13 May 2009

Remembering Breifne Walker

Kimmage Manor in the snow ... happy memories of student days in the 1980s

Patrick Comerford

It was a sad occasion, but it was one of real privilege. This morning [Wednesday 13 May] I was asked to take part in the Funeral Mass in Kimmage Manor for my old friend and priest-colleague, Breifne Walker (right).

I have known Breifne for almost thirty years. We were both involved in many of the same campaigns for peace, human rights, social justice and prison reform, including the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Amnesty International, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and campaigns for the victims of miscarriages of justice. I got to know him even better while I was a student at Kimmage Manor in 1984-1987, and when I began working for the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland) in 2002, he made a special presentation of a copy of Andrew Rublev’s great icon, “The Visitation of Abraham,” to mark my next stage in ministry and mission.

Breifne’s social activism was a model for mission for the contemporary urban church. As a scholar and outspoken advocate of human rights at home in Ireland abroad, Breifne was always quick to champion the cause of the oppressed with courage and conviction – as another priest said at his funeral this morning, “he was as good as you get for a Spiritan.”

The Revd Dr Breifne Walker, who died earlier this week just five days short of his 62nd birthday, was born in Bray on 16 May 1947. He was educated by the Spiritans – then known as the Holy Ghost Fathers – in Blackrock College, then entered their novitiate in Kilshane in 1964 and was professed in 1965.

Breifne went on to study philosophy at Kimmage Manor and graduated from UCD in 1969 with an honours BA in 1969. He received an MA in history three years later in 1972.

For a year, he worked at Rockwell College, Co Tipperary, as a prefect (house master), and he returned to Kimmage Manor in 1973 to study theology, receiving his BD from the Pontifical University, Maynooth, in 1976. He was ordained that summer, on 13 June 1976, by the great missionary Bishop Thomas Whelan.

Breifne was sent to Ghana in 1977 and worked there in pastoral ministry until 1979. When he returned to Ireland, he joined the prison chaplaincy team in Mountjoy Prison. While he worked there he developed a keen awareness of prisoners’ needs and an acute interest in prisoners’ rights.

He was back in Kimmage Manor in 1982, and while I was a student there i the 1980s, we shared New Testament classes while he was pursuing graduate studies in Trinity College Dublin. He received his PhD in moral theology in TCD in 1989.

He returned to West Africa a year later when he went to Nigeria in 1990 as a lecturer and formator at the Spiritan International School of Theology (SIST) in Attakwu, Enugu. As a teacher and mentor at SIST, Breifne was greatly respected and loved by the students and staff.

After his return to Ireland, Breifne continued to pursue further research and did some part-time teaching at Kimmage Manor. He was a valued member of the Spiritan Formation Team and in recent years also served as the Provincial Delegate for Mission Appointments to Ireland.

One of his last public engagements was at a lunch hosted by President Mary McAleese in Arus an Uachtarain. He developed brain tumours in recent months, and died last Monday (11 May).

It was an honour to be asked to read the Gospel of the Annunciation at his Funeral Mass in the Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage Manor, this morning. He was buried in Dardistown Cemetery later in the day.


David said...

Thank you Patrick,

That was a really nice post. You clearly had a great bond and friendship with Breifne.

My mother is a cousin of his. He was a lovely man and we were all touched by his kindness, humanity and sheer will to make a difference in this world.

When I think back on his life and all he did, he will always act as an inspiration for me.

Thanks again for your post. It was nice to get an insight from someone who studied with and worked alongside Breifne.

Much appreciated.

Reg Walker said...

Dear Patrick

Thank you very much for what you've written about Breifne, and for taking part in his funeral. The ceremonies were marvllously fitting for what he stood for, and very moving.

A fine coincidence: you mention Andrew Rublev ... We have a painting by a very good English artist called Ken Jones which was inspired by one of Rublev's works.

Best wishes
Reg Walker

Niall Sullivan said...

I was sorry to hear of Breifne's death. He was my predecessor as secretary of the Legion of Mary Praesidium in Blackrock College in the early 60s. He was a year ahead of me there, and the top student in that class of 1964. I heard he had departed this life when I attended Blackrock's 150th birthday party last weekend.

Ar dheis De a raibh a hanam