agatha’s, North William Stree, Dublin 1. There in June 1941 my parents and godparents said ” yes ” on my behalf to my being baptised. Each year I return to say my own ” yes “, there I made my First Confession,First Holy Communion, My Confirmation, celebrated my first Mass – my “yes” to all of these I renew also annualy.
I sat there thinking of the Church into which I was baptised. I remember the kindness of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, the Penny Dinners in Buckingham street, the bedside consolations of the sisters to the elderly sick and dying. Sister Louise Halligan saying to my dying grandfather, ” Thats right now, be a good man, go to sleep, turn over on your side, thats right, off you go.” and with that he died.
The remembered curates of my youth, William Nix, Joseph Newth, Bill Rogan,michael Courtney Burke, and the gracious pastor, Monsignor Tom O’Reilly. John Charles sweeping in like the man in the add for Sandyman’s Port, shoulder down, Cross of Lorraine twinkling,that Borgia Ring(?)on knuckled finger, door closed and locked Bang! Bang! he was going to invoke The Holy Spirit on us at Confirmation. Sister Kevin, ever-young, encouraging the Holy Spirit to come quickly as she melodied Veni Creator Spiritus, her Vatican Air Force headgear – as we called it – She was Daughter of Charity also – swaying as she tried to keep the Holy Spirit in time and tune with John Charles. His cup of tea and Marietta biscuit was waiting for him in the sacristy.
Sister Louise had a great scam going. Every Friday we had a draw for the missions, a penny draw and every Friday without fail Baby Jesus won! Fr.Malachy Geoghan C.P, regaled us with rocking laughter as he preached to us – to a full church – from that pulpit. Fr. Arthur CP occasionally played bad cop to Malachy’s good cop. It was all pure theatre. Joe Newth had a clothe over the grill in his confessional and a series of pulleys that worked so that as he closed the door on one grill the other opened. Monsignor O’Reilly – who drove a Riley – occasionally would sweep majestically down the nave of the church – like a high altar on the move – wearing his confessional cloak with the lions head brass chains on it. The nave was divided and locked until after holy communion began so that the silver seats received first and the anawim yahweh received then.
We had an earlier version of a responsorial psalm, that collecive cough after The Consecration. I am sure there is a book to be written with regards Liturgical Changes to be entitled, ” Whatever Happened to The Sacred Cough “.
These are some of my memories of my parish sitting there in St. Agathas. I also remember the man refered to as ” The silenced Priest” who he was I have no idea. I knew early in my life about abortion, gin and knitting needles, I knew of rent boys selling themselves for sex, being picked up after games in Croke Park. I knew of sex for sale by male and female prostitutes along the quays and the work that The Legion of Mary was doing pastorally for them.I remember distinctly being told that the Archbishop had banned a popular song at the time, ” Put another nickle in, in the nickolodeon.” it was not in fact banned by his grace!
The turf depot on Ballybough Road,the bomb shelters in Summer Street, The Patrician Congress in Croke Park and my dad’s friend ” Pipes” having to walk home to Cabra from Croker dressed as he was as a shepherd because someone had stolen his shoes, shirt and trousers as he took part in the pagent of the Congress. Harry who was a jew and his family never speaking to him because he married a catholic….. my grandfather telling me that Matt Talbot was a scab, he broke the strike! Women having to wear gloves if they were marrying for a second time, am I right in that? The priest changing from purple to white stole during the churching of women,and Father Newth offering a decade of the rosary during the boys sodality because the king had died. Memories of the good-bad old days.
As I grow older, I believe more and I know less. My faith is now with Jesus not so much in- as he being up there – but with this carpenter God. The emerging Church is emerging, the Church being converted, it starts with me, my being converted away from ” churchianity ” to a life based on Gospel values with the People of God’ So as the song says: Thanks for the Memory.
In conclusion to quote Abraham Lincolin Dec. 1862.
” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.The occasion is piled high with difficulties and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew, we must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country ”
Amen to that and my “Yes” to the future.

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  1. Christine Gilsen says:

    Thanks for a great read Anthony. I join you in the Amen and “Yes” to the future.

