IT was with great sadness that thousands gathered in the heart of Newbridge on Monday to say farewell to Fr John Cummins.
Fellow priests battled to keep emotion at bay as they led the congregation in prayer at the final funeral mass for their beloved friend in St Conleth’s Church.
Priests from across the diocese celebrated the Mass with Bishop Denis Nulty and remembered the innovative liturgist, historian and good person that was taken away so suddenly last week.
Fr Ger Nash, his friend of 34 years, spoke at the service. He compared their relationship to Laurel and Hardy and in their famous words he said of his friend “another fine mess you’ve got me in to”.
Fr Cummins’ mother Renee, brothers Con and Gary, sister Maria and extended family were joined by the huge crowd to mourn their sad loss.
“We promise as a community and the broader Irish church that we will treasure always the gift you gave us,” said Fr Ger.
He described his friend as a proud Kildare man who recently became a converted GAA follower and supporter of the Newbridge or Nowhere campaign but before this, he said, the deep historic roots of the county had long taken hold.
Fr John was a man of connections and it was no surprise that he undertook a doctorate in Irish spirituality.
“He brought wonder and easy access to theology from his roots here,” he told the gathering.
He said Fr John knew all of his cousins and generations of cousins in the Murtagh and Cummins families.
“He valued and knew the links between each and every one,” he said.
He said if you visited a castle or a museum with Fr John he could tell you the seed, breed and generation of the individual captured in a painting or sculpture within five minutes of arrival.
“He had an enormous ability to create connections between past and present,” he said.
The pair had often holidayed together during the past 28 years and Fr John, who had an enormous eye for detail, could recount each adventure so exactly that he almost brought his audience on the journey with them.
The pair had travelled to Greece, the Holy Lands, Egypt and Turkey and immediately after leaving there was upheavel in the country, society broke down with a revolt or economy collapsed.
His friends started to joke and ask them not to visit a country that they planned to see.
Fr John was an innovative literaturist who often came up with new ways to help others acquire a deeper understanding of the faith.
He was first and foremost a priest, a man whose call was deeper than most. He said he was not a priest for status, power or authority but “he knew that if he was a good priest, the kind of work that he would do would automatically follow”.
“The memory of a great man will sustain us through the dark days ahead,” said Fr Ger.
Fr John’s own words echoed through the church after communion when an extract from one of his own homilees was read.
“Death separates us from those we love, but only for a time. It seems so final but they are with God and God is very near,” it read.
Fr Liam Morgan sang The Servant Song and Bishop Denis Nulty thanked the many people who journeyed from all over to share in the service.
“His loss is huge but he remains with us and we’ll continue to hold him in our hearts,” said Bishop Nulty.
Priests from the diocese and further afield held a guard of honour outside St Conleth’s Church after the Mass as Fr John was brought to his final resting place in St Conleth’s cemetery.
Fr John is predeceased by his father Con and survived by his loving mother Renee, brothers Con and Gary, sister Maria, sister-in-law Yvonne, niece Caoimhe, nephews Conor and Daniel, extended famiy, Bishop Denis Nulty and the Priests of Kildare and Leighlin.