Matthew Barry, class '55
1936 - 2001
Though some months have passed since we first heard the sad news of Mattie’s untimely death in Nigeria, the reality is still hard to accept. Big in mind, heart and body, he was loved and respected by all who met him. Private by nature, Mattie was very diffident in regard to his own abilities. He would much prefer to be one of the group rather than seek a leadership role. However, his potential for leadership was very apparent from his early years.
Mattie was the eldest boy of the Barry Family who farmed extensively at Maynooth, Co Kildare and Summerhill, Co Meath. The family bond was always strong and later as a priest at Castleknock he loved nothing better than spending time working on the farm, either with his brothers or brothers-in-law.
A talented tennis player he was outstanding at rugby and was captain of a very fine Castleknock Senior Cup Team, which narrowly lost the Leinster final to Blackrock College in 1955 in extra time. Mattie enjoyed his school days, particularly the camaraderie and bonhomie of boarding school life. His contemporaries remember him for his integrity, his sense of fair play, good humour and caring attitude. This was born of a deep faith and love of God, and no one was surprised when at the end of his school days, Mattie intimated his intention of entering the Vincentian Community.
During his seminary days one readily appreciated his keen interest in farming, for whether it was ploughing, harrowing, bringing in the harvest or silage Mattie was always to the fore. He was serious and diligent about his studies and obtained a BA from UCD in 1959. However, it was in the study of Theology and especially the Scriptures that he really found his niche. It was a love that was to remain with him all his life. He liked nothing better than having a cup of tea and reading the latest book on Theology, and at a later date enter into a serious dialogue with a friend.
The fruit of his reading was very apparent in his conferences and homilies. His big presence and gentle voice enabled him to communicate easily with any group. His talks to the boys at Castleknock were always interesting, well developed and to the point. Many of his former pupils still recall Fr Mattie’s good advice.
After his ordination in 1963, Mattie was appointed to St Vincent’s Castleknock where his administrative and leadership qualities quickly came to the fore.Within the year he had taken over as Senior Dean. His personal qualities quickly endeared him to the boys, to whom he was affectionately known as “Mattie”. After four years he was appointed Prefect of Studies, his favourite role at the College. His preparation and attention to detail ensured that everything moved smoothly throughout the day and the entire school year. His human touch and good humour never deserted him, and when things went wrong he had the good sense to see it in its proper perspective.
Nine years after his ordination Mattie was appointed as one of the youngest Presidents of the College and he proved to be a most successful and popular President. Having been Dean and Prefect of Studies for the previous eight years, he understood how the College functioned, and his knowledge of the boys was second to none. As President he was most approachable and particularly welcomed those boys who were experiencing some difficulty. His counsel and good advice were sought by parents, staff, pastmen and fellow Head Teachers.
Mattie had a mischievous sense of humour and whether it was with a boy arguing his case in the office or a colleague at table, he loved to string one on in endless debate until his hearty laugh gave the game away. One of his regular sparring partners was Brother Michael whose advice he would seek on some inconsequential farming matter. As they argued the pros and cons, Mattie waited for Br. Michael’s knock out blow “Ah, Mattie you know nothing about farming, you are just a Meath rancher”.
His ambitions and vision for the College in his early years were far reaching. He hoped to set up a Governing Body, upgrade the residential side by having study bedrooms for the senior pupils, and to consolidate the work he had initiated as Prefect of Studies. Yet it was also a time when the various Religious Orders were beginning to question their deep involvement in education. The Vincentians were no exception and Mattie found the debate to be too personal and divisive. Never one for an acrimonious debate, he opted for a more reconciliatory role. His first concern was to discern what God was asking of us and to ensure unity and good will among the confreres.
During the pressure days of his Presidency, Mattie developed two new pastimes, walking and gardening. When not in his office one could be certain of finding him walking along the Bull Island or in the green house preparing plants for the College rockery which was his pride and joy. The College night secretary at the time was an Indian lady, who would inform all callers, that “Fr Barry was at the Grotto”. The inevitable reply was “Oh, I understand, I will phone later”. As Superior and President Mattie will be remembered for his sensitivity, encouragement and good judgement.
Despite his busy schedule as President, Mattie was a member of the Provincial Council for nine years, where his wisdom and caring concern for others was greatly appreciated. As a Provincial Councillor he was responsible for purchasing the site and supervising the building of De Paul House, Celbridge.
Mattie was also a member of the executive of the Catholic Headmasters, where he was highly regarded by his fellow Head Teachers and would have been in line for office with the CHA if he had not been invited by the Superior General to become Director of the Daughters of Charity in England and Scotland.
