Kevin Rafferty, class '54
1936 - 2008
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and that it will be the same for those who die in Jesus; God will bring them with him.
Since news of Fr Kevin Rafferty’s death began to break last Tuesday morning, we have been flooded with emails and phonecalls from friends of All Hallows, past students of the seminary and more recent past students. All the messages are along the same lines. Kevin’s vision of a future church with much more lay involvement, his gentleness, his interest in people and their work, his enquiring mind, his extraordinary ability as an administrator and his leadership ability to bring people with him. One of the emails came from a present member of staff who came here to do a course in the 1980s. In its own way the message sums up Kevin’s personality and the way he was with us here over the past few years. This is how the email goes:
Many tributes will be paid to his memory and all of them richly deserved. I first met him when he interviewed me for a place on the Lay Ministry Course in the late 80’s. I was struck then by his graciousness and dignity and have been impressed by those same qualities ever since. My last meeting was just after Christmas when he was returning to the nursing home and he stopped for a few minutes. We chatted and he asked me to fasten his jacket for him. I tucked his scarf cosily around his neck and we wished each other a happy new year. I will treasure the memory always.
The readings of this evening’s reception, focus our attention on the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus was crucified there was darkness over the land. Human death always has darkness around it. The death of Father Kevin Rafferty has its own darkness and numbness around it which many of us share. We live daily with the great mystery of human suffering and death. But when someone close to us is living the mystery day by day before our eyes it affects us in a different way. It becomes very real. We saw Kevin living out the Paschal Mystery of Jesus for the past 3 or 4 years. First with his gradual loss of sight and then with the debilitating illness which gradually slowed him down. Those of us who live here and his family watched the paschal mystery of Jesus unfold for Kevin day after day, week after week, month after month. He lived with the darkness with great patience right to the very end.
Yet within that darkness there was some resurrection. Kevin remained buoyant and vibrant and interested right up to his last breath in the early hours of last Tuesday morning. He never felt sorry for himself. He never complained. He remained interested in people and in the world of ideas. I spent some time with him on Sunday afternoon. He made a fleeting reference to his weak and deteriorating condition. Then we got talking about his life story Fragments of a Life.
The resurrection was obvious too in his courage in spite of his visual impairment in completing a series of lectures on evangelization on the continent of Europe which he delivered on line. Week after week he met the deadlines which an online series of lectures demands. He was so conscious that the secularization and loss of a sense of God which had happened to the church in europe was happening the church in Ireland before our very eyes. He saw that lecture series through to the end. The completion of the series must have been a little resurrection for Kevin. The triumph of the human spirit in a time of great adversity. Kevin was a resurrection man.
Kevin and myself were appointed to the staff of All Hallows in 1982 – Kevin as President and I was Dean of Students. Being newcomers to All Hallows, we spent a lot of time together. We walked around the ring on the grounds on hundreds of occasions. We talked about all kinds of things especially the future of the church and the future of our seminary. With only 45 students for the priesthood, All Hallows was facing a critical period in its history. Fr Tom Lane had during his Presidency begun the regeneration of the college with the establishment of a Conference Centre in Purcell House – then Junior House – for the renewal of both lay and religious. There were seeds of a future All Hallows already present during the Presidency of Fr Tom Lane but Kevin faced a huge challenge of how to develop the seeds.
Kevin’s first task was to get to know the missionary tradition he inherited. Shortly after his arrival in the college, he set out on a whistle stop tour of the united States to visit former students ministering in different dioceses across the united States. He visited 22 centres in 26 days. This trip was followed in time by trips to Britain, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and other centres where All Hallows priests ministered. Kevin said to me on many occasions that it was only when he began to visit the “pastmen” that he began to realise what All Hallows was all about. It was about mission and ministry. Respectful of this tradition he began to see how he might play his part in shaping the future.
Over the next 12 years slowly but surely All Hallows was transformed. Kevin’s vision of a future church with much involvement of lay people began to become a reality... But with careful nurturing, thoughtful planning and the willing and enthusiastic co-operation of a very gifted staff, a new All Hallows emerged from those seeds. A new coffee dock and a new dining room were built and paid for by fundraising. New and gifted staff were added. If you want to see Kevin’s legacy look around you. It is here in the people, in the buildings and in the graduates of All Hallows scattered across the world. The 150 celebration in 1992 of the founding of All Hallows in 1842, which Kevin masterminded, must have been a real resurrection moment for Kevin. The past students of the seminary and the present students of the new All Hallows met in a week long celebration of the All Hallows mission. It was certainly a defining moment for All Hallows past and present.
Given the rather downbeat mood in the church at the time, Kevin’s thirteen years as President was a resurrection for All Hallows. But it must have been a resurrection too for Kevin. Kevin was a resurrection man. He was a dawn man. In this liturgy we pray that Kevin is now experiencing another kind of resurrection with God. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen he is not here.
I am conscious that there is so much more that could be said – his work as Head of the Religious Studies Department of St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill, London, his work as Provincial of the Irish Province of the Vincentians, his passionate commitment to the mission of the church, his enthusiastic interest in the church in europe and his visits to different dioceses in europe at a time when he was visually impaired. There is so much more… no doubt others will take up the story.
Mingled with the thought of resurrection and the mystery of suffering and death, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude as we gather here this evening. Gratitude to God for blessing Kevin with so much giftedness, gratitude to Kevin for giving his time and talents so generously to the work of our Congregation in St Mary’s College Strawberry Hill, London as Provincial of Congregation of the Mission and as President of All Hallows; gratitude to his family in Glenamaddy who gave him to the Congregation of the Mission in 1954.
On a personal note I will miss Kevin very much but my sadness and loss is tempered somewhat by the fact that I lived and worked with an extraordinary man – wise, kindly, intelligent, and prophetic.
Mark Noonan CM
Kevin Rafferty CM
Born: Glenamady, Co Mayo, 29 April 1936
entered the CM: 7 September 1954
Vows: 8 September 1959
Ordained Priest: 7 March 1962 in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin
1962 – ’63: St Vincent’s, Castleknock
1963 – ’66: Louvain (studies)
1966 – ’82: St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill
1982 – ’95: All Hallows College
1995 – 2001: Provincial of Irish Province
2001 – ’08: All Hallows College
Died: 29 January 2008
Buried: All Hallows College
Fr Kevin – The Quiet Man
If Hallowed Halls could speak at will
And I’m quite sure they can
They’d tell a tale of one we loved
And called the quiet man.
For that is what Kevin was you know
A man of quiet heart
A wise man, a Philosopher
A man God set apart.
To see All Hallows change its style
To oversee the Vins
To teach all nations about love
And let the women in!
We have so much to thank him for
So much to treasure too
As now his Lord invites him in
The quiet man we knew.
He has a special place for him
The man who quietly lived
The motto of All Hallows
And had so much to give.
Go teach all Nations now
Your journey here is o’er
Your God surrounds you now with love
He’s opened Heaven’s door.