Homily at Canon Dermot MacDermot-Roe’s Funeral Mass
given by Canon Gerard Hetherington
9th April 2019
Here is the Homily that Canon Gerard Hetherington gave at Canon Dermot MacDermot-Roe’s funeral Mass on 19th March at St. Boniface’s Southhampton:
I first met Fr. Dermot when I was newly ordained and serving at English Martyrs, Reading, he was then at Bracknell, and would come over for an occasional evening visit to his good friend, Fr. Frank Scantlebury; a friendship that had begun during Dermot's many happy yea serving with Fr. Later Canon Dan Cogan at St, Mary's, Ryde. Fr. Cogan was Dermot's model priest; he often spoke of him with great affection.
Those of us that had the privilege of attending Dermot's Diamond Jubilee Celebration at All Hallows in Dublin remember him speaking of his "first hesitant steps towards his vocation." He was coming to the end of his time at Waterpark School in Co. Waterford. A young Vincentian priest, Fr. McArdle, gave the boys’ retreat. Dermot along with some others were collecting chairs from the chapel; there he noticed Fr. McArdle "kneeling in prayer before the Tabernacle quite oblivious to what was happening around him." This prompted Dermot to think; "Jesus is very real to this priest, they are obviously good friends." He also discovered that the young priest was a happy priest - something of this rubbed off on Dermot.
One of Fr. McArdle's talks prompted Dermot to begin to pray to God the Father every night, asking the Father to direct him as to what to do with his life. "I told Him (God) that I did not desperately want to be a priest as I had one or two other ideas but, if He wanted it, that would be O.K. by me. Oh the cheek and arrogance of youth."
One thing was crystal clear to Dermot, if he became a priest, he wanted to work in England, although he had never visited this country. Schooling over, his father arranged an interview with Bishop John Henry King who accepted him for this Diocese. John Henry planned to send the young student for training to the English College in Rome. But the College was still in Wartime exile in Lancashire; sending the young student there might entail his being called up for Military Service; this is how Dermot arrived at All Hallows to begin his studies in Philosophy; the Bishop's intention was to send him on to Rome later for Theology. The Bishop had not reckoned on dealing with the President of All Hallows who was anything but amused at his Seminary being used in this way.
Eventually Dermot received a letter from Bishop King telling him that "he had booked a place for him in Rome but l have cancelled it and you can stay at All Hallows." "For which to this day, said Dermot in his Jubilee homily, I say, Deo Gratias."
This church of St. Boniface built in has had only four P.P.'s, I served under two of them. The legendary Canon Willie O'Sullivan made no secret of his wish to retire, coming from a racing background he had a short list of possible successors. I remember clearly a beautiful summer afternoon when Bishop Derek Worlock phoned wanting to speak urgently to the Canon. He was out but fortunately I knew where to find him; the Bishop asked me to do this quickly and ask the Canon to phone him immediately. He then told me that he had appointed Canon Willie's successor and was sure I would get on with him but gave me no clue as to who it was. The Canon/returned to the Presbytery and phoned Bishop Derek. Judging from his reaction Canon Willie was taken completely by surprise and to make matters worse none of his "favourites" had been appointed but this complete outsider, "the young whipper-snapper, Mac Dermot-Roe" who was in his second year as P.P. of St. Bernard's, Holbury.
Dermot duly arrived; one of the first things he did was to place copies of the "Simple Prayer Book" in all the pews as an encouragement to prayer. He himself was a man of prayer; every afternoon he would make a lengthy visit to the Blessed Sacrament, this continued at the Poor Clare Chapel after his retirement and when it closed, he much appreciated Fr. David Sillince’s gift of a key to St. Boniface which enabled him to come and go as he pleased. His visit to the Lord complete, Dermot would go off on his bicycle visiting his parishioners.
Beside his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, Dermot had a great love of Our Blessed Lady and regularly visited her Shrine at Lourdes; the inspiration of St. Vincent de Paul followed him throughout his life, a copy of the Saint's portrait hung in his room. I ought also to mention his devotion to St, Therese; he regularly attended the monthly day of recollection for priests in London founded by the great apostle of St. Therese, Mgr. Vernon Johnson.
Dermot was a man of habit; he devoted Thursday morning to preparing his Sunday Homily, laboriously written out in an exercise book. That done, he would take a walk before lunch. He regularly visited the schools in the Parish, he cared for the Poor Clare Sisters who were in Shirley Warren, finding a Soul Friend, in Mother Abbess Clare. He was much appreciated by the Sainte Union Sisters and he encouraged the Parish to support the la Sagesse Sister whom he met, I think, in Ryde, and her Hospital in Malawi.
Dermot accepted the liturgical changes that followed the Vatican Council; the congregation here was prepared for the various changes so that the people were ready on the date given for the changes to begin. This church was one of the early re-orderings in this Diocese. Over the years there has been some criticism of the arrangement. It was not intended but dictated by the concrete roof (I think) of the boiler house which is situated below the Tabernacle!
Dermot had a great love for the Church. He was saddened, even hurt by attacks on her or on the Holy Father. Pope St. Paul VI was one of his favourites. He was an avid reader of Pope Paul's writings and homilies. I recall how affected Dermot was when Pope Paul was overcome and wept at one of his audiences. He once made a lone pilgrimage to Brescia, the home town of this Pope and received a great welcome at its Pastoral Centre.
Dermot was a humble man, he would have easily identified with the man in the gospel who "took the lowly place and prayed that God would be merciful to a sinner." But he was no Uriah Heap. He enjoyed company especially that of his fellow priests. He was an excellent host, and although a life-long teetotaller he would see that his guests were well looked after. Isaiah's vision of a banquet of rich food and fine wine is an apt choice for today's Liturgy.
Dermot had a great love for his family. His sister Mary and brother Timothy meant a great deal to him; an annual visit to Ireland had to be fitted into his calendar. Once I happened to be staying in Dun Loaghaire when Dermot was visiting his mother. He took me off to Athlone to visit his sister and her husband. I remember preparing to say Mass in the local convent, as I left the sacristy, the Sister Sacristan called me: "The name of the Bishop is Cathal, that's Irish for Charles." The Bishop later became the Cardinal Primate of Ireland. There was a great bond between Dermot and his nephews and niece who often came to stay with him. To Mary and Timothy and their families I offer my sincere sympathy today.
l think we all rejoiced on Dermot's being made member of the Cathedral Chapter in 1983. A recognition he well deserved. After 30+ years at St Boniface, Dermot moved to the quieter parish of Lyndhurst taking with him Doris who had served him so faithfully during his time at St Boniface. When retirement came he was able to return to Shirley thanks to the generosity of his good friends Dr. and Mrs Gooley. Here he remained until increasing frailty made it necessary for him to move in 2016 to Marie Louise Home in Romsey. He was content there and very appreciative of all that was done for him.
I thank Dermot for the friendship, support and example he has given me all these years as we now commit May Our Blessed Lady, St, Vincent de Paul,St. Charles Borromeo, St Therese and all the saints welcome him to the banquet of eternal life there to enjoy their company for ever. Amen.