Father Joseph Denis O'Dea born 1930 entered 1946 professed 1951 ordained 1953 died 1980
Died Roissy En Bri near Paris 20th Sept. 1980 Fr. JOSEPH'S LAST HOURS AND HOMECOMING. (By Fr. Martin) After weeks of intense work as Secretary of the General Chapter, Fr. Joseph set off from Rome to return to Nunraw. He broke his journey at Paris on Sunday morning of September 28th, and went to the Barrières, a family well known to many of us in Nunraw: Charles Barrière lectures in English at the Sorbonne, his wife Pat comes from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and they have three children - Vicki, Vincent and Olivier. This family was actually staying at Nunraw when Fr. Joseph went off to Rome. He intended staying with the family for two days before finally setting off for home. He was seemingly very happy and relaxed, as he had been at the Chapter. Not having yet said Mass that day, he intended to celebrate in their home, and this was causing them great excitement. He had gone to the Presbytery. to get various things for Mass, and on returning, he began to help move some furniture around for the occasion. Charles left the room for a few moments, and coming back, discovered that Fr. Joseph had collapsed. A next-door neighbour, a nurse, was called in to help, as was a doctor; shortly after, a cardiac unit was brought, but all to no avail. He had collapsed at about 6pm and died two hours later. Our Abbot had arrived back from Rome that very Sunday, some twelve hours before Fr. Joseph collapsed. We got the news at 6.30 p.m. and next morning Fr. Abbot was on his way to Paris to make arrangements for the remains to be brought home to Nunraw. The funeral took place on Saturday morning, October 4th. It was a wonderfully sunny morning, clear with a chilly wind. Some 250-300 people gathered in the Church to say 'au revoir' to Fr. Joseph. Many of them, if not all, were regular visitors and so were familiar with our chants and hymns - consequently everyone joined in with the singing. Our Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray, his auxiliary James Monaghan, were present as were many, other priests and religious. Among them were, to name only a few, Fr. Walsh of Dunbar, Fr. Keith O'Brien of Blairs College, Fr. Henry and Fr. Gordon Brown of Drygrange College, Fr. Carey, formerly of our community and now PP in Stirling, Fr. Stanislaus Jake, OSB, who was a contemporary of Fr. Joseph in Rome c. 1949 and being on a return trip to California, his base, from Greece, had stopped off in Edinburgh for two days and quite by accident heard of Fr. Joseph's death: Fr. Jake came here about four years ago to give us some talks; Abbot Justin and Br. John Power from Mt. Melleray, Abbot Kevin from Tarrawarra, Fr. Stephen and Fr. Justin from Mt. St Bernard, Fr. John OP from Edinburgh. Scores of Nunraw friends, many of whom had come long distances for the occasion, were a tribute to Fr. Joseph, and the Community was deeply touched by such a show of sympathy towards one of its own. Afterwards, there was a buffet in the guesthouse for the visitors - though the Cardinal and several others preferred to lunch with the Community. Fr. Joseph's relatives, though saddened by his going forth, were, I think, profoundly moved by the obvious affection in which he was so strongly held and the air of celebration that surrounded the funeral. A beautiful surprise At the last moment a caterer was asked to provide for this unusual crowd. Later the Abbot received this note:- 'Dear Rev. Fr. Abbot, I was glad to be able to help your community to feed the crowd of people gathered last Saturday at Fr. Joseph's funeral. May it be my pleasure to give you a present of the food and the use of the crockery, etc. No charge will be made. It is only a small gesture to the greater work and good that is done at Nunraw. (signed) J. Featherstone, Caterer, Newton St Boswells. Obituary Father Joseph O'Dea R.I.P. (by Fr. Michael Sherry) The community of Nunraw Abbey have suffered a tremendous loss by the sudden death of Fr. Joseph O'Dea on 28 September. He was returning from Rome where he had acted as Secretary to the Co-ordinating Committee at the General Chapter. His good work in that capacity had won the applause of the Abbots gathered from all parts of the world. Born in Kerry fifty one years ago he had been educated at the Cistercian Abbey College, Roscrea, where he gave evidence of great talent and won the Pastmen's Union Gold medal in his final year. He entered the Abbey at Roscrea in 1946 as a "trainee" for Nunraw which had been founded only that year. Coming to Nunraw in 1947 he completed his noviciate and made solemn vows in 1951. Realising