‘Fīor Eireannach gan dabht’
President Michael D Higgins and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál MacDonnacha are among the dignatories who will attend Fr Joe Mallins SJ’s Memorial Mass on Sat 21 April, 2018 at 11:00am in St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner St. Fr Joe Mallin was the son of Commandant Michael Mallin, who was executed for his role in the Easter Rising. He died peacefully and fittingly, on Easter Sunday morning, 1 April 2018, in Hong Kong. He was 104 years old. The funeral Mass for Fr Joe, presided over by the Bishop of Hong Kong, took place at 10am on Saturday, 14 April, at St Ignatius Chapel, Wah Yan College Kowloon. The burial was in St. Michael’s Cemetery, Happy Valley.
In his homily at the funeral Mass, Fr Joe Russell SJ, commenting on Fr Joe’s longevity said, “It is easy to understand why the people of the Old Testament were sure that a long life was the sign of God’s blessing, and explains why extraordinary life-spans were credited to their great men.” He added, “Joe was a private person. He seldom if ever spoke about himself. Which of us knew what his likes and dislikes were? More remarkably he never spoke unkindly about others. I never remember him ever speaking disparagingly about another. He never complained. With a family background like his and proficiency in the Irish language, another might have baulked at being assigned to Hong Kong. But not Joe. This is what God was asking of him; there was nothing more to be said.”
Concluding his short homily which you can read in full below, Fr Russell commented,”As Joe comes before his judge his good life will speak eloquently for him, not only his service to the community at large but also, as the poet puts it, that best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. These have not been forgotten, they have been indelibly recorded in the book of life. Now, there is a special difficulty in speaking on the occasion of the death of someone esteemed and admired, that in recalling their virtues we may deprive them of the prayers they need for their soul’s repose.”
He was born in 1914, just two years before his father was executed by firing squad, leaving a wife and five small children. One of Fr Joseph’s brothers, Seán, also became a Jesuit priest, and his sister Úna entered the Loreto order in 1925. She was sent to a convent in Spain, where she spent the rest of her life. Commandant Mallin would have been proud of his children. In his last letter he wrote: : “Úna, my little one, be a nun; Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can …” Fr Joe joined the Jesuits, and in 1948 he went to Hong Kong and China as part of the Irish Jesuit mission to China. He spent over 70 years of his life there.
Fr Joe entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1932, the same year as the Eucharistic Congress and after his ordination, he was sent on the Jesuit mission to China, where he would spend 70 years of his life. His first posting was in Canton (Guangzhou) in China in 1948. This was the era of Mao Tse Tsung’s and as his Communist Red Army advanced on the city, he and other missionaries had to move to Hong Kong.
According to Fr Alfred Deignan, another Irish Jesuit missionary there, this mission was a new challenge to the Irish Province, “and a new experience for the Jesuits who went there to work among poor people speaking a different language, the Cantonese dialect, with different food, customs and weather, often very hot and humid.” Fr Joe was mission bursar for a time there, and was Director of a social centre before working as a secondary school teacher in a Jesuit-run school. He was appointed Headmaster of their primary school and Principal of Ricci College, a kindergarten in Macau, which was a Portuguese colony until 1999. He was still holding teaching duties there when he returned to Ireland in 2006 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2006.
Fr. Joseph, a freeman of Dublin, received an invitation from the Taoiseach’s Office to attend the 90th commemoration, as the child of Commandant Michael Mallin, who was chief-of-staff of the Irish Citizen’s Army and commander of the St. Stephen’s Green garrison during the Easter Rising. Commdt. Mallin was executed in the Stonebreakers’ Yard, Kilmainham Gaol, along with the other leaders of the revolt, and buried in Arbour Hill.
His visit at that time attracted a great deal of media attention. The late Gerald Barry interviewed him for the Easter Sunday edition of ‘This Week’ (RTE 1, 1.00pm), and he also spoke to Joe Little for RTE News and to a Sky News correspondent. “I will attend the parade on Easter Sunday, as the Government was good enough to invite me, but what I am most looking forward to is being able to go to the grave of my father in Arbour Hill, with the other families of those executed, for a ceremony in early May,” he said.
Fr Joe was also musical and played the very flute which his father’s had played in Liberty Hall as a member of the Workers’ Orchestra on the eve of the 1916 Rising. The flute and his father’s watch are on exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland.
Coming up to Fr Joe’s 100th birthday, he was asked if he regretted anything about leaving Ireland 65 years earlier. He replied that he would have liked to have spent some more time working as a priest in his home country and that he “missed the rain”.
In a moving statement on his death, Fr Joe’s family in Ireland said, “Fr. Joseph Mallin SJ was the last direct living link with that period of our history… He served for more than 70 years as a missionary and educator in mainland China and Hong Kong… and like most teachers, he often talked with pride of the pupils educated at that college, many of whom went on to become leaders in their various walks of life.”
They also spoke of the kind of man Fr Joseph was to them, singling out his humility and spirituality. “He had a deeply held Christian faith and love for his fellow man and woman. His was a practical faith with a strong base in social justice and equality; not unlike his father who as a trade union activist fought for social justice and workers’ rights and who gave his young life for such a cause.”
