Pioneering priest Father Neal Carlin laid to rest

Fr. Neal Carlin knew the ‘importance of community at the heart of the Church’s mission’, mourners heard yesterday.

Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 1:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 1:10 pm

The inspirational cleric put this knowledge to work by founding such esteemed institutions as the White Oaks addiction centre, the St. Anthony’s retreat centre and the Columba Community, Fr. Francis Bradley said in his funeral homily at St. Eugene’s Cathedral.

“As his initials remind us, Neal Carlin, the non-conformist; Neal Carlin in whom there was no compromise; Neal Carlin the noble Christian we lay to rest today after a life of love, of service and devotion,” he said.

Fr. Carlin, who passed away at the age of 81 in Buncrana on Friday was born at Enagh Lough in May 1940. He moved to Newtowncunningham and later to Fahan, a place with which he will be forever associated.

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The coffin of Fr. Neal Carlin is carried into St Eugene’s Cathedral, on Monday morning for Requiem Mass. Photo: George Sweeney / Derry Journal. DER2121GS – 020

“Fahan, to him, was the sheltered place of Mura,” Fr. Bradley observed. “In Fahan he became aware of the Celtic Saints and his devotion to them and his sheltering under their protection and guidance has been life-long.”

Fr. Neal studied at St Eunan’s before training for the priesthood at St Peter’s in Wexford. He was ordained in Motherwell in 1964 and ministered in Scotland for 11 years before returning to Derry.

“He came here to the Cathedral parish in 1975 – at the height of the Troubles. Glenowen was his pastoral area and he loved visiting homes and hearing confessions. He used to say how he would stand looking down over the city, conscious of the disintegration of society around him, all the more convinced that the healing, comfort and challenge of the Holy Spirit was needed to confront the darkness and injustice of the Troubles,” said Fr. Bradley.

Forty years ago Fr. Carlin established the Columba Community in Derry.

The late Fr. Neal Carlin.

“In his writings and preaching, Father Neal always emphasised the central importance of building community as the heart of the Church’s mission.

“In 1981, in the year of the hunger strikes, he founded the Columba Community. After praying with a Protestant minister in Wexford, he heard the clear voice of God saying, ‘In a few days, a stranger will point out to you a house.’

“And sure enough, as with Saint Paul in Damascus, a few days later, a man who was prominent in the St Vincent de Paul pointed out a house in Queen Street which he thought would be good for Father Neal.

“It was owned by the RUC and had been bombed by the IRA – so it had the perfect pedigree to become a place of reconciliation.”

Fr. Neal made a hugely positive impact on many lives by establishing St. Anthony’s and White Oaks at Dundrean on the Derry/Donegal border.

“Saint Anthony’s was perfectly located. The border ran along the bottom of the garden; it was basic and rural. Many benefitted from its quiet solitude; none more than Father Neal himself. At last, he could come closer to the depth of contemplation for which he yearned.

"But in time, further diversification was needed when numbers seeking help with substance addiction grew and so, over the road and around the hill, White Oaks was developed,” Fr. Bradley told the congregation.

The IOSAS Centre and Celtic Prayer Garden was another inspirational initiative that honours the ‘golden age’ of the Celtic church from the fifth to the twelfth century.

Bishop of Derry Dónal McKeown, in a personal reflection, said: “The church has always been at its best when it has been creative and taken risks to start something and to reach out to people and the church has been at its weakest when it was merely supporting the strong and forgot its prophetic voice.

"So I suppose the choice of Columba, whose centenary we celebrate this year, as patron of the Columban Community reflects that missionary heart that drove father Neal and those who joined the community with him.” Fr. Neal Carlin was laid to rest in St Mary’s Cemetery, Ardmore.