his scholastic ability the late Abbot, Dom Columban Mulcahy sent him to Rome where he took a degree in Theology with genuine distinction. Fr. Joseph was ordained in Rome in April 1953, and continued his studies at the Gregorian University taking up Church History in which he was awarded the Gold medal when taking his degree. He returned to Nunraw and was soon well-known and respected by many historians in Scotland. Later he returned to Rome for further research and was retained on the staff to assist new Cistercian students and to build up a library at the house of studies, Monte Cistello. In both tasks he was so successful that he did not return to Nunraw until 1969. When the late Abbot, Dom Columban Mulcahy, retired in November, 1969, Dom Donald McGlynn, chosen as his successor, appointed Fr. Joseph Prior of the Abbey. This office he filled with distinction for seven years and was then asked to act as Guest-Master. Both as Prior and Guest-Master he became known to a very large number of visitors to Nunraw. He gave retreats and was a good friend and a wise counsellor to many people. He was well-known to all who promoted Ecumenism and occasionally was called on to give talks to Ecumenical and other meetings. Everyone was impressed by his wide reading, his many interests and his command of five languages which he spoke so well. His brethren in Nunraw will miss him chiefly for his willingness to help at any time of the day or night. Always they feared that he did not spare himself in their service and this must have contributed to his poor health and his early death. Brother John Power's Reflection Brother John Power of Mount Melleray Abbey was in Paris with his Abbot, (travelling like Fr. Joseph from the General Chapter), when he heard of Fr. Joseph's death there, and wrote this reflection. The Good News in Paris. A Mass upon the earth, The world a Mass: He died, he gave his heart making the place apt for sacrifice. All his efforts so that Christ's effort should succeed. No greater love than this, No better fittingness: Christ's death and his death - an exchange of hearts, a fusion in deed. The Lord is in the city: Let us go to the house of the Lord, Within the walls or without for He is Lord of all . His the times and the place; To love him is to be in time and place in all and Lord of all. Our hearts rest, O Lord, how restless would we he were it not for Thee! - for you cannot deny Yourself "Temps Fort" - Death of Fr. Joseph at Roissy En Bri near. Paris 20th Sept. 1980 (by Donald McGlynn, Abbot) The Barrière family used the words "Temps Fort" to express their experience of special blessing which, in spite of the shock, Fr. Joseph's death in their midst had occasioned. Literally "Temps fort" means a strong time, a special time, an intense moment of living, an occasion of grace. Charles and Patricia Barrière and their three children live at Roissy En Bri just east of Paris. Fr. Joseph could not have been among more loving friends at the end. They and others from their group of Catholic families were present at the local hospital mortuary Chapel to witness the closing of the coffin. Fr. Joseph lay in his habit which Charles and I had rescued from a locker in a station in Paris, and Pat had unknowingly wrapped round his fingers the rosary beads he had received from Pope John Paul at Monte Cassino only a few days previously. A far cry from simple Cistercian burial, the coffin had to be metal-lined and stamped with police seals before. leaving the country. We made up the liturgy to suit the occasion. Charles took the reading, and an old friend, Monika- Clare Gosh, the. intercessions. Our responses and hymns expressed resurrection joy. Towards the end the hospital chaplain, not having heard of the event, came in and was surprised and impressed with the ceremony which apparently is neither frequent nor so fervent in that place. Père Ives Guillern (who had an uncle in the Abbey of Timadeuc) concelebrated Mass that evening in the Parish Church. Afterwards the Sisters of Providence (there are seven of them in charge of the school) offered us warm hospitality. All the friends gathered next day for the House Mass, to which the Barrières had been looking forward with Fr. Joseph, now being offered for him. Fr. Edouard Bruchard who anointed Fr. Joseph was there, and also Marie-France the nurse who had come so quickly from next door when he had collapsed. Fr. Edouard is an oblate of the Abbey of Bec. Another House Mass was celebrated on the evening I returned to Nunraw with the remains of Fr. Joseph. More of the group were present this time and all the children. Père Ives spoke to them in this family atmosphere about