The final road on his journey with God
The sudden death of Deacon Brendan McAllister on the 13th of December was a shock for his entire family circle as well as the church communities he served. At a packed Cathedral on the 17th of December last, we bid farewell to Brendan by paying tribute to his life of dedication and service to his family, to his work in the parishes of Kilbroney and Newry and to the people of this locality.
Canon Francis Brown led the service and, in his Homily, he stated how privileged he was to have known Brendan and Elizabeth and their families for nearly five decades. He said, ‘Just a few short weeks ago Brendan was busy about his daily tasks and just as suddenly as a power cut, his life was changed by a rather sudden and unexpected illness with its complications’.
Brendan had been ordained less than a year ago, on Sunday 30th January 2022, in Armagh Cathedral as a deacon for the Diocese of Dromore.
From Greenwood Drive on the Warrenpoint Road, Brendan attended the Christian Brothers’ schools in Newry before going to Queens University to study History and Politics. He subsequently trained in Social Work and spent 12 years as a Probation Officer, including 2 years in Maghaberry Prison. In 1992 Brendan became Director of Mediation in Northern Ireland and for the next 16 years he was very involved in mediation of the ‘troubles’. He served for four years as a commissioner for victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict before moving into the international peace mediation field in 2012, working first in Brussels for the European Union before joining the United Nations in New York in 2015 as a Senior Mediation Advisor. Brendan’s final appointment was as Interim Advocate for victims of historical institutional abuse until his retirement in 2020.
Whilst his long career took him from probation, to peacebuilding, to the Church, his sense of religious vocation was not new. He had his first felt a calling at the age of 16 and presumed that it was for priesthood. But then, as he delighted in telling everyone, he met Elizabeth McGrath. They had both joined the St. Vincent de Paul junior conference in the parish. They became good friends, were married on the 1st of September 1978 and he followed his destiny to become a husband and father. A few years ago, Elizabeth’s cousin observed that he would make a good deacon. At first Brendan laughed at the idea but the notion began to pull at him and would not leave him alone and he felt that he had to respond if he was to stay true to himself.
Brendan’s four-year formation involved the study of theology and a pastoral placement in Warrenpoint and Burren, all in the context of a spiritual journey involving prayer and reflection. Brendan regarded his training as a privilege and went about his vocation with a sense of joy. He was particularly struck to learn that the Catholic tradition places great importance on the ‘sensus fidelium’, the sense of the faithful, meaning that, in addition to Scripture and the teaching of bishops, the Church relies on the Spirit of God at work among the people. He set about encouraging and releasing the potential of the laity in the parishes he served.
Brendan was a great champion for harnessing the laity and inspiring them with confidence to serve the church. He helped many people to grow in their spirituality and to see God in all aspects of their lives. He said, ‘Most people think they have to pray with words but, in contemplation, we listen to God. To listen we have to find ways to be still and be quiet’. He could do that in a corner at home or go in a quiet place in the church. He felt that we were all connected to each other in prayer and would light his candle in Newry Cathedral by taking the flame from another candle, hence joining them in prayer. He inspired many of us to do the same.
Brendan found it interesting that the synodal process initiated by Pope Francis places such importance on the sense of the faithful. Archbishop Martin had asked Brendan to be a member of the Dromore diocesan synodal group and Brendan’s contribution and insights were invaluable. We, in Newry parish are eternally grateful for the contribution Brendan has made to our parish in various ways. As a member of the parish pastoral council for the past five years he shared his enthusiasm and wisdom, and this has been invaluable. He will be sorely missed. His work in Kilbroney parish since his ordination has been appreciated very much. He gave of himself totally in everything that he did. In so many ways much of Brendan’s career prepared him well for this ministry.
In tribute to his great contribution to the church, the service was attended by Archbishop Eamon Martin as well as many clergy from other denominations. The author of the Book of Wisdom talks about the quality of life and not merely length of days. 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 will continue to feel Brendan pushing us forward to serve.
On behalf of Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Priests of the Parish, Rev Carlos Esteban Rojo, the deacons and priests of the Diocese, the Parish Pastoral Council, Newry Parish Bereavement team we extend our sincere sympathy to Brendan’s wife Elizabeth, his daughter Anna, his sons Joseph and Tom, his daughter in law Binz, his son in law Declan, his grandchildren Dara, Shaan and Oisin, his sisters Marie and Sheila, his brothers Kevin and Seamus, his sisters in law Mary, Máiréad, Rosaleen, Enya, Mary and Liz, his brothers in law Peter, Pat, Peter, Joe, Jim, and Peter, his aunts and uncles, his nephews and nieces, his entire family circle. May Brendan enjoy eternal life and receive the reward which he so richly deserves