Fr Michael Dunn OP Funeral Homily
Fr Michael’s funeral was held in his home town of Clitheroe on 16 August 2022. Fr Martin Ganeri as Provincial preached the homily, recalling details of Fr Michael’s life and service.
Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; I John 3:1-3; Matt 25:31-46
‘Then the righteous will answer him, ‘’Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when we did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee or naked and clothed thee” And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Matthew. 25: 37-40)
These words from the Gospel of Matthew are very fitting for this funeral Mass for Michael. For I believe that when he stands before God, these will be the words that he will utter and this will be the answer that God will give him. ‘As you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
Michael was, as they say, a doer. He was always active, always keen to be of service. Of service to the people of the Church, in the different places and contexts in which he ministered to them; in the Dominican communities, to his brothers in the Order. He was one who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirst, saw the sick, visited those in prison. And in this way he served Christ in all the people he met.
When I looked at the documents that I have and which I wanted to consult to get some insight into Michael’s time as a Dominican friar, especially in the years before I knew him myself, I was amused to find a letter he wrote to the then Provincial in 1988, when he had just finished his priestly studies and was awaiting assignation to London as a new priest. The Provincial had meant well, as Provincials generally do, but perhaps foolishly, had encouraged him just to take things easy for a couple of months after three years of study which Michael had certainly not found easy at all. Never a man to mince his words, even when dealing with a Provincial, Michael replied, saying:
‘What I don’t intend doing is sitting in a priory sucking my thumb whilst other people get on with the work. If I am in the priory I would be available for normal duties as I have always been and always will be.’
‘What I don’t intend doing is sitting in a priory sucking my thumb whilst other people get on with the work.’
Michael was, then, a doer – right to the end of his life. Even as the cruel affliction of dementia sapped his ability to cope, he continued to do what he thought needed to be done – whether it be standing at the door of the Church greeting people or giving them his blessing, or just smiling at them as they came in to pray or passed by.
Michael served his fellow men and women in the Church as a Dominican friar for 60 years. He entered in 1961 to be a lay brother and for the next 25 years worked to make possible the life of the Dominican communities he lived in, whether it be Hawksyard or Leicester, as well as serving the local communities in those places.
As a brother sent to Hawksyard he trained as a nurse to work in the local hospital. Again, always eager to get stuck into the work at hand, he wrote in another letter to an earlier Provincial, how disappointed he was not to get on to the training course he had hoped to get on, but saying also that he was determined nonetheless to get onto to some course, so that he could begin work. And at Leicester, of course, a particular form of ministry he valued doing and in which he was very much valued by those he worked with, was the Boys Club itself, members of which are here today. Whether the sick, or the young, he visited them, and welcomed them, gave them food and drink, gave them encouragement and friendship.
In 1988 Michael was ordained as a priest, first then going to London until 1992, then on to Leicester, to be prior there for three terms. This was unusual, since in the Order it is the norm that brothers do two terms within a particular role, and then stop. It was a mark of Michael’s hard work as prior of Leicester and of the esteem and need that the community had for him, that they postulated him for a third term and that this was agreed to. Being a prior is not always an easy job to have, but Michael flourished as prior of Leicester and by all accounts loved playing an active role as prior in the wider community of the city, known as the lord prior of Holy Cross because of his involvement in the civic life of the city and with its mayor.
Having then been bursar at Oxford for a while, Michael spent the rest of his years as a priest in London. Always active, and always keen to be useful. Sometimes, maybe, he might have done well to bear in mind the motto, ‘more haste, less speed,’ as yet another tray of glasses went flying as he set things up for the community recreation, or as the car scraped the sides of the gateway once again as he dashed off or dashed back from the cash and carry. But certainly, he remained true to those words he wrote to the Provincial in the late 80s – ‘What I don’t intend doing is sitting in a priory sucking my thumb whilst other people get on with the work.’
Though for sixty years Michael’s identity and work was primarily as a member of the Dominican Order, Michael never ceased to maintain both his links with his origins here in Clitheroe, with his family as well as his links with his past in the Navy. As a member of the Order, whether a brother or a priest, Michael always cherished everything else that he was. Fr Richard Conrad told me only a couple of days ago that Michael would have cakes made which celebrated all these other parts of who he was. Fr Richard told me that in the late 1980s he himself made Michael a cake in the shape of Clitheroe itself to celebrate Michael’s mother’s birthday – I think her 90th (was that right?); or again that on another occasion a rather elaborate cake was made in the shape of a battleship. Certainly, to the very end of his life, his time in the Navy remained part of who he was, not least in his fondness for Plymouth gin. Michael never forgot his past or lost touch with it but cherished it fondly.
‘And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
May Christ the King now welcome Michael with these words. May Michael now rest in peace. Let us hope also that God will tell Michael to continue to work for us, praying for us who get on with our own work here below.
Requiescat in pace.