Funeral Homily for Canon Reuben Butler, Newmarket on Fergus Church, Sunday 28thof April, 2019
In 1956 five young energetic and talented priests were ordained for Killaloe, Brendan O’Donoghue, Seamus Mullin, Patrick Taaffe, Patrick Carmody and Reuben Butler. They responded most generously to the call of today’s first reading from Jeremiah, to the call of Jesus to leave everything and follow Him. Three years ago they celebrated 60 years of faithful service in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Today we mourn the loss of Canon Reuben, the second in the past few months to pass away from that illustrious and faithful group who have together offered well in excess of 300 years of pastoral service in the diocese of Killaloe.
Today with great sadness we mark the passing of a much loved pastor in Canon Reuben Butler.
Prayer for Divine Mercy
During this requiem Mass on the Feast of Divine Mercy we commend the soul of Reuben to the Mercy of God praying that God might forgive whatever failings or shortcomings he might have had and take him into His eternal embrace of Divine Mercy in heaven.
Sympathies & Condolences
We pray today for the consolation of so many who mourn his loss. We remember his niece Blathnaid, nephews Fergal and Cillian, grandnieces, grandnephews and cousins. We remember and pray for Fr. Tom Fitzpatrick and Mary Power who were exceptionally close to Reuben, his neighbour and housekeeper Mai Considine who has been a tremendous help to Reuben over many years, the sacristans of the three Churches Bridget O’ Halloran, Mary Barron and Bernadette Glynn, the Parishioners of Newmarket-on-Fergus, Carrigerry and The Wells, past students & staff of St Flannan’s College, the community of his native Templederry, his brother priests of Killaloe diocese, staff of Carrigoran Nursing Home along with many friends.
Faith in the Resurrection
Over the past week as Canon Reubens earthly existence was drawing to a close and he was edging closer to being born into eternal life – we as believers, community of faith were celebrating our Easter faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ during the delightful octave days. Just hours after getting the sad news of the passing of Canon Reuben I had the inspiring & consoling experience of witnessing among a pilgrim group from the diocese that Easter faith in the Catacombs in Rome. It is that Easter faith that Thomas struggled to literally touch, get hold of and experience in today’s Gospel.
The resurrection symbol of the fishin the same Catacombs, the coded meaning behind the Greek translation of same as Ichthousspeaks volumes of what Canon Reuben dedicated 63 years of his life to and where we believe that effort has culminated in the day he was born into eternal life:
I – Jesus
Ch – Christ
Th – God
U – Son
S – Saviour
Jesus, the risen Lord the source of our faith whom we encounter in his love of doubting Thomas in today’s Gospel!
Suffering, faith, consolation
Over the past few years Rueben struggled with indifferent health with a gradual declining and diminishment of the body, something he bore with dignity, forebearance and fortitude. The second reading of today’s liturgy, chosen by Fr Tom Fitzpatrick, who knew him so well expresses the faith Rueben had in the understanding of the triumph of the spirit when the body is fading in its mortal nature!
Reuben was actually born in Dublin and the family lived for a while in Claremorris, Co. Mayo, before moving to Templederry. In spending ones formative years in Templederry, Co Tipperary over 80 years ago, chances were that you gave serious consideration to being a diocesan priest for Killaloe diocese. Someone, in fact remarked yesterday that Templederry is in the Guinness book of recordsfor the most Killaloe priests in the diocese!!! Sure enough Reuben duly did follow the tradition of priestly vocation of many from that parish. Being an exile from his adopted native Tipp on a lifelong mission to the Banner county became his lot, a fate he took to with relish, diligence and enthusiasm!
Reflecting on the biblical origins of the name Reuben
The biblical name Rueben means “behold, a son” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament he is the eldest son of Jacob and Leah and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. I’ve no evidence that Reuben lived with the same sense of wild abandon of the biblical Reuben, but with his outstanding talent and success as a pastor one could certainly conclude that he lived a life worthy of a descendant of the tribe of Israel.
Talents and characteristics
He was certainly a man of many roles and everything he turned his hand to achieving success with such competence and ease:
Pastor, teacher, pioneering educationalist, scholar, historian, sociologist, author, broadcaster, technophile, golfer, bridge player – a man of gentle and unobtrusive wisdom. More than any of these descriptions the one word that people used to describe him again and again is the simple virtue of kindness. He was a quiet unassuming man, with a caring, listening ear. A wise man, who didn’t advertise that fact but freely and generously gave of it when it was sought. He was just as comfortable in the company of the ordinary man or woman in the street as with the great and the good like Brendan O’Regan or Uachtarán na hÉireann whom he knew from student days in St. Flannans and who held a reception in his honour in the Árasin 2016.
Kindness and care
To use the words of a former student of his, a native of the parish, Fr. Brendan Quinlivan, a man who later having been inspired by his good example and ended up being a priest colleague of his “I will always remember Reuben’s kindness and care. Still in a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, he gave us a sense of value and self-worth that was rare in other places.”
My first interaction with Rueben was on an annual pilgrimage to Lahinch Golf club the first Monday of July for the Killaloe open Clergy golf competition. Reuben was invariably on the first tee, hail rain or snow, with his clipboard of the most complex list and schedule of names and times of the many competitors. As you know well he was tall commanding figure. My memories of him was that of a man with infinite patience. He didn’t do panic, wasn’t one to get flustered. If one came late, throwing the schedule into disarray, if one needed a last minute replacement member of a four ball Reuben would sort you out with minimum of fuss & infinite courtesy.
