Fr Felim Denis Donellan Born 3 April 1914 Entered 15 August 1935 Professed 3 October 1940 Ordained 24 February 1943 Died 19 February 1996 Denis Donnellan on 3 April 1914. He and his four brothers were enthusiastic hurling players. Living on a farm on the Marcee Peninsula the ideal of the priesthood became his goal. For the latter part of his schooling he attended Roscrea College after which he joined Roscrea Abbey. In 1943 he was ordained priest with seven other monks. Fr. Felim was one of the Roscrea monks sent on the mission to Scotland in 1946 for the foundation of Nunraw Abbey. He was first appointed Novice Master for the Brothers' Novitiate. Among his manual skills he became expert as the community tailor. When construction began on the new Abbey in 1952 he found himself with heavy work and became skilled at quarrying the special stone used in building the Abbey. He served some time as Guest Master and continued all his years to assist with monastic hospitality in various ways. He had also done service as community Infirmarian. He therefore had experience in helping the sick which brought him invitations to accompany the Jumbulance Pilgrimage to Lourdes on several occasions - events which he cherished greatly. Impaired hearing was a great trial towards the end of his life, but Fr. Felim found more time for silent communication with the Lord, spending an hour each afternoon in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He suffered a heart attack just before Vigils and died early on the morning of' Monday 19 February. He is buried in Nunraw cemetery. Final Appreciation: Father Felim Donnellan 1909-1996 Monk & Priest of Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw Funeral Homily by Abbot Donald McGlynn Yesterday, we began Lent with Fr. Felim's remains present before the altar - Ash Wednesday -we received ashes before his coffin, being reminded "Remember, man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return" There are many ways of introducing Lent when we, as it were, try to emulate Christ's forty days in the desert, but few could be as succinct as the introduction of Fr. Felim not many years ago. He began: "Lent is upon us … the Spirit takes us to the desert by the scruff of the neck … we may not go right into it, but at least we have to squirm on the edge." That was a very odd thing to say because none of us could imagine Fr. Felim squirming at anything, he was not a squirming person. By dictionary definition "to squirm" is "to climb by wriggling up" or "to escape with any awkward evasion or lie". The very impossibility of either in his own case throws a light on his whole character and the story of his life. He was not a climber! Wriggling with ambition did not enter into his outlook. His only ambition was way beyond the strivings for the usual prizes of the world. And as for escaping with awkward evasions, we were more likely to be frightened by his complete candour - there is many a sophisticated theologian who has been dumbfounded, or gob-smacked, as they say, by the unqualified childlike candidness with which he would debunk their complex theories. Fr. Felim could well have been the priest in the story of a priest who found himself sitting beside an astronomer on a plane. The astronomer did not seem to think much of religion. He said: "Well, Father, would you like me to tell you what I think of religions? To my mind all religions consists in "doing to others as you would have done to you". And so they continued the conversation. Then the priest said: "Would you like to hear what I think of astronomy? Well, would you?" "Do" "Well then, to me the whole of astronomy consists of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star!…" Felim had a devastating simplicity of faith. For him some of the efforts at modern philosophical wrappings only seemed to him to compromise and dilute the Faith. So called 'open-mindedness' would get the comment from him. "Some so called 'open minds' should be closed for repair!" "Happy are the pure of heart, for they shall see God". "You are my friends if you do what I command you". So many of those pithy scriptural phrases about the godly man come to mind as apt descriptions of Fr. Felim. To be liturgically correct this should be a homily and not a panegyric, (In the presence of the Archbishop, to be politically corret let us say this is the 'Homily of a godly man') but since, as I said at the Mass Introduction, only God and people as loved by God interested Felim, all the things one recalls have a godly dimension to them - not in an artificial way but quite naturally. In fact he could sometimes deflate the solemn and sacred of all pomposity. He loved preaching. and in fact gave his most recent sermon to the community on New Years Day. That was in the chapter of monks so it was a little bit more serious than his performance on New Years Day 1990 at the Mass for guests. It was a day of prayer for peace in the world and there was an important Bishop's letter from the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace. He read out this letter then he paused, and asked the congregation if anyone had understood it, - silence -then a lady timidly said "No". "Nor did I", replied Fr. Felim, which evoked a few giggles. … "Anyway, I wish you all a happy Christmas" - pause - "Oh, I mean New Year - every blessing for the year 1999". By which time everyone was in a state - which I imagine had removed their tensions and hopefully their distractions for the Mass. Oh, yes, he loved preaching. But he did not flatter himself that he was much good at it. He once ended up, "I'll stop now because I know none of you are listening anyway". That did wake them up, … and stop he did! That is but a symptom of a whole life's ideal. His family remembers how from the age of six, he prayed as his mother prayed, he imitated stories from the saints, making altars for Mass and shrines for Our Lady -although there was DIVILMENT too, as they call it in the West of Ireland, as once when the young parents returned home just in time to catch him and his brothers and sister having a bonfire at the gable end of the cottage, with the flames just beginning to catch onto the thatched roof. There is a slip of the pen in the brief biographical note on your Mass folder where it says "He took hold of the Faith in this deeply religious family on the farm on the beautiful Maree peninsula of Galway Bay." It was not so much that he took hold of the Faith, but rather, it is truer to say that the Faith took hold of him. He was a powerful lad. His physical capacity would have made him a power on his father's farm, not to speak of on the hurling field, where all his brothers became star players. But all this was secondary to an overwhelming desire for the priesthood - as the fullest realization of that Faith, as the closest possible identification with Christ - expressed today in words which he would have cherished. At a recent international conference of priests in Rome, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Vatican II decree on the