With his move to England in 1980, a new chapter opened in his life. Working alongside the Daughters of Charity he was introduced to the world of the poor and he readily admitted that it was a real eye opener for him. His subsequent visits to famine torn Ethiopia 1984 and 1985 had an equally profound effect on him. On one occasion while food was being distributed Mattie observed an emaciated old man take a large crust, limp back into the shade and sharing it with four others. It made a lasting impression on him and as Fr Richard Mc Cullen commented in his homily at his memorial Mass in Castleknock, ‘the centre of gravity of his life had shifted from the first to the third world’.
After completing his term of office as Director to the Daughters of Charity in England, Mattie volunteered for the Nigerian Mission. His work there would largely centre on the formation of young Vincentians and Daughters of Charity. After a six month orientation period at Ikot Ekpene, he returned to Rome in the spring of ’87 to study spirituality.
In the following year he completed the Loreto Formation Course in Dublin. He was Director of the Seminaire at St Justin’s, Ogobia for three years and in 1991 became the Regional Superior of the Vincentian Mission. In 1994, he was appointed as Director to the Daughters in Nigeria. This work involved extensive travel throughout the country and staying at various missions. It was while doing so that he developed a unique mission of his own.
For some months prior to his coming home on leave, Mattie would scour the various theological and spiritual book reviews, and prepare an extensive list for purchasing on his arrival home. During his break he would also collect a wide variety of novels from family, confreres and friends. Once he had read the books, Mattie would put them in the boot of his car in order to share them at a later date with the various priests, sisters and others that he met in his rounds. For them he was both a resource centre and mobile library, and they highly valued his contribution to their isolated lives.
On completing his six years he became Spiritual Director to the Vincentian students at Blessed Ghebre-Michael House, and Parish Priest of Abiakpo, where he sadly died some nine months later.
In his journey through life, Mattie could best be described as a pilgrim. He lived a simple life style and travelled light. He easily moved from one phase of life to the next and was never one to hanker after the past. His love of sport, his keen interest in farming, and his work in education were readily put behind him as he sought to fulfil his new mission in life. A favourite quotation from Helder Camara, on which Mattie pondered a lot, sums up his spirit. “Say, ‘yes’ to the surprises which interrupt your plans and crush your dreams, giving your day – perhaps even your life – a completely new direction”. Though his death was premature for a man of his physique and health, we can be certain that Mattie found it easy to let go of this earthly life and open up to the surprises of the eternal life.
The sentiment expressed by Sister Zoe O’Neill DC at his memorial Mass in London is most apt. “Fr Mattie strode into our lives like a breath of fresh air. He was a strider. He strode all over Ethiopia; bringing his laughter, inspiration and gentle presence. He was a long strider and so he reached the Divine Presence ahead of the rest of us”.
May he rest in peace.
Kevin O’Shea C.M.
MATTHEW BARRY CM
Born: Dublin – 11 October 1936
Entered the CM: 7 September 1955
Final Vows: 8 September 1960
Ordained priest: 30 March 1963 in, Clonliffe College by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin
1963-’80: St. Vincent’s, Castleknock
1980–’86: St. Vincent’s, Mill Hill
1886-’87: Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria
1987-’88: St. Joseph’s, Blackrock
1988-’91: St. Justin’s Seminary, Ogobia,
1991-’94: St. Vincent de Paul, Enugu, Nigeria
1994-2000: St. Justin’s, Ogobia,
2000 – ’01: Bl. Ghebre Michael, Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria
Died: 14 April, 2001
Buried: Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria
Requiem Mass for Fr. Matt Barry CM
Castleknock College, 22nd April 2001
Readings: Revelation: 1:9-13,17-19; John 20:19-31
It was sometime in the mid-eighties: Fr Mattie, in his role as Director of the British Province of the Daughters of Charity, went to visit the Sisters who were working in Ethiopia. Those were the years of the great famine in that country when the nations of the West were energized into a new sense of solidarity with and responsibility for the hungry of the world. Returning to London, Mattie stopped off at Rome and came to see me. Those weeks he had spent in Ethiopia had grooved themselves into Fr Mattie’s heart and he spoke about the experience movingly.
I have forgotten the precise details of our conversation, except for one. In the course of his visit to a famine stricken area, Mattie saw bread being distributed to a host of people. Leaving the scene he came upon an emaciated man who had succeeded in picking up what was not much more than a large crust of bread. The man limped over to the shade of a tree, sat down and was then joined by three other equally skeletal men. The proprietor of the hunk of bread then proceeded to break and to divide it into four pieces. He sat back and invited the three other squatting figures to take whichever portion they wished. It seems that such was one of the refined traditions of Ethiopian culture, which even famine could not suppress. Mattie went on to remark to me that. while we of the western world could bring much material aid to the famine-stricken people of Ethiopia, he hoped that in doing so we would never so overwhelm them that they would lose the refinement of such a costly unselfishness that he had just witnessed and experienced. It was a moment in Mattie’s life, I think, when, like Thomas of today’s gospel, he had put his finger into the marks of the nails and his hand into the side of the Risen Christ, and was never to forget it.
