A Borrisokane-born missionary priest who served in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Irland has died at the age of 80 years.
Fr. Paddy Cleary CSSp, who was a cousin of Hollywood actor Martin Sheen, died on March 9 in the Dublin nursing home of the Spiritan (Holy Ghost) congregation.
He was born in 1934 to Margaret (née O’Meara) and Patrick J Cleary in Borrisokane, the home town of his fellow Spiritan and former Provincial, the late Fr Vincent Dinan CSSp.
After primary school in Borrisokane, Paddy studied in Rockwell College and, for one year, in Blackrock College before entering the Spiritan novitiate then in Kilshane House in Tipperary. He moved to Kimmage Manor after his profession to continue his studies for the priesthood and he was one of 20 Spiritans, including two from Trinidad, who were ordained in 1961.
The following year he and over a dozen other young priests and brothers set sail for Nigeria, which at that time was by far the largest mission field of the Spiritans, and which today produces more Spiritan missionaries than does any other country.
On home leave in 1967 from his mission in Ekwereazu parish in Owerri Diocese when the “Biafran War” brought his Nigerian appointment and that of over 300 other Irish Spiritans to an end, he took on a mission promotions role in Ireland while he was also associate editor of Missionary Annals, the then magazine of his congregation in Ireland.
West Africa beckoned for a second time in 1973. On this occasion he went to Sierra Leone, to pastoral roles in Moyamba, St Martin’s and Sacred Heart cathedral parish, Freetown.
Returning to Ireland in 1980, he completed a sabbatical year in Kilmihil parish in County Clare. After a period as director of promotions, he spent over a decade as curate and, later, parish priest in Greenhills, one of four Dublin parishes in the care of his congregation. From there he moved to Rathmines where, as community leader of the group of Spiritans who were attached to St Mary’s College, he brought kindness, good humour and a hint of mischief!
Predeceased by his sisters, Phyllis and Eithne, Fr Paddy is survived by his sister, Brenda; brother Gay, and extended family, including his cousin, Martin Sheen. His loss also extends to his fellow Spiritans and his many friends and, not least, to the teachers in Rathmines as well as the boys they jointly prepared for First Holy Communion and Confirmation over many years. A number of those boys were in the guard of honour which was formed at the end of the funeral Mass in Kimmage on Thursday, March 12.
At the funeral Mass, it was noted that, though small in stature, Fr Paddy was “larger than life”, with an infectious laugh and a simple philosophy that life was there to be celebrated.
In the homily, his cousin, Fr Donagh O’Meara, also highlighted the depth of humanity and the courage in the face of suffering that Fr Paddy had displayed.
A Tipperary man through and true, who always retained an interest in the fortunes of the Premier County’s hurling team, Fr Paddy was buried in his native county in the community cemetery attached to Rockwell College, the school where his association with the Spiritans had begun as a 12-year-old boy just after World War II.