Oct 1, 2014

Fr Joe Dempsey R.I.P

A big man in every sense, with a large heart and a great talent for friendship’ – words of Bishop Emeritus Donal Murphy that were among the many apt and loving descriptions of the Very Reverend Canon Joe Dempsey at his funeral Mass yesterday, Tuesday.

Ordained in June 1965, Canon Dempsey was one of the best known and most experienced priests of the Diocese of Limerick, a man who was much loved throughout his almost half century as a priest and who was a appointed to a diverse range of roles in Limerick, each of which he threw himself passionately into.

Canon Dempsey’s first role was as curate at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and this was followed by his appointment as C.C. in the Parish of Monaleen.  In August 1975 he was appointed Director of the Social Services Centre, a role that he grew into and became much admired for.

Fr.  Joe was appointed Chaplain to the Defence Forces and full-time Director of the Social Service Centre in 1978 and remained in these roles until he was appointed Parish Priest of the Holy Family Parish, Southill in 1985.

Two years later he proudly took the duties of Diocesan Chaplain to the Travelling People before being transferred as P.P. to Mungret in 1989 and spent nine years there until his move as P.P. to Rathkeale in 1998. Canon Dempsey became synonymous with and much loved in Rathkeale and retired from there in January 2011.

Paying tribute to ‘Fr Joe’, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said that while he had ill-health for some time he remained at all times cheerful in spirt.  “I got to know him since I came to Limerick and despite ill health he struck me as a man who didn’t allow adversity to knock him but kept cheerful in spirit, attentive to prayer and considerate of others.

“I know he has been greatly esteemed and loved throughout the Diocese. He has had many various appointments, showing he was able to adapt to the needs of each. The Diocese is grateful for his years of ministry and grateful for his example of prayerful missionary discipleship.

“I read today a note a woman gave me with an appreciation of Fr. Joe Dempsey.  She said that those who went to confession to him experienced the compassion of Jesus and their faith in God was renewed. That speaks volumes about him and is a sentiment that is held widely across the diocese about Fr Joe.”

In his homily at Tuesday’s Funeral Mass at St. Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, Bishop Emeritus Donal Murray said that Fr. Joe had shared the gentle mercy of God and the hope that God alone can give with thousands of people during his almost 50 years of priesthood.  “In every sense, he was a gentle-man.  He was a welcome and welcoming presence at any table, whether for a meal or for cards.

“And yet, even as we give thanks for all the gifts he had and all the comfort he brought to so many people, and for all the friendship and support and wisdom that we experienced from him, we are sad today. We are sad because, although the fruits of his ministry and life live on, we feel like the people of Ephesus when St Paul bade them farewell: ‘they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again’.

“Joe will not celebrate Mass again.  We pray that he is celebrating its fulfilment with the angels and the saints at the throne of God and, with them, is completing that psalm which he wanted to have at this funeral Mass: ‘You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes. My head you have anointed with oil; my cup is overflowing’.”

Canon Dempsey is deeply regretted by his loving sisters Sr.Josephine F.C.J. and Marie Murphy, nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, brother-in-law Andrew.   He was buried in the Church grounds at Rathkeale.  Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam uasal.