Vale Reverend Aeneas Francis Delaney
7th March 1926 ~ 2nd September 2014
Words of Remembrance by Monsignor Patrick O’Regan, Dean of the Cathedral, at the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Hugh Delaney on 5th September 2014 in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. John, Bathurst.
(Bishop Michael McKenna's Homily from the Mass can be read HERE)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I should like to welcome everyone here to the Cathedral today, especially Hugh’s family and many of his friends. Unfortunately there are a few apologies from our own priests who have been caught up with other funerals in their parishes, and many others who would dearly have loved to be here today, particular among them is Mr Hugh O’Reilly and his wife Mimi.
It is a pleasure to be able to offer some rambling thoughts in speaking of remembrance of Hugh Delaney today. It is hard to be brief to do justice to him, so please bear with me.
It is fitting that we are gathered as God’s holy people today in this place, a place that has been the venue for two of the defining moments in Hugh Delaney’s life: his baptism and ordination.
When Hugh died peacefully last Tuesday morning it ended his earthly pilgrimage of 88 yrs and 5 mths. Only Hugh Delaney could have summoned, the Bishop, the Vicar General and Vice-Chancellor out of their beds at such an ungodly time.
Hugh was born on Sunday 7th March, 1926, the Third Sunday in Lent, as the custom of that time called it.
Hugh would often speak of his birth, and the circumstances which surrounded it. He was the 10th child of Michael Delaney and Catherine Hennessy. He described himself as the ‘runt of the litter’ and was so small at birth that he could fit into a shoe box. He had health difficulties as a new-born and was not expected to live. Well he did, and already at the time of his birth we see foreshadowed a streak of determination that would stay with him right to the very end.
Just seven days later on the 14FEB1926 Hugh was bought to this place and was baptised on the 4th Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, by Fr Patrick James Devlin BA. So, although born in the Lenten season he was baptised on Laetare Sunday. A day where Violet mixes with White to yield Rose. Again a fundamental orientation in Hugh’s life was this ability to mix the White with the Violet. Resurrection and hope were ever to be found at work in his life. The Introit of that day reads,
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.
There we have in an almost prophetic way, the White mixing with the Violet.
The Gospel that morning of his baptism, if the one-week old infant Hugh could have understood it, was John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, John 6:1-15. The life and ministry to which he would be called is foreshadowed here, a call to which he would respond faithfully and generously as a continual living out of that Gospel passage. It is fitting that we today in this requiem Mass hear a later passage from that same section of John’s Gospel.
There seems also to be some parallels with the lives of the priest who baptised him, Fr Patrick Devlin, and our Father Hugh, or as he was sometimes called Fr ‘D’.
Fr Devlin came to Australia on the 17APR1925 and came to Bathurst from Ireland, for his health, something which our Fr ‘D’ also took seriously, who could forget ‘no salt!’. Fr Devlin went to Maynooth seminary and graduated from the University of Ireland. So too for Hugh, education was a strong component and guiding principle in his life. He trained as a teacher and worked for several years for the NSW Education Department. In 1935 Fr Devlin was sent to Korea, and was later a prisoner of war. While our Fr Hugh didn’t go to Korea, he too served the Church in its broader mission.
The small family home in Lambert Street in which the large Delaney family lived was, by all accounts, a place of grace and life. It knew its sadnesses with the death of two of its children, it knew its joys because each person was thus treasured ever the more. It was here that he learned the importance of faith and family. It was here too that he learned how harsh life could be. When he was 3 yrs of age the great stock market crash of 29OCT1929 happened, plunging the world into the great depression. It was here that he learned frugality and trust in providence. “I don’t know how our parents did it,” he would say, “but we were always feed and had a bed, and we remained hopeful”. Again an illustration of the white mixing with the violet.
Our Fr ‘D’. has gone under differing names over the years. When you look through the catalog of names of the Delaney family, one stands out from the others 1. Edward Joseph 2. Joseph Aloysius 3. Mary Philomena 4. Mona Philomena 5. Philomena Agnes 6. Veronica Joan (known as Joan) 7. Leo James 8. James Michael 9. Margaret Mary 10. Aeneas Francis and 11. Ellen Therese. He was born Aeneas Francis.
Is it that the family went through some stage of great interest in the classics? No he was named after his maternal uncle Rev Fr. Aeneas Francis Hennessy, of the Wagga Wagga Diocese, his mother’s brother who died on 7th May 1944. In the Baptism register it is entered as “Enius" Francis, subsequently changed to Aeneas Francis. This made by a careful hand that would be familiar to some. To his family he was “Neicy”, to the nuns “Sneezy” and to his brother priests “Hugh” or “Hughie” and other affectionate names, that I shan’t mention.
