Sean Francis McGearty was born in Ballivor, Co Meath, Ireland on January 15 1934, the fourth of eight children born to Patrick and Mary McGearty.
All the children attended the National School in Ballivor, before going to boarding schools. Sean went to St Finian’s in Mullingar. During the school holidays Sean worked for a local farmer making hay, weeding the drills of potatoes, dairying and many other tasks. He always rejoiced in country life. He valued the work of the farming communities and always identified with their passion for the land, their livestock or crops.
After completing his Leaving Certificate Sean studied for the priesthood at St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny for six years. On June 8 1958 he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. For the next 61 years Fr Sean worked tirelessly in the vineyard of the Lord. Most of those years were spent in the Archdiocese of Adelaide, with a ten-year period where he worked in Tullamore, Ireland.
On November 5 1958 he departed Dublin bound for London. The next morning, he boarded the P&O Himalaya with five other Irish priests en route to Australia and New Zealand.
Arriving in Adelaide on December 2 1958 Fr Sean was met by Fr Leonard Faulkner (later to be Archbishop of Adelaide). They became lifelong friends. Speaking of his arrival here in Adelaide he often remarked that he could have been mistaken for Charlie Chaplin. There he was fresh off the boat, dressed in an ill-fitting black suit and overcoat (on one of our hot 100 degrees summer days), carrying an umbrella (which could have been mistaken for a walking stick) and wearing a hat. At his side was a box which contained his books and chattels. Then, he would add, ‘I shuffled or waddled off into ministry’.
Fr Sean served in many parishes: Murray Bridge, Goodwood, Brighton, Mt. Gambier, Woodville, Colonel Light Gardens, Christies Beach, Semaphore, Tullamore-Ireland, Aberfoyle Park and Naracoorte.
He never forgot the friendship and warmth of the late Archbishop Leonard Faulkner, who died on the day of Fr Sean’s diamond anniversary Mass (May 6 2018), and he treasured the friendship of his brother priests.
Fr Sean brought his own unique style to the celebration of the liturgy. It is not everyone who can capture the significance of two important feasts – Palm Sunday and St Patrick’s Day – and intertwine them into one celebration. While the Universal Church celebrated the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Fr Sean made sure that St Patrick was not to be forgotten when March 17 and Palm Sunday collided.
After his retirement as parish priest of Naracoorte he undertook the role of being a supply priest for clergy living in the country areas of the diocese. He continued in this role for over 20 years. Since 1999 he assisted in the following parishes: Barossa Valley, Bordertown, Bridgewater/Stirling, Birdwood, Brighton, Hallett Cove, Kapunda, Mallala, Millicent, Mt. Barker/Strathalbyn, Mt. Gambier, Murray Bridge, Noarlunga, Penola, Pinnaroo/Lameroo, Tailem Bend, Victor Harbor/Goolwa, Virginia/Two Wells, Willunga and Yorketown. There were representatives of each of the parish communities at his funeral Mass at Brighton.
During his retirement Fr Sean was able to pursue his passion for transferring the parish records of births, death and marriages to a computer program. Other interests to occupy his time were his photography and his passion for Irish family history. While a missionary priest in Australia, Sean never lost his love for Ireland and his family. His visits home were full of joy. Due to serious health concerns for his mother, who was not expected to live long, Fr Sean returned to Tullamore in Ireland for some years where he threw himself into parish work and being of service to the Bishop of Meath. Also, in this time he became a founding member of the Irish Family History Society.
Fr Sean was a senior confrere to the new ‘missionaries’ to Adelaide – the international clergy. He looked out for them, visited them, made sure that they were settled, had all they needed for ministry. He was determined to give them the friendship, respect and support that was at times denied him. Out of his own pocket he would buy them items they needed; he would supplement an air-ticket home in times of family loss. He would take them out for a meal.
Fr Sean was the last of the Irish missionary priests to serve in the Archdiocese. When he died on December 20, Fr Michael Kyumu, (parish Priest of Brighton) Fr Philip Marshall, (Administrator Delegate) Gen Traynor (carer and distant cousin) and Fr Kevin Taylor had gathered around his bed. Fr Michael reflected on the mutual friendship they shared: “He came from a land far away and I came from a land far away, we shared the common bond of missionary zeal, a love of the Gospel and a love of God’s people.”
Fr Sean was repatriated to Ballivor for the celebration of the funeral Mass and burial on January 22 2020. Fr Kevin Taylor travelled to Ireland and spoke on behalf of the Adelaide Archdiocese. He thanked his family for nurturing his vocation to the priesthood.
“The love of his family was always present in his life, the spirituality of family life was always present. I would also like to acknowledge and thank his family for the sacrifice they made in letting Fr Sean leave his beloved homeland of Ireland and go to Australia to bring the Gospel message ‘to the ends of the earth’,” he said.
“Finally, I would like to thank the Bishops and priests of the Diocese of Meath for giving the Church in Adelaide a wonderful missionary, a man of prayer, a man of the Gospel and for me personally a kind and generous friend.
“It is with a heavy heart…that we return to you Fr Sean. There will always be a link between the Archdiocese of Adelaide and the Diocese of Meath because of the life and ministry of this good and generous minister of the Gospel.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
(May his soul be on the right side of God.)
Based on the homily by Fr Kevin Taylor JCL and tribute by Fr Maurice Shinnick.
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