  2. Thank you, Tony, for this lovely post. I was two years behind you in O’Connell Schools and was confirmed in St Agatha’s in 1954 by John Charles McQuaid. He asked a question of the lads on either side of me but I ‘escaped’.
    I’m delighted that you mentioned ‘The Sacred Cough’ after the Consecration/Elevation, a ‘proclamation of the faith’ – rather than a ‘responsorial psalm’ – far more powerful than the perfunctory ‘Christ has died . . .’ that we’ve had for the last 40 years.(How come so few seem to know the other proclamations of faith?)It had a formative influence on my faith.
    I wasn’t aware of some of the things that you were when I was growing up rnen boys, etc.
    My memory of ‘Put another nickle in . . .’ was that it was banned by the Pope! I’m sure Pius XII had much more important things on his mind.
    A few years ago I celebrated Mass for he first time in the church where I was baptised, Berkeley Road. It wasn’t my parish church but I was born in a nearby nursing home. My two servers were young girls. One was from the Coombe, of pure Dublin stock but who denied that she was from the inner city. The other was of Nigerian parentage and very proud to be a ‘Dub’.
    God bless.

  3. Anthony J. Butler says:

    Christine, Sean, Thank you both for your kind commentsSt. Agatha’s is a beautiful church and much credit to the clergy and parishoners, as a sacred building it is well worth a visit.
    I often wonder if I were in fact an alien when it comes to life in Ireland, especially in Dublin in those ” good old days.” There were wonderful days with wonderful people, however there was that unspoken shadow side ever there. Yes, men and women and children queueing for Penny Dinners, down the steps in Buckingham Stree to St. Augustine. The laundries, women in black sitting in the back of lorries/vans and ” if you don’t be a good boy I’ll send you to Artane.” The Garda who was checking who was not in school, a satchel over his shoulders with a summons? and Alfie Byrne with his waxed moustaches greeting his fellow citizens. Da once told me that Alifie’s hand was in the Dead Zoo in a case with a sign saying, ” That shook ye!” I course I went to check it out! We sang ” Peadar in the Tree tops ” when Peadar Cowen was going for election and even then Fairview Park and The Phoenix Park were dangerous, dangerous places after dark. Abortion, living over the brush, pawn shops, sex for sale, drink and the greatest of sins in those days was to read The News Of The World!!! smuggled in and hid, yes, those good-bad old days indeed. if I speak of my growing-up days……ah! not at all, it was never like that then, yes it was. I had parents who loved each other who gave us kids gifts we will never lose, faith and hope and pride.
    I remember so clearly John Charles being driven home each evening. Usually about 5.30pm his car – a citreon(?) arrived at the corner of the N. Circular Road and Summerhill. When I read that he did not know that his mother – as he knew her – was not in fact his birth mother, his father revealed this to him in his teens and the early death of his brother, I see him now as a somewhat lonley man. I think of the interview that the late Michael Murphy, Bishop of Cork gave on radio about he being brought to a relatives house as a young boy after his mother’s early death, his father having died before Michael was born. We never really know anothers story, do we?
    Some years ago one of my confreres asked me to help him find his mother’s grave. He was in his late 70’s, a rather remote, austere figure. We walked fields outside his birth place, he trying to remember, ” I have a memory of a big stone near a tree,” He never found it, he never knew where his mother was buried.
    Is it true that it is never too late to have a happy childhood? I wonder. That shadowside of life in an inner city Dublin parish as I knew it and experienced it, our churches were full, “40 Hours Devotion ” altars alive with flowers, incense, candles and the church open was drama, opera, stage craft. Francis St. Had their’s on Christmas Day! and after dinner Da walked us as kids from Ballybough to Francis Street but it had a bonus, after we came home we had a quiz about our journey, ” where is Tangeir Lane, Fumbly Alley, Protestant Row? Bull Alley ?”
    Yes, the churches we full, Bona Mors Sodality, Angelic Warfare Sodality, Confraternities, Children of Mary and that underbelly hidden but known. Known but not spoken of, ever. Its not a question of we keeping secrets, but secrets keep us! Its like our emotions, if we bury them, we bury them – alive.
    The story has not been told yet and I believe that as a Church and as a country we have no idea of what is facing us in the future if and when stories are told and most importantly heard with respect and held with reverence. We are entering very,very sacred and scary story telling in the days and years ahead. Sacred because if one brother,one sister of ours within the community of Nation and Church is shut down or not listened to, we have learned nothing.
    The most dangerous and perilous time for anyone who has suffered with deep clinical depression is when that depression begins to lift, (as it always does my own experience here) Because now I – the patient – can make choices. New life, a new begining, or just get on with life – putting the option of darker solutions on hold. We are at that stage now,coming out of years and years of a deep depression. the stage-craft that nourished externally and kept us observant and warm in our seats, the curtain is finally closing on that and the real journey, the finding, rediscovering our identity is begining. Together we are creating a new geography, may the God of our journey be with us all.

