Tony Flannery on his sister Geraldine’s death and funeral

From Tony Flannery’s Blog on Sept 12:


Geraldine’s death and Funeral

It is now two weeks since my sister Geraldine Flannery succumbed to the debilitating effects of a long standing heart condition, and died quietly and apparently easily. I don’t know if this is the case for others in relation to family members, but for me I tended to take Geraldine a bit for granted. We were close, and we shared a lot in the course of our lives, especially in the latter years, but closeness can prevent one from fully appreciating the special qualities of a person. She spent the first half of her adult life as a Mercy sister, in Ballinrobe and Tuam. She had a Batchelor of Commerce degree from Galway, but mainly she taught catechetics at second level, particularly after she had attended the year long course in Mount Oliver, which at the time was the leading light in catechetical training.

Her heart condition showed itself in her late thirties, resulting in open heart surgery. Recovery was prolonged and difficult, until someone pointed her in the direction of acupuncture. She found so much benefit from this that eventually she decided to train, and became a Practitioner of Chinese Medicine. By the early nineteen nineties she had set up an acupuncture practice, and had been dispensed from her religious vows.  The rest of her life was spent practicing alternative medicine, mostly in her own house from which she operated two clinics.

During the days of the funeral I listened to a great number of people telling me what Geraldine had meant to them. It wasn’t just that she was very good at her work – I knew that for myself – but she seems to have had the ability to listen and understand people in such a deep way that they found it very healing. A great many of her patients learned to love her, and considered her a close and dear friend.

Geraldine often spoke to me about her dying and her funeral. She knew well that in a real sense, due to her medical condition, she had lived beyond her time, and she was well aware that the end was coming. One thing she insisted on, many times, was that I was to celebrate the funeral Mass when she died. I promised her that I would. I knew that it could be complicated since I was no longer allowed to minister publicly as a priest. But I was more relaxed by my experience of my brother Peter’s death in Limerick last November, when the Church authorities had no problem with me celebrating his funeral Mass.

Shortly before Geraldine died, when it was obvious that she had only hours left, I contacted the administrator of the Cathedral in Tuam, alerting him to the situation, and asking him to check with Archbishop Neary if it would be all right for me to celebrate Geraldine’s funeral mass in the Cathedral in Tuam which was her home parish. I got a call back from the administrator the following morning, ironically just minutes before Geraldine died, that the answer was No. It was not an easy situation for the Administrator who exercised much courtesy during the funeral days.

After that initial setback we quickly set about implementing an alternative plan. We were helped by the fact that the weather was beautiful, and her house had a conservatory with a glass surround facing out into the lawn. We had the funeral there, with the coffin in the conservatory, a small table for the altar behind it, and the people gathered in the lawn with a clear view of the proceedings and a speaker for sound. It was also live-streamed, and is still available on YouTube. It worked perfectly, having an intimacy and a warmth that would have been impossible in a large, mainly empty, cathedral. I know Geraldine would have approved. It was in a sense a throwback to the house Eucharists of the early centuries of the Church, and maybe also pointing to a future way of celebrating Mass that might be more meaningful to the modern believer.

I don’t know Archbishop Neary well, but the few times I met him he seemed to be friendly. I have got used, over the past ten years, to the way the official Church closes the doors on people like myself, so, though I was disappointed and somewhat hurt at his refusal, I was not particularly surprised. What really disappointed me was the fact that the archbishop made no effort to contact me personally. Geraldine had spent forty years of her life in Tuam diocese, and I believe she had contributed considerably to the parish and the town through her years as a catechist and a healer. For the archbishop to send such a blunt message through an intermediary, and not even a word of sympathy, was I think quite extraordinary. It displayed a lack of ordinary human compassion that I have experienced in a number of other high up officials in the Church in these last years, where the rules and regulations, the Canon Law, becomes more important than the person.

On the other hand I must emphasise that the two priests in the parish, Pat and Sean, were both gracious and supportive. I really appreciated that, and I understood the difficult position in which they found themselves.

