Two Masses for Deceased Columbans
In this issue we feature two Masses celebrated earlier this year here in the Philippines for two deceased Irish Columban priests. One, Fr Timothy Leonard, had never set foot here and died 84 years ago in China, aged 36, the first Columban to die violently. The second, Fr Joseph Gallagher, died peacefully in Ireland at the age of 90, a man who had spent 57 years in the Philippines, most of those in Pangasinan.
Fr Timothy Leonard (1893 – 1929)
Fr Tim Leonard was one of the first Columbans, joining the newly-approved Society of St Columban shortly after his ordination for the Diocese of Limerick, Ireland, in 1918. He was in the first group of Columban priests to go to China, in 1920. While he was celebrating Mass on the morning of 17 July 1929 Communist bandits broke into the church, attacked Father Tim, scattered the consecrated hosts, the Body of Christ, and trampled on them. When he upbraided them they took him outside and hacked him to death.
The occasion for the Mass on Father Tim’s death anniversary, held in the Columban Formation House in Cubao, Quezon City, was the visit of a cousin of the priest, John Leonard. Fittingly, there was a Chinese Columban seminarian present, Peter Dong Lichun.
Fr Joseph Gallagher (1923 – 2013)
Fr Joe Gallagher died peacefully, surrounded by family members, in the nursing home in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Ireland, where he had studied for seven years and where he was ordained in December 1947. The people of San Isidro Parish, Labrador, Pangasinan, where he had spent 22 years, mourned him and organized a special Mass that was celebrated on 25 August. The main celebrant was Bishop Marlo M. Peralta of Alaminos who had met Father Joe only once. The bishop described Father Joe as a holy man who never seemed to get angry, a perfect gentleman, able to relate warmly to everyone in the parish.
‘A perfect gentleman’ was how almost everyone described Father Joe after his death, relatives and fellow Columbans.
In November we remember the dead in a special way. Pope Benedict expressed beautifully why we do this in his homily on 11 November 2005 at the annual Mass for deceased cardinals: ‘For this reason, while we thank God for all the benefits that he has bestowed upon our deceased Brothers, let us offer for them the merits of the passion and death of Christ, so that they may fill the gaps due to human frailty’.
We thank God for those we honor as Columban Martyrs, starting with Fr Tim Leonard, 23 priests and one Columban Sister who died violently while carrying out the mission that Jesus entrusted to his Church. . And for the ‘perfect gentleman’, Fr Joe Gallagher, and the many Columban priests, Sisters and Lay Missionaries who have gone ahead, in the words of Pope Benedict, ‘Let us offer for them the merits of the passion and death of Christ, so that they may fill the gaps due to human frailty . . . Let us invoke the intercession of St Peter and of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order that they welcome them to the Father's house, in the trusting hope that we will one day be able to join them, to enjoy the fullness of life and peace. Amen’.