Pope sends condolences on death of Bishop Séamus Hegarty
A MESSAGE of condolence from Pope Francis was relayed to mourners yesterday at Requiem Mass for retired bishop of Derry Séamus Hegarty.
His successor, Bishop Donal McKeown told mourners at St Eugene's Cathdral that the late church leader's 'tough exterior' belied a kindness and generosity which were the “hallmarks of his nature”.
He also relayed Pope Francis's message of sympathy to the clergy and laity on bishop Hegarty’s death and the Holy Father's gratitude for the late bishop’s ministry.
Bishop Hegarty (79), who died after an eight-year struggle with dementia on Friday, was laid to rest by the doors of St Eugene’s beside his immediate two predecessors, Bishop Neil Farren and Bishop Edward Daly.
A native of Kilcar in Co Donegal, Bishop Hegarty was appointed leader of his native Raphoe diocese in 1982 at the age of 42. On the retirement on health grounds of bishop Edward Daly, bishop Hegarty moved to take charge of the Derry diocese and remained until his own retirement in 2011.
More than one hundred priests from across Ireland were joined by eight bishops at his Requiem Mass.
Chief celebrant was Bishop McKeown, with Archbishop Eamon Martin and Bishops Philip Boyce, Patrick Walsh, Noel Treanor, Alan McGuckian, John Kirby and Anthony Farquhar con-celebrating.
Retired leader of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady presided in the Sanctuary.
The Church of Ireland was represented by recently retired Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Ken Good as well as dean of St Columb’s Cathedral, Rev Raymond Stewart.
SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood was joined by former party leader, Mark Durkan while serving Fianna Fáil TD and current deputy speaker of the Dáil Éireann, Pat "The Cope" Gallagher also attended.
Pupils from schools across Derry and Donegal formed a guard of honour as church leaders and clergy walked into St Eugene’s Cathedral and later as six priests carried the late bishop’s coffin to his final resting place.
In his homily, Bishop McKeown acknowledged the difficulties Bishop Hegarty faced, in particular in dealing with the clerical sex abuse scandal. Following his retirement in 2011, Bishop Hegarty apologised for his failures in dealing with the issue.
Bishop McKeown said his years as bishop were marked by the child sexual abuse scandal.
“Terrible crimes had been inflicted on young people across this country and around the world – and, for a range of reasons, grave errors were made in responding to the wave of allegations. That has all left a legacy of pain, alienation and mistrust. The diocese of Raphoe and Derry were no different from anywhere else.
“He (Bishop Hegarty) knew as well as any that we come before God, never boasting of our achievements nor crushed by our failures but trusting in the Cross of Christ. Only the often-uncomfortable truth can set any of us free,” Bishop McKeown said.
The Derry church leader also paid tribute to his predecessor’s work for the peace process.
“Like many church people, he used all possible channels to stop killing and to build bridges,” he said.
Bishop McKeown said the late Bishop Hegarty was at heart a Donegal man and he acknowledged the large Donegal presence at yesterday’s funeral Mass. He paid tribute to his work as an educationalist and his work with emigrants.
Acknowledging bishop Hegarty’s love of his first language Irish, and speaking often in Irish, Bishop McKeown said “the soil and the faith of Kilcar were his pride”.
“We come together to commend to the Lord one who bore the many burdens of office with complete dedication. At heart he was a simple man. Kindness and generosity were hallmarks of his nature – even though a tougher exterior might sometimes have shown itself," he said.
“He had unflagging loyalty to the church and to its service, in whatever role he was asked to play. But he knew that we are all in need of redemption and he would never presume on the grace of God. In that spirit we lay him to rest after these last years of growing debility.”