Bishop Edward Daly – An appreciation
When I arrived in Derry on the first Sunday of July 1973 there was the smell of CS gas in the air and the occasional rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire in the background. I had no car; I was not allowed to have one until I had a formal parish appointment the next January, so I walked down into the Bogside for the first time to meet the only families I knew. They have been my friends ever since.
I came to replace the then Fr. Edward Daly who had just been appointed as director of Religious Affairs at RTE in Dublin. Those were big shoes to fill because he was such a devoted pastoral priest with ‘the smell of the sheep’ as Pope Francis puts it.
He got the job because of his skill in dealing with the media after Bloody Sunday and was relatively unknown before then. A year later, he was made bishop and chose ‘feed my sheep’ as his coat of arms. Before this, bishops usually had little pastoral experience and often were head teachers or had a degree in Canon Law. Simply ‘Father Daly’, he had none of these but his choice was inspired for he soon became our beloved ‘Pope of Derry,’ as his nephew described him.
He was a tireless worker, motivated by a zeal for his new episcopal calling and that enthusiasm was contagious. I can remember clearly how his new vocation and mine ran parallel, he was on fire with a love of God and his people and so was I.
In spite of the troubles the diocese was buzzing. We had pastoral centres in every deanery and pilgrimages to local shrines. I remember a Mass one sunny summer Sunday that filled the Brandywell. He visited every parish in the diocese and held self-assessment conferences. A tireless worker, he soon set the standard for the other dioceses to follow. This parish of Holy Family was the last in a series of new parishes he formed in the expanding city and I will be eternally grateful for the trust he had in me when he sent me to the good people here in August 1900 as Administer.
The dark clouds of war however meant he had to be especially courageous, condemning injustice one the one hand and the violence it led to on the other. He suffered much anguish during those years. He would shed real tears when a priest would want to leave the priesthood. It also broke his heart to see so many people die, no matter who they were.
He encouraged me to visit political prisoners, the men in Wormwood Scrubs, Crumlin Road, Long Kesh and the women in Armagh Jail especially during the Hunger Strikes. He was a man of reconciliation and peace, always reaching his hand out over the sectarian divide. He gave of himself totally and completely in the service of the Kingdom of God, a true Shepherd of the Lord.
Bishop Daly personified the Christian ideal of faith and hope, a man of sensitivity, loyalty and erudition. He not only preached the Gospel of Christ with the simple message of ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ but he has lived that message throughout his entire life. The first volume of the story of his life is set out in ‘Mister, are you a priest?’ Please read it if you can get your hands on a copy. It describes his early and family life, his studies and ordination until his appointment as Bishop of Derry in 1974. His enthusiasm for priesthood begins in Castlederg where, to raise funds for a new secondary school, he ran the local St. Patrick’s Hall and soon had it overflowing, drawing in people from the surrounding area. He set up a drama group and a new choir, something he would do again in Derry with the formation of the ’71Players’ and the Colmcille Ladies Choir. In Derry too he introduced bingo, as a much needed fundraiser.
St. Columb’s Hall became his second home for it was where he produced Christmas pantomimes and Sunday night concerts with acts that included stars like Frank Carson, Val Doonican and Roy Orbison.
Then we had the civil rights marches and the Troubles.
After Bloody Sunday he exhibited personal courage of the highest order, speaking out against violence from wherever it came. He dedicated his second book, titled A Troubled See to two unsung heroes who gave their lives whilst administering the Last Rites to two dying men; firstly Fr. Hugh Mullan in 1971. [That was also the date when the Conservative Government foolishly decided to try to win the support of their Unionist allies in Stormont by the introduction of ‘imprisonment without trial’] and secondly to Fr. Noel Fitzpatrick who was shot dead, in the same area of West Belfast in 1972. The British Army denied responsibility for either death. Few believe those denials.
This second book provides an invaluable insight into what life was like for a Catholic Bishop having to deal with the terrible events of death and destruction in a small corner of this country. It spreads however the Christian message of forgiveness and reconciliation and provides the ground for believing that this wonderful man, priest and bishop whom we have had the privilege to know in the pathway of life, had his own little part to play in making sure that ‘the Troubles’ are well and truly over, never, ever to return.
Bishop Daly’s Courage
I have been paying tribute to the great Shepherd we were blessed with in Bishop Edward Daly, to his humility, his zeal, his compassion, and his humour. I also want to acknowledge his courage. A courage that was not missing on Bloody Sunday when the world saw him accompany the body of Jackie Duddy, his white handkerchief of peace, like the veil of Veronica on the way to Calvary, as bishop Donal said so poetically in his funeral homily.
Bishop Daly says that it was his grounding in drama which gave him the confidence to face the media and ‘think on his feet’, a gift that was rewarded firstly with a senior appointment to RTE and then with the call to lead us as bishop.
When I was in Lourdes on a parish pilgrimage in July 2015 we were staying in the Paradis Hotel together with pilgrims from the diocese of Liverpool. I got to know some of the priests. I discovered that a few rooms away there was a priest who had his grandchildren with him. Also next-door was a Catholic priest who was there with his wife.