  4. Soline Humbert says:

    Thank you Anthony for these wonderful very evocative, colourful memories, … I wonder whether sr Kevin is the Sr Kevin I know…… But thank you even more for your radical openness, your Fiat to the call to be open to the future.If we can allow the Holy Spirit a bit of space in our hearts, what wonders we will not see!

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    Anthony, I only read your further, very important, comment after having sent my one to your earlier piece. Yes we are at a “hinge” time, and we need to remember that only the truth can and will set us free.Thank you for your very honest and very deep sharing friom the heart .Yes as you say” we are entering very,very sacred and scary story telling in the days and years to come”.May the Risen Christ call us out of the tombs of our fears and fill us with abundant life!
    Perhaps the ACP may facilitate in some way this sacred story telling/listening ? I would be happy to be part of it.

  6. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Anthony, as you say: “We never know another’s story, do we?” On the theme of early parental bereavement and remote austereness of personality, the deaths of both Bishop John Magee’s parents in his first year at Kiltegan cannot but have taken a toll.

  7. Anthony J. Butler says:

    Soline, thank you. The Sister Kevin I remember mber so well was a Daughter of Charity in St. Vincent’s Convent, Nrth William Street. She had a wonderful voice, a great organist and a smile that brought grace to every day. As far as I can recall she was from Navan. The local myth was that she had been in training as a professional singer.
    Even as I write these words I can see her asking me after 10.00 Sunday mass and asking, ” Tony, what hymn do we sing at the end of this Mass every Sunday – the children’s Mass – and I replied, ” So long My Saviour.” She gently corrected me that while it was appropriate as a final hymn, the correct words were ” Soul of My Saviour.”
    Kevin priested me in so many ways, a woman who actually made me feel good about myself. But what about that Cannanite woman who put the Lord on a learning curve in todays Gospel ?
    Bringing him to see that the Father’s love was for all. And what a teacher she was! Bringing him through salvation history – even then – from “Sir” to” Son of David “to “Lord”! She helped him discover more about his ministry. He was, is the Sacrament of God for all.

  8. Anthony J. Butler says:

    Thanks Eddie, these bereavements in all our lives do take a toll as you so rightly say. And yes, we never know the story of another. My own Father, aged 50, collasped while we were both at a match in Croke Park. he died some days later. I have no recollection whatsoever of his funral,neither liturgy nor burial.
    I do remember my grandfather not going to Dad’s – his son – funeral and I do remember his words, ” Ah, Tony, you can only take so much!” He had buried his wife and now the third of his children had died in adulthood and that was only that bit too much. I have never forgotten those words of his.
    Do we – men – mourn? How do we? When someone or something in our lives is reaved, taken away from us, having a stroke, being made redundant, losing ones good name, even retirement is bereavement. It struck me recently that the one part of my life in terms of loss that I have never mourned is the taking on of celibacy. I took it on, vowed it, yes voluntarily.
    These days I am seeing it in terms of bereavement and how do I address this loss? Is there a liturgy for me? Its interesting that that I have lived 20 years more than my Father, i see him now more as an older brother and am very conscious of his support and indeed the support of ” all who have gone before us in faith.”
    My mother lived to be 90, she stopped working at 75. She also buried her husband and two of her sons. i smile as I remember her words to me at one time, ” you know Tony, your father was a decent man,he even died on his dady off.”

  9. Anthony J. Butler says:

    correction: last sentence:” He even died on his day off”

  10. Soline Humbert says:

    Your words are gifts from the heart.
    Very special blessings of joyful hope on you today,feast of Jean-Marie Vianney and to all priests “after the Heart of Christ”. With gratitude.

  11. michael o'brien says:

    hi, fr. Anthony how nice to read memories of good old Dublin.

