Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Thomas (Kenneth) Fives, O.Carm. (1944-2017)
Homily given at the Reception of the Remains on June 22, 2017, in the Carmelite Friary, Kinsale, by P. Kehoe, O.Carm., Prior.
My first meeting with Tommy Fives was as a young fifteen-year-old in August or September 1970. Tommy was a newly-ordained Deacon and at that time I knew him as Ken Fives – it was only later that I got to know him as Tommy. He got to know my late sister through the St Vincent de Paul Holiday home in Kerdiffstown, outside Naas, and where Tommy and Ambrose Costello were assigned as part of their Summer Apostolate. After that, Tommy started to visit our home and in 1985 I was asked to go to Zimbabwe and help out for the Summer. After a few days rest in Hatfield, Harare, Tommy brought me to St Charles Lwanga Minor Seminary in Chimanimani, formerly Melsetter. It was there that I worked with Tommy teaching. At the weekends he would bring me to an Outstation with him to get an experience of work done at the Mission, celebrating with the people and meeting them to discuss the village problems, leaving early in the morning and travelling for miles across dirt tracks, to return late in the afternoon covered in red dust. He asked me once what the goal of a missionary was: to make himself redundant. And, thankfully, the young Zimbabwe Church founded by the Irish Carmelites is thriving, thanks to the hard work of men like Tommy Fives.
A priest is a minister of the resurrection. Everything a priest does is about the resurrection. We perhaps don’t always think about it in this way, but it is profoundly true. We are taught, of course, that the priest stands before us in persona Christi, in the person or in the place of Christ. And it is the Risen Christ who the priest presents to us.
The quality of our mourning is somehow different on the death of a priest. It seldom has the raw intimacy that draws forth deep sobs of loneliness. Our memories of Tommy Fives often reach so little to the inner heart of him, to the secret springs of character and motive which God alone sees and which God alone judges. And yet there is, too, a serenity to our mourning that finds expression in the Book of Sirach: ‘Blessed are those who saw you and were honoured with your friendship’ (14:1).
On the day of his ordination, the bishop invited the young Tommy Fives to ‘Share with all people that Word of God which you received with joy’, then he placed on him the responsibility to ‘see that you believe what you read, teach what you believe and that you translate your teaching into action’. So Tommy, as a priest, was called to step forward as a prophet and to speak out the lived experience of the Gospel. His task was to deliver the message to the men and women of his time, whether they hear or refuse him a hearing. He was not to wrap up his meaning. He was not to expect success. The impact of the prophet can seldom be measured by his impact on a single mind here and there, but rather by his ability to pierce the hard ring of pride and selfishness that divert so many from following the plan of God for their lives. The mission of the authentic prophet is not to tire of swimming against the current rather than allow himself to be carried along unconcerned. Just as the prophet’s life is different, so often is his death.
The priestly stole which Tommy wore indicated that he was clothed with the risen Christ in order to bring him to others. That was to bring Tommy very far from his home in Scilly to Zimbabwe. When he wore that stole and celebrated the sacraments, the grace which came from his anointed hands is the grace which comes from the Resurrection.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he gave absolution ‘through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. In the Sacrament of the Sick, the healing power of Christ’s resurrection soothes, heals and comforts. In Baptism, he enables us to die with Christ so that we may share his risen life. And most of all, when the priest lifts the chalice and paten we behold and adore the living bread, the food of eternal life.
And in his pastoral care, his daily work, the priest carries the risen Christ to his people. Sometimes in deed, in taking Communion to the sick. Sometimes in word, in his teaching and preaching. And always in person, as the one who bears the presence of the Risen Lord to his people.
And now Tommy meets the reality of what he has always lived, as the grace of the Resurrection, so abundant in his life, now becomes his reality and reward in death. What he has lived, what Christ has given us through him, now he becomes.
One of the last things in 1971 that Tommy said to my late mother and myself as he mounted his Honda 50 to return to Gort Muire was, ‘We will get him yet’. Nine years later I found myself here, in Kinsale, as a novice.
May Christ, the living bread, who gave his life for the world, raise Tommy up on the last day.
Homily given at the Funeral Mass on June 23, 2017, in the Carmelite Friary, Kinsale, by M.R. Kelly, O.Carm.
We gather with the Fives Family as they grieve the loss of Tommy. Your prayerful presence and support at the reception in mid-afternoon yesterday, at Evening Prayer at 7.30, and at today’s funeral Mass, is much appreciated.
We gather as a Christian family, a community of faith:
To commend Tommy to the tender mercy of our God;
To pray with and for his family: Eleanor, his sister; Teddy, his brother in law; nephews and nieces: Tim, Kenneth, Helen, Cathy, Nathan and Caroline and grandnephews and nieces;
To express our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus as we do at every Sunday Eucharist, and the hope that we will one day be reunited with those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
My memory of Tommy goes back to 1958/59 when I was a novice and Tommy was a regular altar server. Ten years later, our paths crossed in Gort Muire, when Tommy was studying theology in the Milltown Institute. In the years in between, Tommy completed his second level education at Coláiste Críost Rí, while I moved on to pursue an Arts degree in U.C.D. and undergraduate theology in Rome.
The early 1960’s were a time of great excitement and hope for the world and the Church. President Kennedy had a dream for exploring outer space and putting a man on the moon. Martin Luther King had a dream for civil rights for Afro-Americans, which was in the inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland led by John Hume and others. The elderly Pope John XXIII had a dream for the renewal of and the adaptation of the Church. In his opening speech at the Second Vatican Council he stated that he preferred that the Church make use of the medicine of mercy rather than the severity of previous centuries. They were exciting times and it was great to be young.