Those of us who remember Mattie in the years when he was studying theology in Glenart will recall him as one brimming over with youthful energy, playful good humour and generosity. Scripture study and silage making, tractors, trailers and Trinitarian theology, hen runs and homiletics were all so many power points for the release of his energies. There was something of the character of Thomas of today’s gospel in Mattie. Perhaps we overlook the fact that the Thomas of today’s gospel was more than the doubting sceptic that history has tagged on him. It was Thomas too who some weeks earlier in a rather impetuous burst of generosity had encouraged the other apostles to go the whole way with our Lord: Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we “may die with him”. (John 11: 16) It was Thomas too, who, during the last supper, on hearing our Lord say that the disciples knew the way to the place he was going, immediately voiced the question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Thomas was nothing if not a down-to earth-practitioner - and generous, you would say, to a fault.
While Mattie’s genius was not of the speculative kind, he would read widely - and ruminate and ponder much on what he had absorbed and then, when the opportunity arose, would share the bread of his reflections in any forum of discussion. “Be not faithless but believing” is our Lord’s counsel to us today and Christian thinkers have since consecrated the ideal of fides quaerens intellectum - which could be broadly translated: Let your faith be always a topic of reflective reasoning.
I somehow think that Mattie’s visit to Ethiopia in 1984 or 1985 was not the first time he had gone into mission territory. As a student in Glenart with his knowledge of French he translated and turned out on a gestetner machine copies of a small French book entitled The Missionary Ideal of the Priest according to St Vincent de Paul by a Fr Delarue. Are we to see that project of his student days as prophetic in character, for is not a great life but a thought of youth carried out in mature years?
It was here in Castleknock as Dean, Prefect of Studies, and President that he would live out sensitively and sensibly St Vincent’s missionary ideal for some 17 years – before he was appointed Director of the Daughters of Charity of the British Province. Then, in 1986, he launched out into the deep of the growing Vincentian presence in Africa’s most populous nation – Nigeria.
I think it would be true to say that some of us here in Ireland seemed to lose sight of him somewhat after that. Only every two years would he return to Ireland, and then he would rest and read and reflect - spending a sizeable quota of his time in St Joseph’s, Stillorgan Park. If he was not exactly a forced exile on the island of Patmos – as was St John of the second reading – Mattie as a missionary could easily identify with the opening sentiments of that particular reading. My name is John, and through our union with Jesus I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom and all you endure.
And brother Fr Mattie was to the young members of the Vincentian Vice-Province of Nigeria. Brother too, to the fast growing number of Daughters of Charity in Nigeria. It was no surprise then that in 1992, enriched by his experience as Director of the Daughters of Charity in England, he was asked to assume that same role for the Sisters in the Region of Nigeria - a region which just yesterday was officially constituted a full Province of the Company of the Daughters of Charity.
“May the Divine Goodness”, prayed St. Vincent in a letter to a missionary, “unite... all hearts in the Little Company of the Mission…The strong person will relieve the weak one and the weak will cherish the strong... And so, Lord, Your work will be done as You would like, for the building up of your Church, and Your workers will multiply, attracted by the fragrance of such charity “ (SV 3:104) Fr Mattie was indeed a strong person – big and masculine in body and bone, encouragingly hearty in his laugh but for all that a man with an eye and a heart for the weak one. And the weak will cherish the strong. Those of us who at any time worked with Mattie as a member of a council or lived with him in community will have remarked on his penchant – almost a partiality - for the one whose head was just above water – and for whom Authority might feel that all life-lines had been used up. It was Mattie who invariably, before a final decision was taken, would lift the living stone that was at risk of being rejected and would draw attention to a niche where it just might fit.
An often quoted phrase of St Vincent – Love is inventive to the point of infinity - was a logo for Mattie. Therein lay the reason why the weak - the sister or the priest or the pupil who felt they had not been understood or felt somewhat marginalised – cherished Mattie as one who might bring them in from the margins, plead for their acceptance and find room for them in the inn.
In these last years particularly there was, I think, much of the ascetic in Mattie. The centre of gravity of his life had shifted from the first to the third world. Those four men under the tree in Ethiopia seem to have found a permanent home in his heart. He may well have shared the vision of Patrick Kavanagh in his poem The Ascetic:
That in the end
I may find
Something not sold for a penny
In the slums of Mind.
That I may break with these hands
The bread of wisdom that grows
In the other lands.
For this, for this
Do I wear
The rags of hunger and climb
The unending stair.
May our celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice this afternoon and our prayers lead Fr. Mattie onto the unending stair that is the vision of the beauty, the truth and the goodness of the God who is love and who loved him to the end.
Richard McCullen CM