Mourners packed into St Colman’s Parish Church, Dunmurry, on Thursday August 30 for the funeral of the Rev Tom Priestly.
The Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of Connor and a former Bishop of Connor were among those paying tribute to the 39-year-old rector of St Colman’s who was found dead at his home on Saturday morning, August 25.
Originally from Newry, Rev Priestly had studied music at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, specialising in the organ and flute, and was at one time organist in his home parish of St Mary’s in Newry.
He also helped out when occasion demanded at the organ in St Colman’s, were he had been rector since 1999. Rev Priestly was ordained by Bishop Samuel Poyntz in 1994, and was curate in Ballymena for five years before moving to Dunmurry. Bishop Poyntz took last Sunday’s service in St Colman’s, and attended Thursday’s funeral.
The Rev Stephen Fielding, rector of Agherton Parish, Portstewart, and the Rev Garth Bunting, Upper Malone, officiated at the service. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, and the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, also took part.
Rev Fielding, a close friend of Rev Priestly, said he had been well liked and respected among his friends and colleagues.
“Tom was a broad churchman and he had friends through the Church of Ireland and beyond right across denominations,” Rev Fielding said.
“He was very open minded and was a good pastor who was respected and well loved both in Ballymena and in St Colman’s. He was an honest and frank individual.”
Rev Priestly was involved in the local branch of St John Ambulance and had at one time been branch president.
Rev Fielding added: Our thoughts and prayers are very much with his family who are at the centre of things. It is a great tragedy and people are very shocked. There is a great sense of loss in his parish and beyond.”
There was no sermon or homily during the service, but speaking during the Commendation at the end, Archbishop Harper said Rev Priestly’s death has distressed and bewildered everyone.
“He was a trusted and much respected friend to so many people, not least his colleagues in ministry. We enjoyed his company, we admired his gifts and we respected the forthright expression of his views,” said the Archbishop.
“Tom was also an extremely private person, perhaps to a fault. The urgency of Tom’s medical condition was also something that he tended to keep hidden. We have to accept that that is how he was. Nevertheless, and without question, had he felt able to share some of his more pressing concerns we, his family, colleagues and friends would have stood ready and anxious to provide support advice and assistance. That was not to be.”
The Archbishop went on: “It may be that clergy experience a particular difficulty in seeking help for themselves when so much of their energies are devoted to providing support and help to members of the wider community. If that is so, it is something we must now address.
“I suspect that the stresses and often the isolation of clerical life are insufficiently appreciated. I make no pretence that remedies are always easy to find. Nevertheless, I want to appeal to my colleagues in ministry not to neglect themselves, but to seek the support they may need without any sense of personal inadequacy. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our people and we owe it to the God whom we are called upon to serve.
“I want to say to Tom’s family, to all those who were privileged to have been close to Tom in life, and also to the parishioners of St Colman, Dunmurry, that we all share the depth of your loss and your unutterable sadness. You, who were richly blessed by the enjoyment of Tom’s company and deep spirituality in life, will surely be sustained in days to come by a rich bank of memories and much thankfulness.”
The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, said: “This is a terribly sad day and we assure the family of our love and prayers.” The Bishop will be preaching in St Colman’s Parish Church on Sunday, September 2.
The funeral service was followed by cremation at Roselawn. Rev Priestly is survived by his parents and a brother and sister.