priesthood; "Of the Order of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis" some of that text was recalled. Paragraph 2: "Priesthood presupposes Baptism but through its own special sacrament … priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ, the Priest, in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church". and paragraph 12: "Although all Christians are addressed in Christ's words of assurance: "You, therefore, must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5:8) Priests are bound by a special reason to acquire perfection and since every priest in his own was assumes the person of Christ, he is endowed with a special grace. By this grace the priest is able the better to pursue the perfection of Christ whose place he takes." There is no way that the young Dinny Donellan could have expressed so elegantly what the priesthood, and the powerful inner calling he felt meant to him at that time. He applied himself, to his utmost, in the local school. Arithmetic and learning poetry were his favourites, and there is an elementary arithmetic book and collections of poems and Irish ballads among his books to the present. He would also walk miles to hear the preacher if there was a mission or a special sermon and he could memorise whole sermons and speeches. One of his heroes was Fr. William Stevenson, a well known Jesuit whom he came to know better and to correspond with later He waited and he prayed. The prospects of a secondary education or being accepted for the seminary were remote. He was working on the family farm at 17 or 18 when he had a providential meeting. For some reason a Fr. Paul from Roscrea Abbey was in Galway city and somehow Dinny met him and spoke about his situation. Fr. Paul was taken with the lad and raised his hopes to high heaven. If he could get him into the college at Roscrea and if he could make up his studies it would be possible that he could go on to join the monks. They seem to have made a pair, equally innocent of the bureaucracy and difficulties of the education pie in which today everyone seems to have a finger. In simple terms, that is what happened. His prayer was answered. But there is no telling the toil and trials that he had to overcome. He was no high flyer at studies, and subjects like Latin were uphill all the way. He more than compensated for this on the sports field where he was the best runner, the best miler the college had. Such struggles at college were nothing compared to the problems in the monastery. He could never have made it if that ideal of the priesthood had not remained the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The great problem was that he was not musical. He could not sing a note but to become a priest he had to be a choir monk and that required choral and solo singing several times a day. There is a gentleman here today, Jim Hessian, who was a contemporary in the noviciate and who was given the task of somehow getting Fr. Felim to sing. He made some shape of it, but it was still a major problem when the time came for the community to vote to accept him for profession. The Patriarchal Abbot at that time, Dom Justin, said "Oh, sure, we can listen to him." The old abbot may have been thought, not to be quite with it, but at the actual voting, he as it were accidentally dropped his vote - and it was observed that it was a white one, so everyone knew what he thought. And so Felim received the Belt of a professed monk, a belt that became worn to tatters but which he would not exchange for a new one, saying he would wear it to the grave, as in fact he is doing this morning -after 61 years of singing in choir the praises of God. He was ordained priest on the great day of his life, the 24th February 1943 - and a great day too for his mother. It may have been her first visit to the Abbey of Roscrea. Coming from the wild west coast, she was impressed by the trees, the stately oaks and the great beeches around the buildings and she let slip a comment which is only a whisper of that good woman's faith and emotions she felt on that occasion. With a touch of mysticism and poetry she simply said: "The grace of God is dripping from the trees". Any one of the many friends who have come to know Fr. Felim in his very different life in Scotland will recognize the traits of character already marked in the young monk who came from Roscrea, and whom they also came to love. He had a unique sense of humour which was at its best when he was least aware of it. He said once about Adam and Eve; "It wasn't the apple up there in the tree that caused all the trouble, it was the pair on the ground." (Dec. 1983) But I think what marked him most was that he was "unworldly". I could tell you my own experience of that unworldliness but we actually have his own words on the subject. And he was humble. The monastery is supposed to be a school of humility but for anyone with problems in music, that was a school of humility within a school of humility - and not a shred of vanity survived. I'm afraid every shred of vanity was wiped out by the time he was accepted for the choir. But it gave him a great freedom and brightness which was a revelation to novices and that was because it cut across the accepted serious strict observance which everybody was busy teaching the novices. As a novice I would meet him in the morning. He would make the sign to "You will be the next Abbot". It used to cheer me no end. It was an obvious piece of nonsense. And the fact that he greeted every other novice in the same way did not detract from the friendliness and kindness it expressed. Here were these novices intent on learning humility, a high spiritual endeavour without ambition and Felim would tell them to aspire to be abbot. It never failed to get a smile from the most despondent or despairing new recruit because of the spirit in which it was given. But in his own words Felim wrote: "In the Holy Rule, St. Benedict gives us 72 instruments of good works "which, if we continually employ day and night in preparation for the day of judgment, the Lord will give us the reward He himself has promised … which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what things God hath prepare for them that love Him" Anyway, these instruments of good works are to make us "estranged from the ways of the world". "During 56 years in the monastery," (he wrote in 1992), "how often have I been asked: "What time do you get up in the morning? What do you do all day? Why do you spend so many hours in choir? And why the STRONG LEATHER BELT?" He likened these questions to that asked of John the Baptist in the Desert "What are we to do?" And his answer was that Cistercians are called to live in remote places from the haunts of men, strangers to the affairs of the world. "Keep it so. Keep it so", he said. "'Old Hat' some may call it. But it is like the hat my father wore. It wears well. Give it a new look, brush it up, give it a new shape and polish it, smooth it out, take the wrinkles out of it. A relic of old decency, My Cistercian identity. Amen."