Fr Fabian McCormack OCD, RIP
Fr Fabian McCormack of our Kensington community died on Friday 1st. February. Below is the text of the homily delivered by Fr. Michael McGoldrick, Provincial, at the Requiem Mass in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington, on February 13th.
I was in India for the past week at a meeting of provincials of the Order. An Indian friar who had been in Kensington asked about the “old priest who moved around so quietly and was always happy and smiling.” He was saddened to learn that Fr Fabian had died. I think his description of Fr Fabian picked up on two important qualities: he moved around quietly and he was always happy and smiling.
Padraig McCormack, as he is as known to his family, was born in Kilfenora in Co Clare in the south west of Ireland on Dec 22, 1933. He was a sensitive and gentle child who, he would later say, was not cut out for the rough and tumble of hurling and football. Sports were, in fact, a source of penance to him! After his primary school, he went to Castlemartyr for secondary school. He entered the Order in Loughrea in 1951. He often recounted how his fellow novices disappeared as quickly as possible after meals so as not to have to walk with the novice master during recreation. He was often the one left to walk with Fr Mark. On one occasion he raised so pious subject in order to make conversation with the novice master, only to be told, “Ah, you’d better off picking turnips.” It is hard to imagine anything more incongruous.
Fr Fabian went on to St Mary’s in Dublin to study philosophy. He loved music and soon a talent began to emerge. Gregorian Chant for the Mass and Divine Office was a regular event and Fr Fabian began to excel in singing the chant. It was something he would treasure for the rest of his life. He would often be called on to lead the singing of the chant for special events. I am sure there are people present who remember his Latin Masses here.
Fr Fabian went to Rome for his theology studies. He quickly picked up Italian and enjoyed mingling with friars from many different countries. His parents and family members came to Rome for his ordination in 1959. After the Ordination, the families of the newly ordained were allowed into the cloister area of the college. Fr Fabian took his family into the quadrangle in the centre of the college only to hear the booming voice of the Rector shouting: “Fuori le donne!” “Get the women out!” Fr Fabian’s mother though at first that the Rector was blessing them! He got great mileage out of that story over the years!
His facility with Italian was to go against him later when a superior general decided that he would be a good addition at the Generalate as an English language secretary and translator. He found the atmosphere at the Generalate anything but congenial and would describe his time there as his dark night. He was very relieved to get back to Dublin!
Fr Fabian served for many years in St Teresa’s, Clarendon Street. As well as his community duties he was secretary to the provincial. He was a quiet but important presence. He was always available to celebrate Mass, hear confessions or whatever else was needed. He treasured the Eucharist and celebrated Mass with great devotion. The Eucharist was truly the bread of life for him.
His love of music got an outlet in St Teresa’s because of the very good organ. He began to put on organ recitals and several organists who later became established in cathedrals credited him with setting them on that road.
He also encouraged budding young singers by inviting them to sing in St Teresa’s on the main feast days. He expected the best of them! I remember on one occasion I was celebrating Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The soloist was a young soprano who shall remain nameless but who has since become a well-known performer. Even I could tell that she was not quite at her best. Fr Fabian later told me that he expressed his displeasure and demanded an explanation. The young lady had been out on the town until quite late! Fr Fabian explained to her that this was very bad for one’s voice before a public event. She learned a valuable lesson that day!
Fr Fabian was not immune to breaking the rules himself on occasion! One Christmas Day Frs Fabian and another friar, tired of the diet of fish, decided to go to a local hotel and treat themselves to a proper Christmas dinner. They duly went to the dining room in the hotel only to find that the prior was at another table with some friends. Since the prior was also breaking the rules, he could not reprimand them!
One of Fr Fabian’s duties as provincial secretary was to write the regional newsletter. I was surprised to learn in recent years that he agonized over what to put into the newsletters. There were witty descriptions of events – sometimes imagined because he had not been present. Had he enjoyed better health in recent years I suspect he would have been teased about fake news! He also wrote amusing obituaries of friars including both their achievements and their idiosyncrasies. As someone said to me, friars became afraid of dying because of what he might write about them! He loved history, especially where it related to people or events associated with our houses. There were often real nuggets of history in the newsletters. I am sure he would not mind if I tell a funny story about him. When was beginning to suffer dementia, he told us that he took out a newsletter, read it and thought, “That was rather good.” Then, he said, “I realised that I had written it”- and laughed at himself.
Fr Fabian also served in Castlemartyr, Berkeley Road, Glasgow and Marlborough Rd. He taught English in Castlemartyr and his love of literature made a lasting impression on students and is still remembered today. While he was in Berkeley Road the prior bought a St Bernard dog for Fr Fabian’s jubilee and named it Jubo. Fr Fabian loved to feed and walk Jubo much to the joy of the local children. When Fr Christopher and I visited Fr Fabian the night before he died, Fr Christopher asked if he remembered Jubo – and there was a small nod of the head. Fr Fabian was an avid reader and an event in Glasgow sadly curtailed that. He had the misfortune to suffer a detached retina. It was a difficult time for him with repeated surgeries and loss of sight in the eye. But he was remarkably serene and patient all the time.
As the Indian priest said, Fr Fabian went about quietly. He treasured silence. He was one of a few of us who spent a whole year in what we call a desert house because if the isolation and intense silence.
His last posting was here in Kensington. When he was transferred here in his late 60s I wondered how he would adjust. But it is a measure of the man that he rose to the occasion and settled very well. His love of Latin and singing the Latin Mass was much appreciated. He was remarkably generous with his time when it came to hearing priests' confessions. He was always available. He also kept an eye on the confessional in the church in case the friar on duty was delayed or did not turn up – he would step in and without ever a complaint. Kensington is a community that has many friars from different countries visiting for study etc. Fr Fabian the one who was always here, quietly moving about the house. He was always very welcoming and went out of his way to make sure you had everything you needed. He made many a guest feel at home. The first reading about the banquet is so apt for him! He would always want to make sure you had enough to eat and would regularly encourage you to have a second helping!
Sadly suffering cast a shadow over his last years. We can only imagine what it must have been like for someone of Fr Fabian’s intelligence to feel his was losing control of his mind. It must have been a very dark time. Yet he bore this cross peacefully and with great patience.
These few thoughts do not go anywhere near doing justice to Fr Fabian but I hope they give some sense of the gentle and kind, generous and talented man that was Fr Fabian. My prayer is that he who showed hospitality to so many of us is now experiencing the divine hospitality and that he is feeling at home in heaven. We remember him with great affection and will miss him very much. He was in the words of someone who wrote to me, “a good and faithful servant.” May he rest in peace.
Regular Events - Avila Carmelite Centre
Regular Events at 7.30 pm
- Monday Meditation: Second & Fourth Monday of the month
- Poetry / Book Club: First Tuesday of the month
- The Silver Screen: First Saturday of the month
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