Kennedy and King had untimely deaths. Pope John slipped away quietly into eternity and let the bishops of the Church get on with the work of the Council.
The late 1960’s were a time of restlessness and protests. Protests against the Vietnam War. Protests by University students across Europe, led by Danny the Red, who brought Paris to a standstill in 1968. Flights from Ireland to Lourdes were cancelled. There was fear of violence. Religious student houses and seminaries were not immune from what was happening in the wider world. It was not an easy time for students or their directors. There were tensions in the Church between those who wanted change and those who resisted change.
I was appointed Student Director in 1968. Tommy was studying theology in the Milltown Institute. On one occasion he came back from class in Milltown, full of enthusiasm and energy, bustling along the corridor. He said, “We just had a great lecture from McPolin.” I enquired what the topic was. He replied, “What you call the parable of the Prodigal Son. McPolin claims it would be more appropriately called the parable of the Merciful Father.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the great German theologian, having studied the history of theology, came to the following conclusion in his excellent book, ‘Mercy’, published in 2013: Mercy has by and large been forgotten or given very little attention in systemic theology. However, Kasper refers to the rediscovery of Mercy in the Church by Pope John XXIII’s speech at the opening of the Council, by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical ‘Rich in Mercy’ (1980) and by the Year of Mercy of Pope Francis.
Tommy, ordained in 1971, made his way to Rhodesia with Ambrose Costello, spent some months studying the Shona language at Triashill Mission, the oldest mission in the Diocese of Mutare, founded by the Trappists in 1896. His first pastoral placement was in St. Patrick’s Nyanyadsi, a very hot and infertile place, desert-like. In 1975 he was transferred to St Charles Lwanga Seminary, Chimanimani. While his studies in U.C.D. were in History and English, like many priests and religious of the time he took on the task of teaching biology. Maths and science teachers in the 1970’s were as scarce as Home Economics and Irish teachers are today.
The following excerpts are from a message received in the past few days. Fr Vitalis Benza, Carmelite Superior in Zimbabwe, wrote: Along with teaching in the Seminary, he was busy opening new Mass Centres in and around St Charles Mission catchment area. One of these outstations – which became very strong and vibrant – is Ndima. Because of his commitment, it grew in numbers and in faith development. He would go there after class or at weekends. The underlying factor was commitment and dedication. He was appointed Rector of the seminary and Project Manager for the Diocese. He sourced funds for many developments at the missions.
After his contribution to education, he then went into full time pastoral work at St Agnes’ in Zengeza, a sprawling suburb in the Archdiocese of Harare.
It is easy to forget that Tommy and his fellow Carmelite missionaries lived through very difficult and dangerous times during the Liberation War from 1975-80. Tom McLoughlin was shot and wounded and left with lifelong pain. Willie O’Regan, Lar Lynch and Bishop Lamont were expelled by the Smith government. Gerry Galvin, caught in cross fire at Honde Valley priests’ house, lived to tell the story. The marks of the bullets are still to be seen on the walls.
These men and their companions, not forgetting the sisters – Irish, Dutch and American – laid the foundations of many flourishing missions which consisted of a church, a school and a clinic, while being supported by the prayers and generous donations of the people here at home. The crucifix, at the back of this church, donated by Tommy, is a permanent reminder of the commitment of the local people to the mission in Zimbabwe.
Paul uses powerful imagery in the letter to the Romans: When we were baptised we went into the tomb with Jesus and rose to new life. Death and resurrection is a recurring theme in his writings. Baptism was by complete immersion in Paul’s time. As a result of baptism, Paul could say: ‘I live, now, not I, but Christ lives in me’. But he warns us that we carry this gift in earthen vessels.
The gospel story is the command of the Risen Lord to his disciples before his Ascension, his return to the Father: Go out to the whole world – the known world was a smaller place at that time. Proclaim the good news: As Pope Francis has reminded us frequently, God loves us unconditionally as we are, warts and all. Baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reminds us of the symbolic baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. God the Father addressed Jesus: ‘You are my beloved Son’. To each one of us in baptism, the Father addresses the same words: You are my beloved son or daughter. That is our great identity as Christians. We are beloved sons and daughters of the Father, redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Know that I am with you always. The Risen Lord was with Tommy in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, especially during dangerous times. The Risen Lord was with Tommy in the persons of the nursing and caring staff, the brethren who looked after him with great patience and kindness during his long and painful illness.
Tommy returned to Gort Muire in 2009, having had two serious strokes. The medics in Zimbabwe said that he would not survive another stroke. He had a third stroke. Sadly, his condition deteriorated over the years. They underestimated Tommy’s tenacity, who held on against all the odds. Life was difficult for him, his family, the brethren and all who cared for him.
It is fitting that he should return to the place where his faith was formed and developed by his family and the local community. It is also fitting that he returns to the place where he spent holiday time, fishing as far as the Old Head and beyond. He was addicted to the sea and to fishing, providing fresh fish to the local people. I’m reminded of the poem, ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield, and quote the final
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over
During my year in the Novitiate and afterwards, it was customary to say a number of prayers after the Rosary. One by Cardinal John Henry Newman has stayed with me:
May He support us all the day long,
till the shades lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in His mercy
may He give us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest and peace at the last.
May the Lord of the harvest and Our Lady of Carmel bring Tommy safely home.