Funeral Mass, Fr Walter Forde, 11/6/15.
I don’t like disagreeing with William Shakespeare but on this occasion I feel I must take issue with him. I feel I owe it to Fr Walter to do so.
In Ch.3 of Julius Caesar the Bard says ‘’ the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft buried with their bones.’’
In the case of Fr Walter Forde, I am certain that the good he has accomplished over his lifetime will not be buried with him.
The good things that he started will live on as a reminder of a life that was lived in a spirit of faith and love for the church, and hope and affirmation for the world.
To use a phrase which may sound somewhat old fashioned Fr Walter was a man for others, a man who lived not for himself but for God and for people, for the God-Man who lived and died for all the world. Perhaps the modern equivalent would be a servant-leader.
All his talents and energy were directed towards empowering others and enhancing and enriching their lives. It is only now that he has gone from us that we see this clearly.
Walter was always different. My first memory of him was in St Peter’s College when both of us were students. That’s where the similarities begin and end. I was a student, a rather indifferent one I might add, but Walter was someone who as a student walked and talked with the professors.
He sometimes corrected our exam papers on their behalf, he seemed to inhabit a world somewhere between our lowly estate and the domain of the Gods!
Fr Walter was ordained in 1968, in the wake of Vat.11 and at the tail end of the swinging 60’s, a time of great optimism and hope, qualities that were to play a big part in his life as a priest.
From ‘69 to ‘73 he was on the teaching staff of St Peter’s College.
He spent the next year, ’73-’74 as General Secretary of the National Youth Federation. At this time Walter and his good friend Fr Aidan Jones were pioneering new ways in working with young people, here in the Diocese, at national level, and indeed internationally.
In August 1974 Fr Walter was appointed Curate in Gorey, where he remained for the next 22 years.
During this time he became very involved in setting up various social services, Meals on Wheels, St Aidan’s Day Care Centre and Gorey Week of the Elderly. He was Chairman of Gorey Social Services for many years.
He was also Press Officer and Director of Social Services for the Diocese of Ferns and Chairman of the Religious Press Association of Ireland. He was the author of six books and numerous articles on social matters.
In 1988 he was selected as County Wexford Person of the Year, and in 1998 he received the Lifetime Award of the Religious Press Association.
He served as Chairman of the Christian Media Trust, the Inter Church Committee on local radio, and in addition presented a weekly programme on South East Radio. He was a founder member of the Byrne-Perry Summer School.
The purpose of the Byrne-Perry Summer School is to ‘’ examine Irish history and literature from the 18th century onwards in an objective, professional and learned manner.’’ The School takes place in Gorey on the last weekend in June, the topic this year is ‘’ Perspectives on the 1916 Rising.’’
In 1996 Fr Walter became Parish Priest of Castlebridge. He brought all his talents and gifts to his new appointment and immersed himself in the life of his new community, the school, the Day Care Centre and the editing of the annual parish magazine called ‘’ The Bridge.’’
Fr Walter was always interested in politics and current affairs and was not above casting a critical eye on social developments which he considered to be lacking in substance or contrary to the common good.
Writing in a recent Editorial of The Bridge he quotes the view of Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams that ‘’ modern society has lost hold of any unifying consensus or common morality.’’
Fr Walter himself then goes on to say ‘’ we do need to restate the fact that there are sources of meaning and value outside the political or economic system or social fashion of any particular moment in time.’’
On a personal level Walter was a joy to be with, a shrewd observer of the human condition, he had a fund of stories, nearly always ending with a humorous punch-line.
He was totally committed to his priesthood and the church but that didn’t blind him to the gaps and contradictions that are sometimes painfully on show in the Mystical Body!
What impressed me most about Walter was not the many awards he received or the high profile work that he did. It was his way with people, the warm, caring way he related to them, and they to him. He could walk with kings—–and did—–but he never lost the common touch.
In 1984 I was part of a Mission Team in Gorey. As it happened I was paired with Walter and every place we went around the town I was amazed to find that he knew everyone by name, and they knew him.
Speaking to priests at last year’s Chrism Mass Pope Francis used a phrase which quickly went viral………’’ this is what I am asking you ‘’ he said with emphasis ‘’ be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.’’
Fr Walter didn’t need to hear that invitation, he was doing it when the Pope was a young Jesuit in Argentina. He knew how important it was to be close to people in their daily lives, in their joys and especially in their sorrows.
That’s why we can be sure that the good that he did in his life as a priest will not be buried with him today.
It will live on, especially in Gorey and Castlebridge, reminding people of a man and a priest who touched their lives in a caring and thoughtful way, reminding them of a priest who was a true shepherd to his people, young and old, rich and poor.
May his soul, and the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.