Referencing his communication skills they said, “Fr. Joseph was… a prolific letter writer, just like his father, and he wrote letters to his family members on a regular basis and also to many other correspondents, never failing to respond to a letter when anyone wrote to him, be it a young school child from Donegal or an academic historian from the University, they would receive a thoughtful reply.” And they spoke of his love of the Irish language – “His command of the Irish language, written and oral, was unbelievable considering he was out of the country since 1948. He wrote to family members and others as Gaeilge – always, san sean-cló, in the old Irish script, and he was delighted to speak Irish to anybody from Ireland who visited him, Fīor Eireannach gan dabht. He had numerous friends in Ireland and around the world. He kept in contact with them all and whenever he was home in Ireland he would make sure to visit them.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Homily at Funeral of Father Joseph Mallin SJ
Wah Yan College, Kowloon, Hong Kong 14 April 2018
When Father Mallin was two and a half years old, his mother took him to the prison cell where his father was awaiting execution by firing squad the following day at dawn for the part he played in his country’s struggle for independence. As his father embraced his then youngest child for the last time he said to his wife: he’ll make a fine priest.
Wish and prophecy splendidly fulfilled in the life we are remembering this morning.
Father Mallin – he was always Joe to us – was born in Dublin 104 years ago. In him it is easy to understand why the people of the Old Testament were sure that a long life was the sign of God’s blessing, and explains why extraordinary life-spans were credited to their great men.
Joe became a Jesuit in 1932, was ordained priest in 1946. In 1948 he arrived in Hong Kong, where – with the exception of a stint in Macau as principal of Colegio Ricci, he spent the rest of his life.
As we gather together in this chapel to commend him to the Lord’s tender mercy, we have wanted prayers offered, God’s praises sung, the scriptures read, the Eucharist celebrated. It is our way of saying thank you to almighty God for the gift of Joe, and to thank him for sharing his life with us, to thank him too for all the good he accomplished with God’s grace in a long life of service of others. His pilgrim journey came to an end on Easter Sunday – on what better day could one choose to die? – and those who were privileged to have walked some part of that journey with him are left to mourn his loss.
Our Mass this morning then is an act of thanksgiving, it is a last public act of love, an opportunity to surrender Joe into the loving embrace of the God he so faithfully served. Our Mass is also the joyful assertion of our Christian belief that we – that all of us – are called to share Christ’s resurrection. We are asserting that we have been created, not for death but for life, that death has not the last word. Because of Christ’s resurrection death, from being final and immediately destructive has become fruitful and triumphant, has become the beginning of something magnificent rather than the end of everything. Though Joe has died he still lives on, in the thoughts of those who knew and loved him, and he lives on, we confidently believe, in our Father’s house, experiencing now the truth of those lovely words of St Augustine: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Joe was a private person. He seldom if ever spoke about himself. Which of us knew what his likes and dislikes were? More remarkably he never spoke unkindly about others. I never remember him ever speaking disparagingly about another. He never complained. With a family background like his and proficiency in the Irish language, another might have baulked at being assigned to Hong Kong. But not Joe. This is what God was asking of him; there was nothing more to be said. Joe was a man of many parts. Though most of his time was given to education, he was called on to fill many and varied roles. Because of his good judgement and attention to detail he was asked to supervise the construction of both Wah Yan Colleges as well as the Adam Shall student hostel on the campus of the Chinese University. For a time he was in charge of a Caritas social service centre. He was bursar for the communities where he was stationed. And when the Jesuits took on the running of the Pun U Association primary school, it was he who was called on to be its principal and then its supervisor. The Provincial who assigned him to this new venture gave as the reason for his choice: Joe seems to succeed in whatever he undertakes.
His was a life without frills. His hobbies were few: he was a lover of nature and delighted in treks up and down the hills and dales of the New Territories. He also played the recorder. Living in the room next to his I can vouch for this. He had a phenomenal, computer-like memory which remained with him until the end. He took the trouble to remember the name of every boy in Pun U school. The boys’ names were written in a little book which he carried around with. For him to make this effort to know the names of his students was a mark of his respect for them.
This morning we are a guard of honour escorting Joe home to meet his Lord, to that presence where each of us will one day just as surely go. We are outriders accompanying him on his final journey. As Joe comes before his judge his good life will speak eloquently for him, not only his service to the community at large but also, as the poet puts it, that best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. These have not been forgotten, they have been indelibly recorded in the book of life. Now, there is a special difficulty in speaking on the occasion of the death of someone esteemed and admired, that in recalling their virtues we may deprive them of the prayers they need for their soul’s repose.
As we hand Joe over to the mercy and compassion of his Saviour and ours, we bid him a fond good-bye, conscious that we are saying au revoir and not farewell. As we salute him with pride and affection, we turn to God in prayer for ourselves who are left behind: that the Lord may support us, all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then in his mercy may he give us too a safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last.
Fr John Russell SJ