Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Two gravestones in Castletown
illustrate diversity in one parish

The Irish-language gravestone of Canon George McCann in Castletown Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Two of my predecessors in Kilcornan Parish, Canon George McCann and Canon Daniel Hevenor, are buried side-by-side in Castletown churchyard, and the inscriptions on their gravestones illustrate the diversity of priests and people in this group of parishes in west Limerick and north Kerry.

Canon George McCann (1899-1974) was Rector of Askeaton and Kilcornan (1954-1973). His gravestone is in Irish, and his reputation remains as an Irish-language scholar.

George McCann was born in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 1899, a son of James McCann, Principal of Queen’s Place School, Lurgan. He was trained as a teacher at the Marlborough Street Training College in Dublin and then studied for ordination at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1930, MA 1935).

As a student, he took an active interest in the Irish language, and at TCD was the Bedell Scholar (1928) and the recipient of the Kyle Irish Prize (1929). He was ordained deacon in 1930 and priest in 1931.

His first appointment was as curate of Saint Peter’s Church, Aungier Street, and Saint Audeon’s, Dublin (1930-1934). After this, he was Curate in Oldcastle, Co Meath (1934-1938), and Curate-in-Charge of Kilmacshalgan, Co Sligo (1938-1944), in the Diocese of Killala.

He was a fluent Irish speaker, and at Aghadoe in 1934 he conducted in Irish the wedding of the Canon Francis Roycroft, his predecessor as Rector of Dingle (1935-1944) and May Blennerhassett. A year later, on 7 August 1935, George McCann married Sarah Maude (Sadie), daughter of Robert Stephens, and they had a daughter, Gráinne.

For ten years, he was the Rector of Dingle (1944-1954), Co Kerry, where he campaigned for the establishment of an Irish College in the town ‘open to all interested in the restoration of the Irish language.’

He was appointed Rector of Kilcornan in 1954, when Kilcornan and Kilkeedy were united, and in 1961 he became a canon of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, as Prebendary of Donaghmore.

Kilcornan was added to Askeaton in 1966, but Canon McCann continued to live at the Rectory in Castletown rather than move to the Rectory in Askeaton. He died suddenly at the Rectory in Kilcornan in February 1974, on the same day he had told his parish of his intention to retire.

Sadie McCann later lived at Kingston College, Mitchelstown, Co Cork, and died in Mallow on 25 January 2010. Her funeral service was held in Kingston College Chapel, Mitchelstown, and she was buried with her husband in Castletown churchyard.

The gravestone of Canon Daniel Miner Stearns Hevenor, ‘Missionary Priest’, in Castletown Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Canon McCann was succeeded by Canon Daniel Miner Stearns Hevenor (1904-1977), who was Rector of Askeaton and Kilcornan from 1974 to 1977.

The Hevenor or Heavenor family were of Palatine descent. Daniel Hevenor’s paternal grandfather, Gideon Hevenor (1838-1936), was born in Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. Gideon emigrated to North America during the Great Famine with his sister Rachel, their brothers, Benjamin, Harvey and Robert, and their parents, Harvey Hevenor (1786-1862) and Jane (Supple) Hevenor (1790-1861).

The family first lived in Boston, but Gideon, who trained as a coppersmith, later moved to Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada, where his older brother Benjamin had a bakery. Gideon married Alice Elizabeth Stearns and died in Saint John on 12 September 1916.

Their son, Daniel Miner Stearns, who would return to Co Limerick, was born on 10 September 1904 in Saint John, New Brunswick, and was named after his maternal grandfather, the Revd Daniel Miner Stearns (1844-1920).

Stearns was pastor of Grace Atonement Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a church in the Reformed Episcopal Church. He has been described as ‘one of the most dynamic and influential pastors, Bible teachers and writers of the late 1880s to his death.’ He founded the DM Stearns Missionary Fund and the Stearns Hall at Dallas Theological Seminary was named in his honour in 1929.

Daniel Miner Stearns Hevenor was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, on 10 September 1904 and attended Trinity College in Boston. He was in the insurance business in Canada and the US for many years prior to his ordination in 1957 in Seattle by Bishop Stephen Fielding Bayne of the Diocese of Olympia.

He was a curate of Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, until 1959, when he became Vicar of the Pacific County Mission in South Bend, Washington. He moved to Bremerton in 1961 as rector of Saint Paul’s Church and then to Sequim as the Vicar of Saint Luke’s Church (1969-1973).

He came to Askeaton and Kilcornan in 1974. He returned to the US in 1977 as Vicar of Saint Hugh’s Church, Allyn, and Saint Nicholas Church, Tahuya, Washington. He was also a canon of honour of the Diocese of Olympia.

But he died suddenly shortly afterwards in Washington on 21 October 1977. He was 73. He was survived by his wife, Winifred, two daughters, Sarah and Sue, and two stepsons, David and Michael.

A Memorial Eucharist was celebrated at Saint Nicholas Church, Tahuya, five days later. His body was cremated and his ashes were brought back to Ireland to be buried in Castletown churchyard.

His gravestone describes him simply as ‘Missionary Priest’.

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