‘A life well lived has no ending’ – Tribute to the late Deacon John McClelland from Newry Cathedral Parish
It was with great sadness that the clergy and parishioners of Newry Cathedral Parish learned of the death of Deacon John McClelland on 6th November. The Requiem Mass for Deacon John was held in the Cathedral on 9th November and was attended by Archbishop Eamon Martin, the deacons from Dromore Diocese and the Archdiocese of Armagh, and priests of the diocese. It was a packed Cathedral, and a very special welcome was extended to John’s former colleagues from the NI Fire and Rescue by Canon Francis Brown.
John was born in 1951, the son of Jackie and Ave Maria McClelland. He was the second eldest son of six boys. The McClelland family life centred around St. Patrick’s Avenue where John and his five brothers grew up in a happy home environment with their many friends in that area of Newry Parish and had a very happy childhood. He attended St. Colman’s Abbey Primary School and then the Abbey Grammar School.
John married his wife Mary in Newry Cathedral on 28th July 1974, just over 48 years ago. Even though he was involved in many aspects of civic and church life, first and foremost, he was a devoted family man who doted on his two daughters and five grandchildren and they on him. He acquired his fine qualities from his parents, and passed these on to his family and was a caring sibling to his five brothers. The strong family bonds mean they will feel his loss deeply in the weeks and months ahead. At this Christmas they will miss his sense of fun and banter, a quality which he retained right to the end.
Deacon Johns life was as Canon Brown said, ‘a life of dedication and service to his family, to the fire service, Newry and Warrenpoint parishes and to the community of this locality’. When he left school, he entered the NI Fire Brigade, from 1968 until 2002. The McClelland name is synonymous with Firefighting in the Newry area and he served under his father Jackie and with his brothers. Many of his 34 years of service were during a very difficult period in our history, but John gave of himself totally for the sake of others and never counted the cost of the injuries and pain that he had to endure for his total other centeredness. He was and is a local hero, like so many others during our troubled past. It was a great achievement for him to be appointed as the Chief Fire Officer in Northern Ireland.
John was also someone who had, during his life, a great influence on so many people both family’ friends and parishioners. He was also someone who was known far and wide for his kindness and attention to people. After his retirement, John decided to begin a journey to become a permanent deacon. With the same sense of dedication, he pursued his studies during his four years of preparation he was ordained on Pentecost Sunday the 4th June 2017. Canon Francis stated that, ‘it was a privilege for us when John was asked to shadow the priests in Newry parish as part of his preparation, during which time he did invaluable work in the parish’.
As a student for the Diaconate, John immersed himself fully in the life of the parish and this enthusiasm continued during his too short years of service, indeed until he was no longer able. He considered these years among the most fulfilling years of his life. He never gave up hope that he would be able to return to work as a deacon and often bemoaned the fact that his time of service was so short. It brought John so much fulfilment to assist at Mass or to celebrate the sacrament of Baptism and assist at funerals and weddings. He carried out these duties with such reverence and with a sincere calmness.
Following his ordination, he was appointed to Newry parish by Bishop McAreavey. During the years that he worked in Newry parish before and after ordination, and he was involved in so many ways. His first commitment was to the Newry Parish Finance Council and he brought great wisdom to the role. He did so much work in getting the parish centre up and running and it was with deep regret that we noted the passing of our former Chair at the Directors meeting earlier this month. Deacon John devoted a lot of time to this project as for the first-time parishioners had somewhere suitable to meet. His dream was that small wedding parties would have their meal there after the wedding and that people would have refreshments there after the funeral Masses. The thriving centre is a fitting tribute to his tireless work.
John was also very involved in the renovation work carried out in St. Mary’s and one has only to look at the fine condition that the Church is in and the attention to detail that went into the renovation to understand John’s attention to detail. John was elected chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for four years and he encouraged much good work during that time and many developments took place within the parish as he encouraged small groups to take on aspects of work. John was the one who introduced Lectio Divina and Bible study in the parish and coordinated the delivery of talks in the six primary schools for the parents for the pupils receiving their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. St. Mary’s High school was John’s pride and joy and for many years he was the chair of governors there. He worked with several principals and his work is very evident in ensuring that the pupils of St. Mary’s got nothing less than the very best. 12 schools and their representatives were in attendance at his funeral in testament to his sterling service to education.
John was also President of St. John’s Ambulance and he worked with them to ensure the best possible service could be given. He was a man who gave and didn’t count the cost. He was a natural leader. Canon Francis stated that ‘even though he was generous with people in the parish who needed help, this was not spoken about by him. His years of service to the parish are outstanding, and I have no doubt that his reward will be great. In the words of St. Paul, he has run the race, finished the course in style’. John passed away peacefully in the presence of his family at 8.41pm on Sunday 6th November, the Feast Day of the Irish saints.
The book of Ecclesiasticus says, ‘A life well lived has no ending’ – those who have brought us close to God in life continue to inspire and challenge us to remain close to Him in the way they lived their life. We are sure he was greeted with the words, ‘Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you’. The clergy and Parishioners of Newry Cathedral Parish would like to extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Mary, his daughters Paula and Caroline, his son in law Neil and Darren, his grandchildren and brothers, the McClelland family and John’s very many friends. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.