“Ecce sacerdos magnus — behold a great priest who has pleased God in his days.”
The first three words in Latin kept going “round and round in my head” in the days after Msgr Brian Arahill died, said Bishop Patrick Dunn.
The bishop said this during a homily at a requiem Mass at a packed St Michael’s church in Remuera on September 20.
Bishop Dunn explained that this phrase came from the Church’s liturgy of the hours on the feast days of saints who had been great pastors.
“He was a great priest, he was involved in so many things,” Bishop Dunn said of the monsignor, who had been parish priest in Remuera for 25 years, and, before that, administrator of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland for 18 years. Other appointments included Frankton, Whakatane and Three Kings. Ill health forced his retirement five years ago.
Msgr Arahill, who originally hailed from Taranaki, died on September 16 at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby. He was 88.
Bishop Dunn recalled, in his homily, a message sent to him since September 16 from Craig McCarthy, a former principal of St Michael’s School, Remuera.
Mr McCarthy related how he was interviewed by the board of trustees for the position at St Michael’s, and when he thought the interview had ended, Msgr Arahill took him aside and said, “Craig , let’s go up to the
parish house now and we will have the real interview”.
“He said he got the message who was boss,” Bishop Dunn said, to laughter from the congregation.
But Mr McCarthy also wrote that Msgr Arahill was the “most supportive, understanding and spiritual leader that any principal could want”.
Bishop Dunn said that Msgr Arahill was “first and foremost, very much a pastor. He loved the Eucharist, he loved celebrating Baptisms and First Holy Communions and funerals and everything else in between”.
In the words of Pope Francis — he was a shepherd, who had the smell of the sheep about him, Bishop Dunn said.
“I’m told that country people don’t like the image — the smell of the sheep — but Brian loved people and loved his parishioners.”
“I have certainly heard, over the last few days, people say how deeply he touched them and their lives. How much they appreciated him. They would often say with a wry smile — the first time we met him, he was a bit scary, but then we found he had a heart of gold.”
His pastor’s heart was especially shown in his “wonderful work in helping people struggling with addictions”, the bishop said.
He had worked with Alcoholics Anonymous since the 1960s, helping many people doing the 12-step programme.
Speaking at the requiem, Msgr Arahill’s niece Therese Arahill noted that his older brother John was profoundly deaf.
“I believe John was the inspiration for Brian’s devotion to those marginalised by society,” she said.
In his heyday, “his voice could fill a room and reach the corner of any
church”, his niece said.
Noting that he “quietly intellectually withdrew” in his later years, she said her uncle’s “spirit remained as strong and vital as ever”. This was shown by one occasion which she recalled.
“One of my sisters asked Uncle Brian to bless her daughter, who had been struggling. It was as if a light was turned on. He placed his hands gently on her head, and looking at her, reminded her that every winter is followed by spring.”
In his homily, Bishop Dunn spoke of Msgr Arahill’s love for the liturgy — he had taught liturgy at the Chanel Institute for 15 years.
From his seminary days, and as a young priest, he had been a great supporter of the renewal of the liturgy, the bishop added.
According to a post on Bishop Dunn’s facebook page, Msgr Arahill was a member of the national committee for the papal visit in 1986, with special responsibility for liturgy. In the diocese, he had been a member of the Council of Priests and of the College of Consultors. He had also served as vicar for pastoral formation.
Bishop Dunn recalled that “dozens and dozens of priests and seminarians passed through the ‘St Michael’s finishing school, the Arahill academy’”.
Bishop Dunn noted many other contributions by Msgr Arahill — his encouragement of priests and seminarians, his dedication to prayer and his helping others to pray, his close association with several religious orders, his hospitality offered to many.
The bishop also recalled the monsignor being a great ecumenist.
“He had a great passion for the unity of the Church,” Bishop Dunn said. The presence of Auckland Anglican Bishop Ross Bay, a personal friend of Msgr Arahill’s, at the requiem was noted.
Bishop Dunn also recalled that Msgr Arahill’s favourite Scripture verse was John 10:10 “I came that they might have life and have it to the full”.
At his golden jubilee of ordination some years ago, Msgr Arahill was asked why this verse was so special to him, the bishop said.
“I am utterly convinced that, while it is good to be alive, there is more to life than this human life on earth. The Easter Christ brings us this life to the full,” was Msgr Arahill’s response.
A quote from St Augustine was another favourite, the bishop added: “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”
Bishop Dunn thanked all those who supported Msgr Arahill in his later years, a time in his life which “was a difficult one”. But “Brian lived with great faith”.
“We miss him terribly,” Bishop Dunn said, “but there is a sense too that we are happy that winter is over and spring has come and he can rejoice in the
presence of God.”