By Peter Sibon
THE passing of Reverend Father Noel Hanrahan, 90, of the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM) on July 11 was a great loss to the Catholic fraternity in Kuching, especially by his former students and colleagues of St Peter’s College Major Seminary.
He was highly considered as a ‘man of God’, humble and an inspirational lecturer.
“Who I am today was partly due to this blessed soul. He was a soft-spoken, gentle, a fatherly figure.
“As counsellor, he demonstrated great leadership, he was a wise old man, as I remembered himfondly. The most special attribute would be his humility and ability to connect and be approached by all,” said a former student, Albert Bingkasan, who is currently a political secretary Sabah deputy chief minister.
Revd Father Vincent Chin described the late Father Hanrahan as a great mentor.
“He is the best lecturer in theology that we have had and a great mentor, not just by words, but a serene lifestyle of always ready to help when being asked,” said Chin, who was among the first batch students of St Peter’s College, Kuching.
Edward Segie, who hails from Kapit, fondly described the late Hanrahan as a very humble and approachable person. He added that Hanrahan, who was his spiritual director in the seminary, was always smiling and would go out his way to help others.
Archbishop emeritus Dato Sri Peter Chung Hoan Ting, who was then the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kuching, said Hanrahan was his personal friend who had given him tremendous support in pastoral work and Episcopal office.
It could be said that fate had brought them together as Chung and Hanranhan were of the same age (born in 1928) and ordained priest the same year in 1954.
Chung believed Hanrahan had inspired many during his time at teaching at St. Peter’s College Seminary from 1983 to 1999.
Current Archbishop of Kuching Archdiocese, Simon Poh, also has fond memory of the late Hanrahan.
“During his classes, his words and teachings were always concretely expressed in his kind actions. For many of us – bishops, priests and alumni of St. Peter’s College, we have been blessed by him during the formation.
“I am grateful to Father Hanrahan for moulding me to be a pastor to serve with the same humble heart to always be available to all the people who come through the doors of the church.
“Let us always be kind to one another and be ready to offer a kind words to encourage one another to be a better person because we are loved by our heavenly Father,” Poh said.
He summed up Matthew 25:34 in tribute to Hanrahan: “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”
According to Archbishop emeritus Dato John Ha, during his homily at the requiem mass for the late Hanrahan on July 15 at St Joseph’s Cathedral, he passed away on July 11, which fell on the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
“His age, in biblical thought, was a blessing from the Lord and his death on an auspicious occasion of his, I am inclined to think, was a confirmation of the Lord’s blessing on him,” said Ha.
He believed that Hanrahan, who came from Ireland, had touched the hearts of many during the latter’s 16-year service with the ministry in Kuching.
“For sure, we are here to mourn the loss of a beloved priest and missionary, a friend who had touched our lives in different ways.
“We will never have Father Noel (Hanrahan) visiting us again. Yes, we have physically lost Father Noel but, as we hope in faith, we have spiritually gained a saint in heaven.”
Ha said that Hanrahan’s work was not confine to the college, as he also attended to the people outside its walls. He celebrated weekend Masses in different parishes in Kuching, answered sick calls and attended to anyone who came to see him.
“I remembered a Chinese lady who turned up at the College quite often to see him. She barely spoke English and Father Noel spoke no Chinese. I often wondered how they communicated.
“Well, that’s the way the Lord worked – through Father Noel’s priestly heart of love, which reflected the Lord’s love for the lady. In that love, language was not a barrier at all,” he continued.
Ha also remembered vividly Hanrahan’s advice when he received his appointment from the Pope to be auxiliary Bishop for Kuching Archdiocese in 1998.
“The appointment letter came in January that year. I can tell you that any priest receiving such a letter felt like a lonely man. For generally, he would not be allowed to consult anyone and yet the appointment was daunting. Thank God, for me, the letter had a clause that I could consult one person.
“I saw Father Hanrahan and he was on his way to celebrate Sunset Mass. He gave me his time.
“In the midst of tears, I asked him if the Pope was truly the Vicar of Christ then. He understood me and said, ‘John, if you feel like declining the appointment, don’t do it now. Give yourself a few days’.
“A great advice from a priest who had himself been Superior General of the Mill Hill Fathers. He knew my struggle and he could also sense the Pope’s position as Head of the Church,” recalled Ha.
Hanrahan’s final ministry was in the shrine of Knock where he served from 1999 to 2012. He passed away peacefully at St James’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, on July 11, after a long battle with cancer.
His long and illustrious vocation has brought him to the far corners of the world and he was instrumental in training Catholic priests for Sarawak and Sabah during his tenure as Professor of Theology at St Peter’s College, Kuching, from 1983-1998.
Hanrahan was born in Grangemockler, County Tipperary in Ireland on Dec 23, 1928 to William Hanrahan and Brdget McGrath. He had five brothers and three sisters.
Following his secondary education at Freshford, he studied philosophy in Rosenthal, the Netherlands from 1948-1950. From 1950-1954, he studied Theology at St Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, London.
He took the Perpetual Oath on May 7, 1953 and was ordained as a priest at Mill Hill by Cardinal Griffin on July 11, 1954.
He pursued his studies in Rome, where he obtained a Doctorate in Divinity in 1958. He then began teaching Dogmatic Theology at Mill Hill, where he also held the post of post of Master of Discipline.
In 1968, he became president of the Missionary Institute London. A year earlier, he had been appointed as fourth consultor to the Superior General of MHM.
He was appointed as MHM’s Superior General in1970 and served the society for two terms, until 1982. In 1988, he was Chapter Delegate of MHM for Malaysia and Indonesian.
On January 1999, following a sick leave, he was appointed from Kuching to the Irish Region, where he served as chaplain at the busy apparition Shine of Our Lady in Knock, County Mayo. He retired to St Joseph’s House Dublin in 2012.
On the occasion of his Ruby Jubilee, the then Superior General of MHM wrote: “You have exercised many ministries but you have always been the missionary priest witnessing to and making real for others the person and values of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Noel will be remembered both inside and outside our society as a wise and skillful leader, dedicated teacher and compassionate pastor.”
Before he died, Hanrahan had many hospital appointments to control the cancer in his body. Some months ago, he underwent an operation to remove a cancerous growth.
He was admitted to St James Hospital on July 5 where he passed away in the presence of his nephew on July 11. The funeral service was held at St Joseph’s House Rathgar on July 15 and thereafter, he was buried at Bohernabrenna Cemetery in Dublin. — DayakDaily