by MICHAEL OTTO
Msgr John “Jack” Lyons has been remembered as a self taught scholar, a contrarian, an outstanding pastor, and a
man who had an encyclopaedic memory for people’s names.
Fr Lyons died in Ponsonby on January 25, aged 86, in the 64th year of his priesthood.
He served as a priest at Puhoi, Remuera, Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Northcote, Pakuranga, Devonport, and for nearly
two decades as parish priest of Papatoetoe up to 2008.
At a requiem Mass at Ponsonby on January 30, Bishop Patrick Dunn said that the death of Msgr Lyons meant “a great Totara tree has fallen in the forest”.
Bishop Dunn said Msgr Lyons was a shepherd who had the smell of the sheep about him.
“He loved his people, and we all know that and we loved him in return.”
Bishop Dunn spoke of Msgr Lyons’s amazing memory for people’s names. He seemed to know all the children at Holy
Cross School in Papatoetoe by name, the bishop said.
“Not just them, but their mums and dads and their brothers and sisters… He would give you a running commentary on
who was who.”
Bishop Dunn said that when this priest called children at Holy Cross by name, “you could see their eyes light up”.
The bishop also praised Msgr Lyons’s learning, wisdom and scholarship.
“Msgr John was a highly intelligent man. He loved wisdom, knowledge. He was always reading, he was very erudite, a self taught man.
“Some of us might say a bit of a know-all, too,” the bishop joked.
Bishop Dunn described one occasion when he sought Msgr Lyons’s advice on something, and he teased the priest by
saying, “John I know you know everything”.
“He piped up and said, ‘That’s right and don’t you forget it’.”
In a eulogy, Msgr Lyons’s nephew Peter Lyons noted his uncle’s interest in Church and secular history, and philosophy, and his passion for reading.
“He was a contrarian, in terms of being opinionated; he could come across as grumpy at times,” Mr Lyons said.
Maybe Msgr Lyons had a role model in the form of his own uncle, Fr Edward Lyons, who was famous for sparring with Archbishop James Michael Liston.
“Possibly not the best role model to have for progressing in the Church,” Mr Lyons said.
“But he did have an influence on Jack.”
Mr Lyons recounted a description of his uncle made by Bishop Dunn at a vigil in Papatoetoe the previous evening.
The bishop, Mr Lyons said, “last night said Fr John reminded him of a grumpy teddy bear”.
“I think that was a little bit harsh… on teddy bears, because generally you cuddle teddy bears, but I wouldn’t cuddle Jack.”
Mr Lyons added: “Although in the last few weeks I certainly have, as have the family.”
Bishop Dunn thanked the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master for their care for Msgr Lyons in his old age.
Finally, the bishop noted how young Msgr Lyons was when he was ordained as a priest in 1952, five days short of his 23rd birthday.
NZ Catholic understands Fr Dennis Horton was younger when he was ordained in 1966, being 52 days before his 23rd