Obituary: Rev. Fr. Donal Taylor S.J.

Fr. Donal Taylor, S.J. passed away on Tuesday, 10th October 2006 at Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia at the age of 82.

Fr. Taylor arrived Hong Kong in 1949 and taught in Wah Yan Hong Kong in 1951-52, 57-58 and in Wah Yan Kowloon from 1962 - 83 before returning to Australia for his parish work in Sydney.

There will be an Requiem Mass for Fr. Donal Taylor, S.J. on 3rd November in the chapel of Wah Yan Kowloon at 7:30 p.m. All past students and staff of both Wah Yans and friends of Fr. Donal Taylor are invited.

May he rest in peace.

The follow is the homily, given by Fr. Richard Leonard SJ, at the Requiem Mass for Fr. Taylor, took place in St. Mary's Church, North Sydney, on October 16, 2006.

For those of us who knew and loved Fr Donal Taylor, it comes as no surprise to discover that he planned his funeral. Donal liked good order, especially good liturgical order, and he was very clear about what he DIDN・T want.

Donal always thought the post-mortem double-guessing about readings, hymns and ministers was to be avoided. Preparing this liturgy was one of the ways he wrestled with his own mortality, and one of the ways he wanted to care for us. Some months ago he asked me to preach. My riding instructions were clear: :eulogize me, don・t canonize me;.   

The readings he chose revolve around two themes: love and empathy. In the First Letter of John we are reminded that our love of each other is a response to God・s initiative in loving us first. The Gospel, like our processional hymn, applies this idea still more clearly. Jesus tells us that the only law worth worrying about is the law of love, from which should flow at home-ness, joy, friendship and a passion for mission - to go out and bear the fruit of what we have been privileged to receive from Christ. And I know that Donal liked the Letter to the Hebrews not just because it focuses on Christ as priest, but because of the nature of the priesthood described therein: empathetic, tested, hospitable and sacrificial.

And in the midst of hearing these words, Donal asks us, who grieve his passing, to sing WITH him, :Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord;.

Donal・s life fell into three uneven chapters, each of them bestowing on him a rich legacy.

For most of the first thirty years he was in Ireland. Donal・s fierce loyalty for those he loved, his wicked and self-deprecating humour, the tendency to see the world as black or white, his deep love of literature and music, and his culinary palate for meat and potatoes, never left him.

Apart from the gentle lilt of his Galway accent, Donal・s Irishness came into its own during the Australian republican debate. He was all for it. When I suggested that he should become an Australian citizen so he could vote in the referendum, he told me that he would first have to swear allegiance to the Queen. By whatever title the House of Windsor went in this country, the monarchy was British, and he was Irish, and that was that until an Australian was elected President. 

For over twenty years Donal lived and worked in Hong Kong. It was a demanding mission, and apart from the obvious ways in which he was a foreigner, he never settled as easily nor as well as he had hoped. Still, he loved his students, and appreciated the way some of them stayed in contact with him over the years. He admired the balance and beauty of the best of Chinese culture, and also thought that the saving of face was a generous way to resolve conflict. When I visited him last week in hospital, it was no surprise to see that he been listening to a book in Mandarin.

Then, in 1984, he came to Australia. Moving out of teaching into pastoral ministry, for the next 18 years Donal was on :bay watch;, ministering at Lavender Bay, Elizabeth Bay and Neutral Bay, until coming here to North Sydney in 2002.

I first met Donal when, as a novice, I was sent to Lavender Bay. He seemed crotchety to me, and I was far too confident. So it was with mutual trepidation that we came together again at the end of 1992 at St Canice・s.
I was alot little less sure of myself at Kings Cross, and I noticed that Donal had changed too. With Elizabeth Clarke as the pastoral associate and in community with Frank Brennan and Peter Hosking for all of his time there, Donal was more vulnerable. He could be a difficult man to get to know, but, boy was it worth it.

I was the luckiest pastoral assistant in Sydney because Donal never said .No; to any of my ideas. He would simply say, :I・d be slow on that one;. One Friday before Trinity Sunday I told Donal that I was going to preach that while Father, Son and Holy Spirit were privileged names for God, they did not exhaust the possibilities, and that God could helpfully be styled as our mother. Doubling-over in the chair he said, :I・d be slow on that one;.

At the Vigil Mass, Con, the most famous homeless person in Kings Cross, was in the front pew. During my advocacy for the maternity of God, Con jumped up and expressed what was probably a majority position in the church, :God・s not our mother, Mary・s our mother, God・s our father;. Turning to Donal, he said, :Father Donal this young bloke hasn・t got a clue;. And marched out of the church. I looked at Donal, and then the congregation and said, :In the Name of the FatherK; and sat down. And as I did Donal turned to his unteachable deacon and laughed, :I told you to be slow on that one.; Later, over dinner, he told me to give the same homily at the other Masses, :because while it・s not cup of tea, there are people who need to hear that Father is not the only name for God.;  

What a pastor. What a friend.  

And so as we come to commend our dear brother into the arms of God, we will miss so many things: the limericks and the prose that marked our special days. The last verse he wrote goes:

An attempt at a sonnet about myself that ends on a wobbly note.

When I am dead, think only this of me,
He was a man, take him for all in all,
Awkward and shy, timid in company,
Who never thought of self as then feet tall.
Dry wit and puckish slant on life he saved
For those whose foibles lingered o・er his trail.
Oft saw the funny side of folk and misbehaved
In what he said, sometimes beyond the pale.
Of years a score and more chalk-facing in Hong Kong,
The classroom・s daily grind for long his chore.
Retired to Austral shores, time seemed not long,
Had no regrets, his home for evermore.
At the end of the day let this be said
Though his sins were as scarlet, what we wrote was read.

We will also miss the elegant turn of phrase and sharp wit in the Province・s Fortnightly Report; and the unfussy friendship, but constant encouragement and care he lavished upon us.  Like the Lord he so faithfully served, Donal was loving and empathetic.

And that・s why, last Tuesday, on the vigil of the feast of St Canice, he heard the Lord in his ear, :Do not be afraid I am with you. I have called you by your name, you are mine. I have called you by your name. You are mine.;

And with that Donal went rejoicing to the house of Lord.

:Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace Amen.;

Richard Leonard SJ

- 2006.10.23