One of Hugh’s school mates, my uncle Norman Dulhunty, spoke often of ‘Hugh’ Delaney, “as he now calls himself”. He recalled fondly of how once you were a friend of Aeneas you were a friend forever. Loyalty and service were forged early on in his life. Hugh attended St Mary’s School, then St Patrick’s School, (one day to return to work in the same building now the Chancery) and completed his secondary schooling at St Stanislaus’ College. It was here that he developed a life-long affection for the Vincentian priests. Hugh shared with me not so long ago that it was one of the hardest decisions of his life as to whether he ought become a ‘Vincentian’ or ‘Diocesan’ priest. He never really said what swayed his decision. Despite choosing the Diocesan priesthood, throughout his life he was certainly drawn to the example and life of teaching.
So all these early streams of influence ultimately led Hugh to the seminary, St Columba’s Springwood where he would meet up with two fellow students who would become lifelong friends and colleagues: John Grannall from Canowindra and a certain Patrick Dougherty from Kensington, Sydney.
Upon completing his studies at St Patrick’s College Manly and suffering the loss of parents during this time, he was ordained here in this place on Saturday 30th July, 1955 by Bishop Norton at the age of 29 yrs and 4 mths.
He would often recall his first Christmas in Orange fondly when he was sent to St Joseph’s Parish be a curate to the then Fr Sean O’Doherty. He was asked to go to Euchareena, near Molong NSW, for Christmas Mass. After hearing of the destination and after a humorous outburst, “Euca-b-reena, where's that?” he sallied forth only to get there and find there were no breads or wine or vestments for mass so home he came. No Christmas Mass at Eucha-b-reena that year.
After seven years and 8mths of ordination, at Easter 1963, at the age of 37 he was asked to become Inspector of Schools. This was a role in which he flourished. It was a demanding time for any educator and for the next seven years he put his heart and soul into it. His many visits to the Schools around the diocese were always appreciated. Some of the nuns have humorous stories about getting in touch with each other about what “theme” he was on about that year. “It’s Reading this year”, or “It's Maths this year” would be telegraphed around the Diocese in preparation of the visit of the Inspector of Schools. Pity help the first School in the chain. So the sisters were then well prepared for the “Theme” that year. His wise counsel, not always appreciated at the time, has I know sown hidden benefits in the lives of many of our children throughout the diocese whose education benefited from his incisive decisiveness.
Among the many aspects of his education work, was dealing with the demands of the Wyndham Scheme. This had many implications for the Diocese and led to him being part of a group of fine educators, who at Bishop Thomas’ request, bought into being The Diocesan Catholic Girls High School, now MacKillop College. Together with Mother Basil Griffin RSM, Sr Margaret Press RSJ and Fr Joseph Keady CM, Fr Hugh Delaney bought into existence the “Dio” and laid the strong foundations upon which we continue to build. His photo hangs proudly in the hall of fame at MacKillop.
I began Kindergarten in that same year, 1963, and have memories of seeing a tall upright priest wandering around the convent at Perthville. Hugh was living here for several years at this time.
It was here that down in the old music rooms at the Perthville School I saw all this woodworking equipment. We were told in the most hushed and serious tones not to touch it as it was “Fr Delaney’s”. I do not know when he started this hobby, but I do know how much he loved it and how much life it gave him and how good he was at it. Everywhere around the diocese you run into pieces of wood that he had fashioned into something of beauty or something of practical use or of something of both. Many altars, tabernacles stands, ambos, tables still are in service to this day that he had crafted. It’s an art and one that he mastered especially the delicate inlay work. It is appropriate that a fine example stands with us today in the form of a table.
In these years he worked collaboratively with all involved in education and developed a very close association with the religious working in the Schools.
Upon reading 47 yrs of age, Hugh was given a chance to do something different and being away from the Diocese from 1973-1980 when he worked with the Movement for a Better World. The Movement for a Better World was established in Rome in response to the appeal for renewal launched by Pius XII, in 1952, to the Church in his radio message, known as the “Proclamation for a Better World”. The preaching of Fr Riccardo Lombardi S.J, known as God’s Microphone, led to the dissemination of the “Exercises for a Better World” from 1943 to 1956 and it was this to which Hugh was drawn and became a space in which he found a natural home. Together with the insights of the recent foment of the Second Vatican Council, the MBW gave him a language and a platform to enter into the life of the Church more deeply and be at its service.
At this time, he had time to hone his skills of presenting and teaching, something which was never far from his heart. In this work people recalled that he offered hope to many and was he revelled in the opportunity to work with teams from all around the world. I’m sure Fr Devlin would have approved.
