Like the disciples in the Gospel we have just read, our hearts are troubled at the death of Fr. Maurice. We were stunned and saddened by the speed at which he succumbed to his illness – just a few weeks.
But we can take consolation from Jesus’ words in the Gospel that he has gone to prepare a place for Maurice, the place set aside for him for all eternity. We are happy for him because he has achieved the goal of his life – adoration, the goal he set for himself all those years ago, sixty in fact, on the day of his First Profession. He joined the Congregation in order to see this blessed hour. He had already started to live in this heavenly presence here on earth through his fidelity to adoration. How often he must have prayed for this moment, read about it, reflected on it. Those words of Fr. Eymard must have filled him with a holy anticipation: “ Death is the lifting of the veil that allows Jesus to appear to the soul in all its tenderness”
The second reading from Romans tells us that the life and death of each of us has its influence on others. Maurice had a deep influence on all who knew him.
He belongs to that generation of generous American religious who left their homeland and went to the far corners of the world to promote the glory of the Eucharist – the Philippines, India, Australia – for him, it was Britain and Ireland. He served this province tirelessly for forty years, with total dedication and great ability as Superior, Provincial Treasurer and Provincial Consultor. He was Chaplain to Servitium Christi, a branch of Fr. Eymard’s family of consecrated people – he was devoted to them, and they loved and respected him. He was nothing less than a gift to this province from God and from the American province.
He was a father-figure to all my generation of religious, having been Novice Master to most of us, the one who received us into the Congregation, and formed us for the religious life. We all remember those happy days with him – the outings, the picnics. We remember too the daily conferences, when his spirituality, his sincerity, his care for each one of us, and his deep love and knowledge of the Founder, which was contagious and rubbed off on us all and inspired us all.
His loyalty to the Congregation was exemplary. He would have strong views about various aspects of our religious life, but if the leadership of the Congregation took a different stance on an issue, Fr. Maurice would be the first and most enthusiastic supporter of a decision he might have originally disagreed with, and would carry it out faithfully and enthusiastically. He spent the first forty years of his religious life under the old Rule, the Constitutions. But when the new Rule of Life replaced the Constitutions, controversially for many, Fr. Maurice gave it his total support – not only support, but as was so characteristic of him, he showed us all how to live it.
He was a great letter-writer – no letter ever went unanswered – he would keep in touch with people for a long period of time, even all their lives. Maurice’s brother Marcel tells a little story – against himself, about the two of them when they were in the seminary together. They used to take turns every Sunday to write home to their mother. But Marcel did’nt like writing letters, so when it was his turn, he would go out and play handball with a small hard black ball until his hand would swell, and then he would show Maurice that he could’nt write that Sunday, and good Maurice would oblige and write the letter. Typical of him.
But one trait stands out above all his other virtues – his kindness. He was a profoundly caring man. His kindness to us all, his extraordinary compassion for the sick and housebound, his availability to alleviate hardship, his selflessness are legendary. He brought comfort wherever he went. One of our brothers remembers vividly a homily he gave some years ago, when he suggested that the road to a better life for those who were inadequate, who made the wrong choices, was the realisation that someone cared for them, and cared about what happened to them – that was the heart of his kindness – he believed that it was his responsibility, his calling to show that special care for those in need, and he did it in a very concrete way. But his concern for others was not confined only to the sick. He was a most welcoming person – he would always make visitors feel very much at home – give them the local currency, take them out for drives, show them the city – you could be confident that any friends of yours would be well taken care of when Fr. Maurice was around.
He not only helped people physically and spirituality, but he always tried to bring some happiness into their lives too – his smile, his cheerful disposition, his wit laced with mischievousness. He had his own sense of humour. There is a story that one day he was standing outside the old chapel in D’Olier Street, and a group of Americans surrounded him and said they wanted to take a picture with a real Irish priest – before he could get time to explain, the picture was taken and they went off happy in blissful ignorance – that amused him enormously!
He was not Irish of course, but he came to love Ireland and the Irish people. His brother Marcel was telling me yesterday that his Mother was purchasing graves for the family, and wanted to buy one for Fr. Maurice. But he said no – he said his community in Dublin was his family now, and Ireland was his home. This Chapel was his home – just as he helped to build this house for the Lord, so the Lord will now welcome him into the House of the Father – his eternal home.
It’s a great comfort to his brother Marcel and his two sisters Rita and Jean, to know that he was such a great priest – a priest to his fingertips, and that he was so loved by the people here – he became one of our own.
May he see his Lord face to face, and enjoy the sight of God forever.