  12. Brian Eyre says:

    I too have fond memories of St.Agatha’s Church where I made my First Holy Communion and was confirmed by Archbishop McQuaid there too. I remember well Sr Rita, Sr Monica and Sr Louise, wonderful woman. After finishing my primary school with the nuns I went on to study with the Christian Brothers in O’Connell School. Every month the boys who belonged to St Agatha’s parish were allowed to leave O’Connell school and walk down to the St.Agatha’s for their monthy confession. On arrival on the church we would all go to confession after which in order to waste time we would do the Stations of the Cross, pay a visit to the mortuary chapel and say a prayer for the deceased if there was a coffin in the chapel. Then we would go to the back of the church and light some candles, after this monthly ritual we would return to O”Connell school.
    The Church of St. Agatha’s was always full on a Sunday and during Lent people and school children would leave their homes early to go to the 7 o’clock mass. The church would be freezing but no one complained as this was part of the Lenten sacrifice.
    Older people will remember the bomb that fell near the church. It was dropped by mistake by a German war plane during the 2nd World War, killing 27 people.My father, Dick Eyre, was the first on the scene as he was the local defence man and helped to dig out with his bare hands survivors.
    The priests of St. Agatha’s Frs Nix, Burke, Newth and Rogan were wonderful men as also Mons O’Reilly. At that time parishes had the luxury of having 3 or 4 priests. Today the story is different as due to a shortage of vocations parishes are being clustered together. Daily Mass is becoming less common. In my time people of the parish of St Agatha’s had tremendous love and faith in the Mass, hopefully this will survive.The church though with courage will need to look at other models of the priesthood, not just the celibate one. Who knows in the future other priests be they men or women, celibate or married will be celebrating in our churches.
    Brian Eyre, Catholic married priest

  13. Mary Vallely says:

    I am saddened to read of the death of Fr Tony Butler. I remember he was one of the most inspiring speakers at that wonderful first event in the Regency when the room was packed to capacity and filled with such energy and hope. I met him outside later and told him how his words had inspired me and we chatted a little about Dromantine, the SMA Retreat House where he spent many happy days. We hugged and moved on but I never forgot him and often prayed for him. It was obvious from the few pieces he wrote here that he knew great suffering but he also had a tremendous capacity for joy and for expressing that joy in words. I loved the fact that he was so open about his feelings and that his compassion for others who felt marginalised was so evident. He was a loving man. Tony talked about singing again after a period of darkness and he seemed to me like a caged bird. I am glad that his suffering is over and that he is free to sing forever more. God rest his soul.

  14. Soline Humbert says:

    @ 14 Mary, may I echo your lovely words in connection with Tony. That is also how I felt. Tony is now free to sing for evermore…
    In view of his death occurring during the synod in Rome and some of the issues being discussed, I thought this extract from a piece by him on this website from 2011was a very apt one:
    “…A third – and for now final conversation!
    A lady I know of tells of her story of meeting a gay man for the first time – her own son. She had listened over the years to what the Church was saying about homosexuality, particularly she remembered that word used ” disordered.” Now in knowing and meeting her son as homosexual all the stereotyping she had of gay people was challenged. When her son told his story to her she was confused and admits that she cried and for a long time kept this to herself.
    So many questions arised for her. But now being able to ” put a face ” on a gay man for the first time she knew the risk her son had taken in telling her and also she began to understand that he took the risk of losing her love and that of his father, this is a real risk for any gay man or woman.
    My invitation to conversation here is acknowledge the presence of gay men and women in our worshipping communities, to thank them for their presence, for all of us to recognise that human sexuality in all its richness is a gift from God and to issue a welcome and indeed ask forgiveness from those who were told or felt they were not wanted within the People of God.”
    Thank you Tony for all that you shared and gave,thank you for your compassion born from your own suffering and closeness to God.

  15. Eddie Finnegan says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Mary@14 and Soline@15 in their memories of Fr Tony Butler. When I saw his death notice in the paper on Monday, I dug out my set of 4 CDs of that “Towards an Assembly . . .” I wanted to be reminded of how Tony had kicked off with Beckett and the Reporter and how he kept us spellbound for the next twelve minutes or so:
    “Nice morning, Mr Beckett.”
    “Hm, it is, yes.”
    “Good to be alive?”
    “I wouldn’t go that far!”
    Tony went on to declare that it is indeed good to be alive in today’s Church. In fact he hadn’t kicked off with Beckett but with Proverbs: “Where there is no Vision, the people perish.” He was the third speaker on “the Vision thing” that morning.
    All I can say is that if Pope Francis is, just maybe, feeling a wee bit down in the mouth as he tries to make the best of Relatio-Mark 2 for the year ahead, he should just stick that CD-2 in the player (He’s already Named the Reality for any cardinals with ears to hear) and he’ll find Tony’s Vision around about Track 13 or 14. That should keep him in homilies till next October. I’d be amazed if Francis found anything to disagree with in Tony’s address.
    May he rest now in peace.