Hugh was a pastor of several parishes of the Diocese, mainly Mudgee, Orange and West Bathurst. He is remembered in Orange for establishing the Contact Programme which sought to keep in contact with all people in the Parish as well as taking on the huge task of renovating St Joseph’s Church. He is remembered also for renovating the Assumption Church here in Bathurst; both renovations seeking to apply the best liturgical, theological and pastoral principles.
Fr Hugh was instrumental in leading the work in upgrading the local St Vincent’s hospital; he was a faithful and active Vicar General seemingly relishing the many meetings and intimacies of the Diocese, working closely with Bishops Dougherty and McKenna; Hugh loved going on holidays, especially to Cairns and loved almost even more the great countdown to the holidays, usually taken in September each year as I recall; he had a passion for pastoral planning and for working with the local St Vincent de Paul Society, forming them spiritually and being part of their work; he had a passion for Christian Mediation and carefully superintended the local group and sought to foster it in our Schools. He was involved with the Ministry for priests team, being actively solicitous for others in ways that many were not aware, sometimes it was ‘his way or the highway but if Hughie was on the case then something would always happen; he was an active member of our priests support group and always delighted in telling us that he was free and that, “you chaps ought to loosen up a bit”; he was a member and chair of the CDF Board; involved with the work of Centacare; part of his role of Vicar General meant working with the all staff at the Chancery and CDF, all of whom seemed happy enough to accommodate his frequent requests for the most interesting of things; he actively stayed with touch with his family, the list goes on.
In all of this vast array of portfolios, Hughie saw that ‘someone’ had to be “driving the bus” on projects if anything was to happen. The phrase so often said of meetings, “That when all is said and done more is said than done”, didn’t quite apply to Hughie. (Mind you he did advocate once that there be a ‘Diocesan bus’ to take people around the diocese to all the meetings because we all seemed to be travelling far too much, out of our parishes.)
Hugh enjoyed the fact that he had the time to be full-timer Vicar General in that it gave him the chance to focus singularly on what was at hand.
It is easy enough to list all of Fr Hugh’s many achievements and passions, but that is to take him too cheaply. All of these exploits and achievements are of great interest to us and today we gratefully and generously acknowledge all that he has done, but to me, of greater interest is to know why Hugh Delaney did what he did, and that is not hard to find.
Hughie did the things he did because he was a person of prayer. While it might be hard to imagine some people at prayer, it was not hard to imagine Hugh as a person of prayer. It seemed immediately to fit the person you meet.
Hugh was also a person attuned to the Spirit. If he believed in anything it was because he had a deep relationship with God and the Lord Jesus and was deeply in touch with how God’s Holy Spirit touched his Spirit and he wanted others to share in it. This nourished him, drove him, and sustained him.
Stories abound of his enthusiasm for projects that caught his eye or captured his heart. If Hughie had a nose for something, then everyone knew it, for it was simply “the best”, “the greatest”, and “everyone ought be in on it”. His enthusiasms however were not like that of the Toad of Toad Hall kind, who would become obsessed with current fads such as boating or horse-drawn caravans, or cars only to abandon them as quickly as he took them up. Hughie's tended to last much longer and be more substantial and sustaining, even extending to sport.
While never despondent, sometimes he could just not understand why others might not share the same level of enthusiasm as he did for a certain project.
Sometimes his outer-directedness could be taken the wrong way, and his almost obsessive like behaviour at times, could surprise even those who thought they’d seen it all.
I always admired the fact that he continued to read theology and spiritual books, listening to tapes and then CDs. The flame of learning was never quenched in him, the white won out over the violet there too.
I wondered sometimes, if he had his druthers, if the more settled life of an aesthetic monk might have better suited him. With its wonderful regularity and predictable routines, right to the very minute, this life may have suited his temperament a little more than the life of a Diocesan priest where each day can be a tale of the unexpected.
But that was what he chose and with all of its twists and turns he responded to each of them with characteristic trust and most times able to mix the white with the violet.
At meetings he would always come up with a suggestion or a solution; not always the best one mind you, and sometimes ones that went bad, but often as not they provided a way forward when otherwise an impasse might have delayed things even further.
I have rambled on today, but I wanted to do a little justice to a person who has been key to the life of the Bathurst Diocese for so many years. Something a little shorter today may not have been able to do justice to him, and the reveal to us something of the face of our gracious God in whose grace we live and move and have our being.
The GRADUAL of that day of Hugh’s baptism was,
“I rejoiced when I heard them say: let us go into the house of the Lord…”
Hughie, may that promise given in baptism now be fulfilled. Thanks for teaching us to mix the White with the Violet, the Violet with the White and living in hope of the Resurrection. We thank you for your 59 years and 1mth service to God and the holy People of God of both the Bathurst Diocese and the wider Church. Rest in peace.