vocations - after the coming ordination of two deacons there will be no one else in the seminary. These parents of young families are making great efforts to help the priests with religious instruction, and were pleased to come together for the first Masses in their homes. It is their hope that this innovation brought about by Fr. Joseph may continue and that the spiritual impulse they felt may bear fruit. In gratitude we owe them the support of our prayers. Panegyric (by Fr. Laurence Walsh, ocso, Roscrea, contemporary of Fr. Joseph) Your Eminence, Bishop, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters .in Christ, I wish to thank the Abbot, Dom Donald, for his kindness in giving me the privilege of saying these few words in memory of my confrere and friend, Fr. Joseph O'Dea. I don't go in for keeping letters, but I did keep one which I received from Father Joseph from Rome back in 1953. He had just been ordained, arid I was on the point of ordination. He wrote: "Congaudeamus in Domino!" "Let us rejoice together in the Lord!" I feel that is the theme he would wish us to have for his funeral celebration today. "Let us rejoice together in the Lord... as men do at harvest time." The grain of wheat that was Joseph died many deaths, and so has yielded many harvests. And each harvest is an occasion for rejoicing. As a gleaner it is my privilege to be allowed pick up a few grains and offer them to you his relatives, brethren and friends. In that letter he went on "I hope you have an eloquent spiff prepared, only not too serious, for if you go speaking all that I know will be in your heart the folks will be ravished in ecstasy." How typical of Joe! And how adroitly he would carry us off on a totally different path if he guessed that all that is in our hearts just now centres on him. He would want us to rejoice never-the-less that he has passed from this world to the Father. What other purpose have we all in life - having tried to love and serve God and our neighbour here below, we go on to see, to behold the face of God for all eternity. The beauty of the face of God has always ravished the mystics. Moses had to veil his face once he had seen the beauty of God. Peter realised with vivid clarity that the glory of God mirrored in the transfigured Christ was so wonderful that he exclaimed. "Lord it is good for us to be here." As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. As we mumble these words Sunday after Sunday in the Creed, the full meaning can easily escape us, but faced with the reality of the death of one we knew and loved, this whole mystery of life and death becomes a reality; not one to run from in horror, but one to penetrate in silent wonder. Our beloved Father Joseph sees the beauty of God's face - we know this with the certainly of our faith and our hope and our love, and we are glad. We rejoice too at God's bounty - his generosity. Denis O'Dea was probably the most brilliant student to pass through our school in Roscrea. And that's saying a lot. This talent was a great gift which opened the road to success in almost any direction. But the road he chose was the total sacrifice of it all in the Cistercian life, which at that time anyway did not give very much scope for intellectual ability, and worse still, he was to bury his talent in an unheard of little monastery on far away Scottish coasts in the foothills of the Lammermuirs! Why this waste? Unless the grain of wheat die it cannot bear fruit. However Dom Columban saw the talent, and soon sent young Joseph to Rome to pursue higher studies, and there he was subsequently to spend the greater part of his monastic life. In general God's gifts, such as intellectual ability are given for others rather than for oneself. Too often do we use them for our own gratification, our own pleasure, our own advancement. Such gifts should not of course be ignored nor denied. But only the humble man knows how to accept them gratefully from God, and then perfect them and use them for the good of others in a totally unselfish way. Most of us here have benefited from this humble gift of Fr. Joseph's talents. Most of us too, no matter how well we knew him, still wondered how such a little head could carry all he knew. It is a most gracious and fitting gesture on the part of his Eminence, Cardinal Gray, his Auxiliary, Bishop Monaghan, so many of the clergy, both secular and religious, and so many and so many Sisters, and a joy to all of us that you join in the celebration of Fr. Joseph's funeral rite. Scotland became Father's home thirty three year ago. Ever since, his loyalty to your land has been total. And his love for the Church in Scotland well