  16. Very saddened to read of the death of Father Tony. As a friend of mine, another pure ‘Dub’, puts it, ‘The light of heaven upon him’.

  17. Kevin Fitzgibbon says:

    Tony lived many lives, all packed into one lifespan. He traveled endless miles, on journeys around the world, and within his own heart, his own soul. He took delight in stories, tales of human complexity, human foibles, peoples’ idiosyncrasies. He was beloved by children, who hugged him like a grandfather – and he hugged them back. He preached and touched the hearts of all ages, in simple, heartfelt words, always reflective, always human, always deeply spiritual.
    He suffered. Only God really knows how he suffered. He allowed us to glimpse it occasionally, but only as a way to speak to us of love, of forgiveness, of healing and of redemption. Be gentle with yourself, was his message. See your own beauty. Allow the powerful and healing love of God to wash over you. Be compassionate, and not judgmental. Such was his message, both in words and in his living.
    Humour was his preferred way, having a gentle poke of fun, when telling his tales, or in his sermons. As often as not, self-deprecating humour; and always with a smile at human silliness. In the face of all annoyances, his constant refrain was ‘Thank you, Jesus’. You never really knew if he was being just a little ironic…
    He loved weddings. He travelled all over for them, performing ceremonies, blessing unconventional unions, revelling in the new stories he was collecting.
    He told me his favourite holiday was to sit at a table in a square in Madrid, moving from café to café, following the sun around the square, drinking orange juice and coffee with a good book.
    Tony loved the Church, the People of God. He wrote and spoke as a Prophet, calling his Church to become fully alive, compassionate and loving.
    Tony’s life touched many. He brought his personal suffering into his vocation, speaking and writing about being gentle to ourselves, seeking out the light of hope, and having faith. He knew darkness; he used his knowledge to give light.
    You are sadly missed, Great Soul.
    Rest with your Lord, in love.
    May your table always be in sunshine.
    ‘You are immortal spirit, whole and innocent;
    Everything is forgiven, and released to the Holy Spirit.’

  18. Brendan Butler says:

    I hope Anthony is causing ructions in the Kingdom

  19. Noel McCann says:

    I learned of Tony’s passing last week with great sadness. As previous contributors have highlighted Tony was an inspiring speaker. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the Regency and also at an ACP meeting in Cork in the Autumn of 2012. He will be greatly missed – not least by those striving for change in our church.
    On behalf of the Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI] I would like to extend sincere sympathies to Tony’s family and his friends in the ACP.
    Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dhilis.

  20. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    At Tony’s Funeral Mass, celebrated at SMA Parish Wilton on Monday October 20th, the readings which he had chosen, were from the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, June 24th, (Tony’s own birthday). The large congregation, comprising family, friends, and a number of bishops, heard SMA Provincial, Fr Michael Mc Cabe capture the essence of the man we mourned. He characterised Tony as seldom the arbiter, but ever the gracious communicator. A man infused with the Francis factor, long before the term was even thought of.
    In a moving tribute, Tony’s brother Don, described him as precious to his family, making reference to the depression that could betimes rob them of his presence.
    A friend of mine for several years, it was indeed a blessing that during a period in hospital, Tony was the Chaplain. His unobtrusive manner, and wacky wit brought solace to my soul.
    As Kevin Fitzgibbon reminds us, Tony loved weddings.. “T.Bone” as our daughter Myriam affectionately called him, officiated at her wedding just two months ago. People still remark of the warmth, imagination and inclusiveness he brought to that celebration.
    Shortly before he left us, at what was to be the last of our regular meet ups for lunch, staff in the restaurant gathered around our table to thank him for the recent wedding of their colleague. Although, by then quite frail, it brought a glint to his eye.
    You knew “the pestilence
    that walketh in darkness”.
    May you now enjoy
    the fullness of the Light
    you lent my life!
    Kevin Clancy

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