THE stillness of a mid May morning was pierced only by the distinctive shrill of a lone piper’s lament and the peal of the Church bell as a town bowed its head in respectful silence to bid a final farewell to its much-loved and respected parish priest.
Social distancing requirements adhered to, men, women and children lined the streets of Killorglin and the more winding roads of Cromane and Dooks as the funeral cortege of Canon Michael Fleming wound its way, along familiar paths he himself had worn to St James’s Church where he had ministered for the past 17 years.
Businesses, community organisations, groups of neighbours, sports clubs and students and staff from local schools turned out in considerable force to say goodbye to a man they knew simply as Fr Michael, a man who had celebrated their joys, marvelled at their successes, shared their sorrows, offered comfort and consolation and prayed for their intentions for almost two decades.
Celebrant, Fr Gearóid Walsh, who was joined on the altar by Bishop Ray Browne, Fr Michael Moynihan and Fr Nicholas Flynn, said while news of Fr Michael’s sudden passing came as a huge shock to all associated with him, it brought devastation and desolation to his family.
Although he had undergone surgery at Cork University Hospital some days earlier, the reports and updates were encouraging and he was believed to have been making a very steady recovery right up to the time of his unexpected passing.
Fr Walsh said Canon Fleming had a magnetism to his personality that was not forged through showmanship or by populism and the word that most comes to mind when describing him is authentic.
“His bond with all to whom he was dear was due to the fact that he was authentic. Like it or lump it, what you saw was what you got, warts and all,” he said.
“Both as a person and a priest, Fr Fleming took getting to know and getting used to. He was big in stature, with an exterior of steel which guarded a big heart, a warm and generous heart,” said Fr Walsh who is PP in Ballymacelligott.
He said Canon Fleming “didn’t do plámás or grá mo chroí”. He was a Trojan worker blessed with great strength and stamina which helped him to manage on his own in such a big parish where not so long ago there were three priests.
Fr Fleming, the celebrant said, was a man with a great brain, a real wit and a droll sense of humour who enjoyed playing golf, loved a weekly game of cards in the winter months and enjoyed his trips to Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final of final, sitting in the front passenger seat and prior to departure, encouraging the person seated immediately behind him to try not to poke his knees into the back of his seat.
A proud son of Scartaglin and the son of Patrick J and Nora Fleming, Fr Michael was remembered at this morning’s Mass as a committed, loyal and dependable priest who had devoted himself to the Diocese of Kerry for almost half a century.
Aged 73, he attended St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and St Patrick’s College Maynooth and he was ordained in 1971. Prior to becoming PP in Killorglin, he he had served for a year in both Dingle and Waterville and spent four years as a chaplain to Irish emigrants in Wembley, London.
He returned to Glenflesk as curate in 1977 and moved to Our Lady and St Brendan’s Parish in Tralee in 1986 before he became Parish Administrator, Director of Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and Director of Family Ministry in Killarney where he worked closely with the late Bishop Diarmaid Ó Suilleabháin and, later, Bishop Bill Murphy, from 1986 to 2001.
He was then transferred as PP to Moyvane before being appointed to Killorglin in 2003 where he also became Vicar Forane for the entire Mid Kerry area, including Killorglin, Beaufort, Cromane, Castlemaine, Glenbeigh and Milltown.
Canon Fleming is survived by his family (Mai (Killarney), Eileen (Tipperary), Patrick (New Jersey), Sr De Lourdes (Tralee) and Sr Angela (Clonakilty), many other relatives and the bishop and priests of the Kerry diocese.
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