known. His talents have been generously devoted to your service. What a pity he has not left us any published work from his vast store of historical knowledge. We have with us Dom Justin, Abbot of Mount Melleray, the senior Irish monastery, and one of his monks, Dom Kevin, Abbot of Tarrawarra, our monastery in Australia, two monks of Mount Saint Bernard, and myself representing Mount Saint Joseph. The Abbots and representatives of so many other houses of the Cistercian Order serve to remind us of the gratitude that we in the Order feel to Father Joseph, and to the Abbot and Community here at Nunraw for making it possible for him to spend himself so generously in the service of the Order. When we in Roscrea heard word of his death, we had a Japanese Cistercian Abbot visiting us. It vas a revelation to see that he was just as upset as any of us by the news. We, especially in Ireland, tend to wait till a man is well dead before we risk lavishing praise. It was good to hear that at the conclusion of the General Chapter a week ago, the Abbot General's warm tribute to the generous and able service Fr. Joseph had given, brought a spontaneous ovation from the capitulants. It is fitting that we here should recall this. Talking to one of my confreres, a few days ago, I mused "hadn't he a hard life?" I was thinking of his break with family and friends, his emigrating to Scotland, his accidents and ill health, when the other intervened and said: "Yes, his life was full of frustrations". How true. Yes, and how true this is of all our lives too, though the greater the talent we have been given, the greater the frustration when we cannot use it to the full. Here is where the man of God in. The stone wall is not something to cause bitterness or despair, no it is just a little obstacle to be climbed or got round in our path to God. How often we have seen Fr. Joseph's head peep up again over the wall, or round the side of it, or even through the hole he had made in the middle! Through his work in the guesthouse he has earned the respect and gratitude of an ever-widening circle of friends. The extraordinary thing is the diversity of his acquaintances. He was as much at home dealing with high ecclesiastics in Rome, talking to the nobility of England or Scotland, or sitting by a turf fire in West Clare. How grateful we all are to God, that when He called him, it was at the home, of such warm friends. Once again it is a cause for rejoicing. Gathered here around his coffin, we are so happy to have his sister, Maura, and her children. Susan and Denis, his brother Kevin and his wife, Mary. We are of course especially conscious of his brother Father Carthage, a monk of our monastery of Tarrawarra in Australia. No brother could be more devoted. We know that he is truly with us in the communion of the Holy Spirit. It is providential that the Abbot of Tarrawarra, Dom Kevin, has been able to come and share our celebration. And then there is George, the youngest of the family, unable to come because of a serious accident to his son while holidaying in Majorca. Our sympathy and prayers go to him. It was at the end of a period of extremely hard work for our Order, among friends, and in the act of commencing Holy Mass that Joseph left down his generous life. How truly a reason for rejoicing with him in the Lord, as we thank God for the life, for the monastic call, for the blessings bestowed on him, and through him on all of us. In that letter I mentioned at the beginning he said "we can do so little about being well prepared for the priesthood, just ask Our Lady to fill your heart with desire and a vast longing for love". Perhaps he would like to offer this as a final word to all of us: "we can do so little about being well prepared for death, just ask Our Lady to fill your heart with desire and a vast longing for love." MUSINGS ON A GUESTHOUSE ACQUAINTANCE by Fr. Martin So our Fr. Joseph has gone from our midst. How sudden and in what circumstances are really quite typical of the man. The swiftness of his departure has been such that the community has scarce got used to it. He was a many-sided personality, all of them held together by a toughness and generosity of rare quality. There was in him an indomitable spirit; it was not in his nature to shy away from life's problems. He would meet them head-on, ever willing to wrestle manfully with them, even when they were fraught with danger from obstreperous drunks or a frequently too heavy schedule. It would have been out of character for him to give in. He was ever ready to do that bit more - and bit more was often nearly another man's whole day's work. Along with his undoubted intellectual