The first time I met Fr. JJ was back in Autumn of 2016 when he was in hospital in Cahercalla Community hospital while he was recovering from illness. I always remember that visit because of the vivid scene that greeted me. He was all alone in the room, sitting out at his dinner table with his breviary open with the Office of Readings of the Day. He was utterly absorbed in the text and in his time of prayer. He appeared so serene, calm and content with his lot. That particular moment in time with the expression of contentment and happiness on his face left a strong impression on my mind. There was a man, I felt, happy in his skin, at one with the Lord he was so visibly in deep communion with. Despite the obvious frailty and struggle with sickness the words of the mystic Julian of Norwich, best summed up what I observed; All will be well, all manner of things will be well.
Feast of All Saints
I knew from that first encounter with Fr. JJ that I was in the presence of a very holy man. Over the past few days, since he returned to meet his maker on the vigil of All Saints, that has been confirmed and re-echoed by so many people who were so impressed with him.
If I had a euro for every time someone said that Fr. JJ went to God on his feast day, the festival of All Saints, I’d be a very rich man indeed.
As we reflect on saints and saintliness there’s an interesting aside that St. Bernard of Clairvaux, when his good friend St. Malachy of Armagh, (whose feast day we commemorated yesterday), when he died in the middle ages he was so convinced that he was a saint that he replaced the requiem Mass with the Mass of All Saints at his funeral. St. Francis of Assisi was so extraordinary that after this death he was immediately proclaimed a saint, vox populi. In many ways – in his own quiet and gentle and unassuming way – Fr. JJ was almost in that category.
Here was a man, in Fr. JJ who did not, in the eyes of the world seem to achieve huge things, yet he left an indelible impression and lasting impact on so many people and his life made such a difference. There was a mystique, an other worldly quality to him. He wore this so lightly and at the same time he was deeply human, in touch with so many people with their needs and concerns and very down to earth. He seemed have one foot firmly planted in this world and another very naturally in the world of the spirit, the heavenly realm that we all aspire to.
The words of RS Thomas help in some way in his poem The Country Clergy:
I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
They wrote on men’s hearts… sublime words … that God will not forget.
There was something very beautiful about the serene countenance of this remarkable priest that was Fr. JJ Rodgers. The late Daniel O’Leary remarked that “the vocation of the priest is to be a prophet of beauty, to remind people of the light within them, to reassure them that they are, as Thomas Merton realized in his moment of intense disclosure in a city street, ‘shining like the sun’; to tell them that they, like children, can almost touch a rainbow. The call of the priest, like it was for Jesus before him, and like it is for the Church and her Sacraments now, is not to introduce something news to God’s creation, but to reveal, purify and intensify what is already there.” I certainly feel Fr. JJ did so much of this through the many lives he touched in such a beautiful and gentle way for over 60 years as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Despite his advanced years, Fr. JJ had a great interest and capacity for Young People and Youth Ministry in general. The few times I was present at the Youth 2000 gathering in Roscrea, Fr. JJ was there in the thick of things, ready to chat, to encourage, to open the scriptures for eager minds and present to offer the Mercy and Love of God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Quiet, Calm manner
In a world in which there is so much noise and sound and bluster, where the gift of silence is at such a premium, the life and personality of Fr. JJ was the complete antithesis to all of that. In his gentleness and almost meek and mild manner the biggest challenge was for people to hear him, he being so soft spoken. What a pity as was so often remarked, as what he had to say was so worth hearing, gems of a lived spiritual life spent in much communion with the Lord.
Dedication to the Legion of Mary and Mary, Mother of God
Fr. JJ’s dedication to the Legion of Mary, devotion to Our Lady in general and Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock is well known. How many times as spiritual director to various Praesidia he prayed the great Legion antiphon Who is she that cometh forth, fair as the moon, bright as the sun and terrible as an army set in battle array.
Faoi bhrat na Maigdinne Muire go raibh sé ar feadh na síoraíochta!
Dedication to the Word of God
Dedication to the word of God, the good news of the scriptures was one of the main hallmarks of Fr. JJ. I don’t think I ever met him where he was apart from his breviary. I heard many stories of his visitations in the many parishes in which he ministered, where he would bring the Scriptures with him and spend time drawing families into the treasures of the Word of God in the book of books that is the Bible.
He was a man who as a genuine disciple of Jesus lived the ideals of Lacordaire in his reflection on The Priesthood:
A man who lived
… in the midst of the world,
Who did not desire it pleasures,
Who was a member of each family,
Yet belonging to none,
Sharing all suffering,
Penetrating all secrets,
Healing all wounds,
Going from people to God with their prayers
Returning from God to people, bringing pardon, peace and hope.
Having a heart of fire for charity
Along with a heart of bronze for chastity,
A pastor who consoled, blessed.
This was his life, o priest of Jesus Christ.
For Fr. JJ dedication to family was a central part of his life and it was at a family function, the baptism of a family member in Kinnity that he recently fell ill.
We remember in this month of the faithful departed, Fr. JJ’s brother Tony Rodgers, Liss, Caher and sister Teresa Bugler, Mountshannon.
We pray for, and extend condolences and sympathies to Fr. JJ’s brother Fr. Micheál and sister Maureen Ward, nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, the Priests of the Killaloe Diocese, relatives and friends at this sad time of loss of a person who was so special.
During this requiem Mass we pray for the happy repose of the most gentle soul that Fr. JJ was. We pray that whatever small faults and failings he might have had might be forgiven by the merciful Lord that he spent a lifetime sharing with so many and that he might take his place in halls of the saints in heaven.
Suaimhneas sioraí da anam uasal agus go raibh leaba aige i measc na Naomh.
Predeceased by his brother Tony Rodgers, Liss, Caher and sister Teresa Bugler, Mountshannon.
Sadly missed by his brother Fr. Micheál and sister Maureen Ward, nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, Bishop and Priests of the Killaloe Diocese, relatives and friends.
Born on September 1st 1934
Fr J.J was a native of Caher, Killanena, Co. Clare and was a priest of the Diocese of Killaloe for 60 years. He was a past pupil of St Flannan’s College, Ennis. He studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Carlow where he was ordained on June 10th 1959
His first appointment was on temporary Mission to the Diocese of St Augustine, Florida and on his return in 1966 he was appointed curate in Kilmaley, Co. Clare. He moved to Corofin, Co. Clare as Curate in December 1967 and he was appointed Curate in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary in July 1978.
In July 1986 he was appointed Curate in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary and in 1993 he was appointed Parish Priest of Templederry, Co. Tipperary.
He retired as PP in July 2004 to become Curate in Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary. He retired to his home parish of Killanena in July 2014 where he continued in ministry until recently