Homily by Canon Reuben Butler at Funeral Mass for Dr Brendan O’Regan, Ennis Cathedral – Monday, 11 Feb 2008
On Saturday afternoon, 2 February, I was reading the gospel we have just heard, when there a phone message that Dr Brendan O’Regan had died. Even though Brendan was approaching his ninety first birthday the news, as well as being sad, was a shock. Brendan was so busy living it was hard to associate him with dying. He had said on one occasion that he could imagine himself living to a hundred and the remarkable thing was that he would have been glad if this happened as there so much good he could help to bring about.
As I was thinking of the very many things he had achieved during his life I was struck how closely his life fitted into the Beatitudes of the gospel. In a recent book Pope Benedict points out that very often the scriptures are brought to life by the lives of people and for me the life of Brendan brings the Beatitudes to life. They list the qualities that should describe a true disciple and Brendan lived the life of a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.
The poor in spirit are not necessarily those who are materially poor; but are those who are prepared to use their resources for the benefit of others. When Brendan and Rita came to Newmarket-on-Fergus for a short visit in 1993, that visit was extended to over six years when he realised that he could make a useful contribution to the local community. He put heart and soul into organising the local community group we call Obair. His generosity was unbelievable. He made available the town park, now called the O’Regan Park. The roses that adorn the town each year were Rita’s idea.
It was then it became clear that there no Autumn in Brendan’s life, his life an eternal Spring. Bubbling with energy he would leave a late-night meeting with a list of things to do. Meet him after 10.00AM mass next morning and the matters he had undertaken the previous night would be well underway. Daily mass was part of his life as was daily meditation after the method of Benedictine priest, John Main. Everything was organised. He was always worried about unmanaged voluntary enthusiasm. He had high standards for himself and expected others to give of their best. He achieved a lot because he recognised the strong points in others and helped them fulfil their potential. It is not easy from the human point of view to associated high achievement with the gentleness or meekness mentioned in the Gospel. The meekness Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes goes back to the book of Numbers, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” Moses led the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, Brendan, with similar leadership made it possible for very many in the Mid-West to move from unemployment to employment. Two years ago, when I visited him in Malahide, all his energies were directed towards
the need for world peace. “Happy the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” In his very practical way Brendan saw that real progress was only possible through peaceful negotiation and not through war. All his practicality was diluted with an eathereal quality that is very hard to grasp, Jesus called it purity of heart. Schillachi Tuohy was a canine of mixed ancestry living with Kitty Tuohy in Newmarket. When Kitty died, Schillachi had a simple solution to the problem of orphanhood. He followed Brendan home and sat outside. Of course, he was admitted and subsequently went to Malahide where he lived out his life in canine comfort.
We often say that behind every great man there is a great woman. This cannot be said of Brendan and Rita, they were a team that walked hand in hand, side by side. Rita in her own right was a wonderful and remarkable woman. The birthday party she organised for Brendan, ten months before her death, on his 79th birthday in Mac’s pub, Bunratty, was memorable. The emotional strength and unity of their partnership was palpable. The enduring memory I have of Brendan will always be the walks he took around the grounds of Dromoland castle as he pushed the wheel chair of Rita, whose health was in decline, bring to mind the works of the poet, Wordsworth,
that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and love.
Wordsworth was only human and got it ever so slightly wrong. God forgets nothing, not even the cup of cold water. The word that is repeated in the Beatitudes is ‘happy’, happiness beginning in this life leading to the eternal kingdom of heaven. All Brendan’s and Rita’s children will say they grew up in a home brimming with happiness. Brendan was always positive, the smile never too far from his eyes or lips. Now that he has rejoined Rita in the eternal home of the God he served so well we believe that our prayers will raise his capacity for heavenly enjoyment and our best tribute to his memory is to try to express in our living the love of God and concern for neighbour that inspired him through life. To finish with the words of John O’Donoghue:
May you continue to inspire us To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped form our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
We are here to bid farewell to a great public figure, a great Irishman, a great Clareman, we might call him Mr Mid-west he achieved so much for this area through his vision and enthusiasm. Also, important to remember the loving husband, the devoted father, the grand-father, the great-grand-father, the brother and here before God’s altar to acknowledge that Brendan was a son of God and a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.
As we thank God for all the good Brendan achieved during his long life, and that he left quietly and peacefully, fortified by the sacraments, to rejoin his wife Rita and was spared what for him would be the trauma of a long illness, we realise that parting with a parent brings its own sorrow and sadness and so we extend our prayers and sympathy to Carmel, Declan, Geraldine, Margaret and Andrew and their families. We remember Brendan’s sisters, Jennie Keane and Patricia O’Regan Browne who cannot be with us; his grand-children and great-grand-children, all his relatives and very many friends.
We commend his gentle soul to a loving and caring God and to Mary our universal mother on this the feast of our Lady of Lourdes whose shrine Brendan visited as a pilgrim with Carmel.
With these thoughts, sorrow for our sins we begin this Mass.
Canon Reuben Butler is the former President of St Flannan’s college, Ennis and parish priest of Newmarket-on-Fergus.