Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A wise and saintly man

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
In 1990 I was living in the Dominican Priory in St Saviour's in Dublin's north inner city. Back then the custom was that if you needed a car, you signed a book in advance and off you went. 

I was doing some work at an army barracks outside Dublin so booked a car for three nights. The prior was not impressed with my taking a car overnight without first clearing it with him. We had an almighty row over it and he often reminds me of the event and how I spoke to him during our confrontation.

The man's name is Fr Ned Foley. He spent many years of his Dominican life working as a school teacher in Trinidad and before joining the Dominicans he studied engineering at UCD.

He is now in his 95th year, drives a car, reads without glasses and spends hours in his workshop designing and making all sorts of gadgets. The last time I was in his workshop he showed me logs he had made out of paper pulp for burning in a stove. He prays too.

Ned is one amazing man. We started our relationship under the worst possible conditions but over the years we have become good friends. Maybe it's more a matter of my being greatly inspired by the man. But I think I can also say he likes me and I certainly regularly give him things about which to laugh.

Last Tuesday his brother died. Paddy Foley was a Holy Ghost or Spiritan priest and spent most of his life working in Africa. He was 90 when he "shuffled off this mortal coil".

Ned has another brother, also a Spiritan priest, he is 'only 88'. He too has spent most of his life in Africa but is currently living in the Spiritan house at Kimmage Manor. And then there is their sister, who is 95. Paddy is the first of the siblings to die.

They grew up near Blessington. Their father was an engineer who worked for Wicklow County Council and father-like-son, Ned set out on his working life as an engineer and spent some time working for Kerry County Council. Just to confuse matters, his real or the name on his brith cert is Michael. When he joined the Dominicans the Order gave him the name Edward. A strange practice indeed. As if to say the names our parents gave us were not good enough. The theological purists will argue how it made sense to change names when joining the Order. It sounds baloney to me.

Over the years I have had the good fortune to see up close the sort of life that Ned Foley lives. 

Simply put, he is an extraordinary man. He knows I have an interest in trains so he will phone me on a Monday to tell me that there is a programme on BBC Four later in the week on the Flying Scotsman. When it comes to any mechanical details I don't understand he will always explain them to me. It's not that long ago at all since he helped me rebuild a front axle on a bicycle.

And he's a voracious reader: one day it's John Grisham, then back to Dickens.

Living as a member of a religious community throws up all sorts of unusual and 'different' sort of things. But it has often struck me how privileged I have been to meet a number of fine people, often men significantly older than I. And to be advised and guided by such people is really something very special.

If Ned sees this I'm in trouble.

1 comment:

Jayne Mullally said...

Michael,

Good to see you are ever busy writing!

Trying to get in touch with you but have lost your mobile number.

Give me a call whenever suits you.

Hope you get this.

Best,
Jayne Mullally