gifts went contrasts of care and extravagance, tidiness and chaos, intense activity and relaxation, all of them heightened by the intensity of his personality. His considerable erudition was accompanied by an ability to give practical help to a very wide circle of people. Though he often gave a first impression to new acquaintances of being only an intellectual, they usually came round to the view that people like themselves were of fundamental and absorbing concern to him; everything he possessed by way of gift and talent was for their service. People were of prime interest to him. Many of them found in him a good and wise friend. It seemed impossible for him to turn anyone away, he exposed himself to an endless stream of people who wanted help, encouragement and consolation; someone on whom they could anchor their lives in their difficulties. Of course he was greatly helped by having considerable initiative and a powerful photographic memory, this, combination putting him in a position of giving far more help than was ever expected from him by those who turned to him. There was nothing on the world's stage that was taboo to his enquiring mind and that backed up with a strong streak of competitiveness made him a formidable and often interesting and amusing party to a discussion. His entry into any group often automatically shifted the centre of power among the discussionists. His presence in such a setting tended sometimes to irritate or intimidate some of the audience. Sadly, he found himself frequently holding forth on his own, yet I know he loved crossing wits, being wired into, being teased, being drawn out, enjoying a good laugh, often at his own expense. He was a mine of information and what with his nimble wits, he perhaps never fully appreciated how this combination could alienate some people from him momentarily. But as the months passed and he grew in understanding the diversity of people he met, so he mellowed and increased his capacity to relate to people no where near his intellectual level. In fact his friendships were numerous, an ever-widening circle from all walks of life. He was extraordinary, no-way could he be not-noticed, and I think he was quite unaware of this. Sometimes he tended to be off-putting on a first encounter. but once people got to know him, I know they found him very loveable. He didn't find it easy to meet all and sundry when new to the job as guestmaster, but as time passed, he now and then admitted to me the wonderful riches, to him unsuspected, that he had found in people with whom he had on the surface so little in common. It was patent, as his experience deepened, that he responded with a growing acceptance of people as they were in themselves. He could be tough, even to the point of rudeness on occasion; but with many he exhibited endless patience arid tenderness, one is even tempted to say - a motherliness. Really he was a man who was himself, he never pretended to be anyone else. He was quite unaware of the figure he cut. He seemed to live by canons other than those lived by ordinary folk. He went along at his own rate, doing his own thing, reaching out to anyone who turned to him with a sympathy and concern that was at once both personal and practical. This on top of running a large guesthouse was accompanied by deteriorating health. His care for people with the consequent emotional demands, the tremendous courage he displayed time and time again in coping with an overloaded schedule - not always of his own making, and bearing indifferent health; all was shot through with a real love for which he never seemed to ask payment. The one thing he loved doing was celebrating Mass. He would put his whole being into preparing for this central act of his day. His enthusiasm for the Lord would lead him to preach over long, never was he at a loss for something to say on the texts for the day. Many times visitors would say 'Too much, too much', after hearing three homilies at a normal morning mass. Not for a moment do I think it was exhibitionism on his part, but an utter commitment to unfold the riches of God's Word and draw, in the only way he knew, all the visitors into the great mystery of the Mass which was, I think, his first and last love, from whence he drew so much energy, inspiration and love. If now and then one sensed that the monastic canvas was not large enough for him to fully express his many-sided and rich personality, it surely only goes to making him more human in our eyes, and it is to his great credit that he remained faithful to his calling. And I for one feel it has been a privilege to have worked alongside him and loved him as a brother in Christ.