In the first case the priest was widowed at an early age and then decided to become a priest. The second case is even more interesting. He had been an Anglican minister and converted to Catholicism.
In his second book A Troubled See bishop Daly courageously called on the church to have another look at the rule of enforced celibacy for priests. He remembered how many good men left to get married. It broke his heart when this happened, that they had to choose between the two.
This is what he wrote in A Troubled See.
‘I ask myself, more and more why celibacy should be the great sacred and unyielding arbiter, the paradigm of the diocesan priesthood. Why not prayerfulness, conviction in the faith, knowledge of the faith, ability to communicate in the modern age, honesty, integrity, humility, a commitment to social justice, a work ethic, respect for others, compassion and caring?
Surely many of these qualities are as at least as important in a diocesan priest as celibacy – yet celibacy seems to be perceived as the predominant obligation the sine qua non. Celibacy is an obligation that has caused many wonderful potential candidates to turn away from vocation, and other fine men to resign their priesthood at great loss to the Church.
The quality of some of those whom we have lost to the priesthood has always been a cause of great sadness for me. Some of the most heart-breaking moments during my years as bishop were when priests came to me saying they could no longer live a celibate life and wished to resign from the active priesthood. One of the finest laymen, whom I have ever met, a man who served this country with huge distinction, once seriously contemplated the priesthood and decided to go in another direction solely because of the rule of celibacy.
I ask in all charity, is it not time for our Church to make a vocation to the priesthood possible and accessible for more men? Something needs to be done and done urgently and I hope the senior members of the clergy and laity make their views more forcefully known, views that are often expressed privately but seldom publicly.
Preachers must be harvested to serve in this new millennium, priests drawn from our diocese to serve in our diocese. There is certainly an important and enduring place for celibate priesthood. But I believe that there should also be a place in the modern Catholic Church for a married priesthood and for men who do not wish to commit themselves to celibacy.’
It took courage to speak up like this and I am reliably informed that, like the prophets, he suffered for it.
The Compassion and Humility of Bishop Daly
In his first book ‘Mister are you a Priest?’ he tells us about his unease regarding the marriages of Derry girls to U.S. servicemen. Nothing wrong with the handsome young men, most of whom went on to become great husbands. No, mixed marriages were not allowed then, so the sailor had to ‘turn’ to be married in church. Those who could not get their man to change his faith had to get married in the Guildhall Registry Office or split up. My own godmother had to do this. Her husband-to-be was a practising member of his own church. He refused in principle ‘to turn’. The registrar sent in her name to the bishop who read them out publicly at Sunday Mass. She was excommunicated, as were many others. What an abuse of power! What shame and pain!
I know that years later Bishop Daly went around as many of those he could find to apologise and ask their forgiveness. It takes a big man to do that! A true Shepherd.
A few final memories
Finally, I haven’t mentioned his love of Derry City Football Club and for many years we had season tickets quite near each other. Occasionally he would ask me to accompany him.
He treated me very fairly in my appointments. I will be eternally grateful to him for the trust he placed in me when I was asked to serve the good People of God here in Holy Family parish. I remember my excitement, walking on air as I left his office. I will let him have the last word.
“I am keenly aware of my own multitude of weaknesses and inadequacies, my impatience and impetuosity. I give thanks to God for his forgiveness, goodness and mercy to me over the past fifty years. God has been generous. I ask forgiveness of those whom I have hurt. I thank my many friends who have been so supportive. Everyone has a story to tell. This was mine.”
Thank you Paddy for your reflection on the life of a good man.
Only after we saw the image of Fr. Edward Daly, the priest in black, waving a blood-stained white handkerchief, leading a small group of men carry a fatally wounded teenager through the turbulent streets of the Bogside were those of us beyond the island of Ireland made aware of his ministry.
That image remains a significant reminder of the day when a fuse was lit in Ireland that was to burn for many years through to the signing of the Good Friday agreement in April 1998.
And in all that time +Edward Daly was a constant voice for peace, fearless in his critical comment of killing, irrespective of religious allegiance. There was no place for it in his experience of Christian belief, whatever the injustice.
I wonder how many parishes in the UK will now be asked to remember him in their prayers, how many younger people will be reminded of his faith and quiet courage as priest and bishop during a troubled time? In our recall of saints from way back when, we often forget the examples of Christian life that are presently among us.
We need to be told, to be made aware, that faith is living in our own time and Christians are suffering in consequence.
Locally, we should speak of those who are old and infirm, who through it all remain constant, nationally we should talk of significant events that we ought to recognise and remember with prayer, and internationally, be concerned for those who live their faith at a great risk. In that way, we might live with greater courage ourselves.
May he rest in the peace of the Lord.
I never met bishop Edward but spoke to him once on the phone to thank him for the insight into his first book. At the end of our conversation he asked me where I was from and I mentioned that I was an ex dub living in Drogheda.
A man with a sense of humour along been a man of God, his reply was brilliant “Ah Drogheda United, oh sure we all have our coss to carry” A true Derry FC head.