Despite the response, or lack of response from the Archbishop, I now tell myself that the important thing is that Geraldine’s funeral was a positive experience for those who attended, both in person and on line.  Her friends, neighbours and those who loved her, had time to gather with her two remaining siblings, Frank and myself, and that gathering took place in the warm confines of her house.  We were able to say our farewell to her as she departed to what she firmly believed would be a new life in the heart of the Divine Mystery, an eternal life which she had already come to recognise during her time on this earth.

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  1. Soline Humbert says:

    No room at the inn ( Cathedral)…
    I am sorry for the heartlessness shown to Tony, family and friends but Geraldine’s home, filled with her love, points the way where Christ’s Heart is to be found…not in red-taped churches.

  2. Edel Fanning says:

    The story of how the celebration of Geraldine’s funeral mass by her beloved brother Tony came to take place in the sacred space of her own home, seems like the work of Geraldine herself, who was so insistent on Tony celebrating her mass, along with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit and of course Archbishop Neary who played his part in this story by refusing to allow Tony to celebrate the funeral mass in the Cathedral.
    As Tony points out in his blog, this intimate funeral mass in her own home and garden, “was in a sense a throwback to the house Eucharists of the early centuries of the Church, and maybe also pointing to a future way of celebrating Mass that might be more meaningful to the modern believer.” This is certainly something, this modern believer would welcome wholeheartedly. Sincere condolences Tony, Frank and to everyone who ever loved Geraldine, may you feel her love and encouragement resonating in surprising ways throughout your lives.

  3. Richard O'Donnell says:

    I wonder did Archbishop Neary ask himself what would Christ have done here. Well on second thoughts, I don’t wonder: Christ didn’t wear a mitre. Sincere condolences to Fr. Tony and Frank.

  4. John D. Kirwin says:

    What a wonderful sending home, for what appears to have been a wonderful, good and faithful servant of the Lord and the Lord’s people. Keep up the good work.

  5. Kathleen Faley says:

    Sincere Condolences Tony and Frank on the death of your sister Geraldine. On the lay-led Root and Branch Synod last week one of the Speakers supplied this quote from Fr. John Whitney, Former Provincial Superior – Oregon Jesuits which I think will have a strong resonance here even if the circumstances are different. I have added “AT” for relevance Here it is:


    ” It is not your table (nor mine). Bishops, priests etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers, nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the Resurrected Body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (“all you who labour”); He is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; he is the feast that is shared (“Take this all of you… this is my Body, this is my Blood”).

    We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane please. The staff don’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.” Unquote Geraldine’s funeral Mass celebrated in the domestic setting of her own home gives hope to those who wish to have their funeral Mass outside of a Church building.

  6. Edward R. Stewart says:

    When my mother’s dearest friend died here NYC, I was several years into a self-requested leave of absence. When asked to celebrate Lenora’s funeral Mass, I reached out to my ordinary for permission. It took two days and a flurry of phone calls among a variety of chancery officials (the bishop was in the hospital), before I received a negative response which I had to convey to the family.
    On the last night of the wake, those gathered were waiting for the priest to arrive. Finally, when it became apparent that no one was coming, I picked up the ritual and led the vigil prayers. The following day at the graveside, again with no priest present, it became apparent that the undertaker intended on leading the prayers. I’m sure he would have done a good job but I asked for the ritual from him and commended Lenora in the presence of her family and friends to the good God who was with her when she came into the world and when she went out of it. I like to think that she was colluding with the Holy Spirit to make it possible. My condolences on your loss, Tony, and with the lack of compassion you experienced.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    If that’s how the church treats its priests, is it any wonder that it has so few of them?

  8. Brendan Cafferty says:

    This seems heartless and uncaring. I watched the funeral online, and thought it was prayerful and intimate, and the weather was good. Tony did say that it was held in the house due to circumstances outside his control. I thought to myself at the time if there was a refusal for it to be held in a church as his late sister wanted him to celebrate the mass. But I reassured myself that this was unlikely, as he was allowed do the funeral of his late brother in the Order’s church in Limerick some months back; it was a death after all and even under totalitarian regimes funerals get sympathetic consideration. Things have come to a sad pass, it is hard to restrain oneself from being uncharitable to what is described as “Church leaders”. Condolences to Tony, Frank, friends and relatives. RIP

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