Education & St Flannan’s College formed so much of Reuben’s life for so many years as teacher, guidance councillor, president and trustee, no fewer than 31 years on a full time basis. As editor of the centenary magazine he had an ideal platform to display his passion for the school and eduction in general. As bishop Willie remarked yesterday Reuben was a genuine educationalist. While others were concerened with results of exams, winning Harty cups and the likes, he was interested in education for educations sake. He was a pioneer in the field of guidance counselling and spent time as President of the Irish Institute of Guidance Counsellors. Even up until his passing he was immersed in his love for St. Flannans with the facilitation or commissioning of a much anticipated work on the history of the College in conjunction with Ciarán Mac Murchaidh.
Student Centred outlook
It was often observed that he was always on the side of the pupil. A complete absence of any judgemental attitudes on his part meant he could always see the larger picture and context of a pupil’s life. While some might be calling for severe retribution for students in trouble, Reuben would quickly paint a wider picture of an individual’s struggles that evoked sympathy and understanding. “The problem with Butler”, his colleagues would sometimes say, “is that he is too Christian.”
He trained a number of the hurling teams in the College, but as one of his colleagues remarked – he didn’t have sufficient “poison in him”, meaning the ruthless streak necessary to inspire the killer blow to put teams away at the crucial time. More of that “Christian thing” that he espoused in all areas of life.
Reuben made a great contribution to the beginnings of local radio in Co Clare. Having done some initial work in that area himself he enouraged others to get involved in the field of religious broadcasting. He was also the driving force behind the investment by the Diocese in Clare FM.
To quote the words of Caimin Jones one of the founding CEO’s of Clare FM :
“Canon Reuben Butler made an important contribution to religious broadcasting. In the earlier years of Clare FM, he led a small dedicated team of volunteers who researched and produced weekend religious programming.
A fine rich voice and the ability to craft a good script made Reuben a natural for radio. His “Thought for the Day” broadcasts were always well considered, beautifully delivered, often with a light humorous touch.
His amiable personality and inherent good nature made him a popular and respected figure around the station.”
Pastor of Newmarket on Fergus
The final 30 years of his ministry were spent here in Newmarket on Fergus where he enjoyed many years of fruitful ministry, working on so many pastoral initiatives, meals on wheels with the organisation Obair, family ministry and computerising records and much more.
It was here in Newmarket on Fergus, Carrigerry and The Wells that he endeared himself to so many present for the last 30 years of loyal and dedicated service as pastor and spiritual leader.
History of Newmarket
Having a keen interest in writing and historical research he found a most practical and down to earth project in being part of a research team who produced a monumental work on the history of the parish in conjunction with Máire Ní Ghruagáin. He was also, along with otheres very involved in the completiong of one of the historical volumes of Ignatius Murphy on the history of the diocese.
Sense of humour
Many of the people I spoke to over the past days confirmed what I got occasional glimpses of that Reuben had a great sense of humour and not only sense of humour, but mischievous sense of humour! It wasn’t beyond him I’m told to play an occasional practical joke and prank on those he knew well! He was known to remove seats from cars, scatter leaves in peoples rooms and a number of other tricks from time to time!
I’m told he was once summoned before Bishop Harty to explain his submission for the terna, a list that priests are invited to compile as to who might be suitable candidates as bishops in their own diocese. Bishop Harty wanted to know why Reuben had submitted the name of a Kenyan priest. Apparently Reuben had read an article about him in the Africa magazine and thought he’d make a great Bishop of Killaloe. Since then we’ve had Bishops from Cork and Tuam. Who knows Reuben may have been more prescient than Michael Harty gave him credit for. Our next Bishop may well be from Kenya!
Lá fhéile Pádraig – An Ghaeilge
A few days after St Patrick’s day on visiting Reuben in Carrigoran despite being seriously ill that day I found he was tickled pink by the fluency of the chaplain from Kerala, Fr Francis Xavier who made a gallant effort to say bits of the Mass and greet people as Gaeilgewith a most impressive Shannon blas and dialect!
On this sad occasion we unite mourning the loss of an individual who was very special, unique and genuine and comfortable as a follower, disciple and spiritual leader in the name of Jesus Christ. He was one of the real old stock and in the parlance of the wise man of the great Blaskets we most likely will not have the good fortune to encounter his likes again… that is until we meet again in heaven, united in our Easter faith in the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ, ichthous, Jesus Christ, God, Son and Saviour.
St. Luchtighearn – Finlough
It is an amazing coincidence, perhaps less a coincidence, but a God-incidence that Canon Reuben is being buried on the pattern or feast day of St. Luchtighearn, the 28th of April and for generations that was celebrated at the holy well of Finlough a place very dear to Reuben’s heart and where he wished to be buried. There will be rejoicing in heaven on this feast day as one of the descendents of the tribes of Israel joins their ranks!
May his gentle and noble soul rest in peace.
Go raibh leaba aige i measc na naoimh!
Templederry, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.
Ordained Maynooth 17th June 1956
Went to St Patrick’s College Maynooth to study for H Dip in Ed. 1956
He was sent temporary to the Galway Diocese (St. Mary’s College) 1957.
St. Flannan’s College June 1958
Career Guidance Teacher 1969
Vice President Flannan’s College July 1974
President 9th July 1982
Parish Priest of Newmarket-on-Fergus 10th July 1989
Canon Cathedral Chapter 20th February 1992
A.P. Newmarket-on-Fergus 28th July 2006.