Fr Colm Kilcoyne
A gifted preacher with a real sense of place
More than a week ago, in another marker of these COVID–19 days, a small group assembled in Castlebar church for the funeral Mass of Fr Colm Kilcoyne. It was, as small funerals can be, a warm and intimate gathering mainly of family and friends. Everything came together – the appropriate scripture readings, the beautiful singing, the homily, the eulogy – to shape an unfussy and respectful farewell to Colm.
It was important that all the religious boxes were ticked in a gentle but focussed liturgy because ‘the Breaking of the Bread’ was at the heart of Colm’s life. It was important too that we were in Castlebar church where he was baptised, made his First Communion and Confirmation and where his religious life found a still centre.
Castlebar itself was the centre of Colm’s world – where he was born, where he grew up, where he had retired and where he died. It satisfied his strong sense of the importance of place and he loved nothing better than to ramble around the town meeting people he knew, remembering times past. The parish of Castlebar, its church and its people, made up the great hinterland of his life. There was really nowhere else he wanted to be.
Castlebar too was the locale of family – alongside his sense of place, it was the other great compelling impulse of his personal life. Family provided not just a precious identity but a happy absorption in the concerns and compulsions of his own – who they were, what they said, how they reacted – not least in his strong memory of his mother, Bridie, who had outlived her husband, John, by 37 years, and who was, I suspect, the great influence on his life.
I knew Colm well. We worked together (with Monica Morley) on the Faith Alive! programme on Mid West Radio, which started with the station in 1989. Colm was the lead presenter and producer and very much the driving force behind the Church’s involvement in local radio in the west.
In an earlier life, Colm was director of the Catholic Communications Institute in Dublin, a role that convinced him of the opportunity that the advent of local radio presented. And it was through his initiative in conjunction with his classmate, Archbishop Joseph Cassidy, and the western bishops that a decision was made to help resource local radio.
Colm was a gifted communicator with a very straight-forward belief that good communications involved two things: one, know what you’re going to say and, two, say it in a way that people can understand it. He brought those two principles to bear on all his communications work. And he often added a third, if you’re communicating something, you have to give it your best. His regular anthem, as he and Monica and myself prepared an edition of Faith Alive – he’d say ‘Now listen to me, this has to be the best possible programme’. Nothing less would do him!
Colm was also a gifted preacher and known far and wide for it but it wasn’t something he took for granted. Preparing his sermons meant that the scripture readings were mulled over for days. Before he put a pen to paper, he would go for a long walk by himself, to focus clearly on what he wanted to say and how he needed to say it. And wherever he spoke at Mass or in lectures and retreats in Ireland, the UK or in America, he would visit the venue beforehand, as he would say, ‘to walk the ground’, to get a sense of place so that it was all factored into his delivery. Nothing was left to chance.
Colm’s communications skills extended as well to the written word, contributing for many years a series of columns in national and local papers. He brought two unique gifts to his writings in the Sunday Press, Sunday Tribune, Western People and Western Journal: one was his unique take on things, his technique of approaching a subject from an unusual angle; the other, his gift for saying profound things in plain words.
I replaced him in the Western People when he moved to the Western Journal over 40 years ago and we often talked about (and disagreed on too!) our respective approaches. With Colm you always knew where he stood, because he told you exactly. And he was a good man to have around if someone overplayed a hand.
A good example was the occasion recalled by Lindsay Carty, a native of Knock, in a text from San Francisco to Faith Alive after his death:
I remember when Claire Forde and I served at the first Mass in Knock to have girl servers. It was a mid-week evening mass. We were proud but nervous. Fr Colm said the mass and made it a very special occasion. Afterwards a woman came into the sacristy and gave out to us saying how wrong it was for us to be on the altar. Fr Colm asked her not to address us and make any complaints to him. He let her finish and then calmly stated all the ways the church was progressing for the better. He finished by pointing out that the colour of her shoes would have been frowned upon had the church not moved forward! He gave us a big wink when she left and told us we’d done a great job!
Colm wasn’t perfect, nor did he ever claim to be. He could be impatient and when he was he wasn’t slow in showing it, which makes it all the more telling that, when a significant decline in his health meant that he had to make the difficult transition from being someone who prided himself on his independence to someone who had to adapt to a life where he was completely dependent on others, he was able to do so with grace and dignity.
May he rest in peace.