Fr Denis Mahony SM, the WCCM Coordinator in Fiji, died peacefully on 26 April. He was 73 and had lived courageously with cancer for a long time and had arrived at a stage of deep peace and joy even in the face of suffering. His love of Christian meditation led him to a remarkable ministry of sharing it with Fijians of all ages and backgrounds. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his teaching meditation was with children and it is among them that his memory and influence will be felt most deeply and be passed on to future generations.
Sr Denise who has worked closely with Fr Denis for many years describes the experience of losing a friend and teacher of such magnitude.
I think that Father Denis knew that he was going to die soon. Looking back and reflecting after his death several days ago several people have reflected on his homily at last Sunday’s Mass in which he reminded us of St Benedicts’s counsel to always keep death before our eyes. He once said that as a child and later young adult he had been terrified of death but meditation had taken that fear away and he was no longer afraid to die. The telephones have been ringing all morning but it is now very quiet and it is good to remain in that space and ponder the mystery of what has happened. It is now almost ten years since the diagnosis and first treatment of cancer and since then the cancer had moved to other organs of his body.
There has been therefore always lurking in the background the prospect of his death but I always imagined that it would happen after a long and lingering time of pain and illness. His sudden departure however has been so unexpected and I think that it reflects the type of person that Denis was. He never wanted to cause any fuss or bother to anyone and yet was always so self-giving of himself even when he was not always feeling so well himself.
Several weeks ago he said that he thought that something was wrong. He hoped that the cancer had not returned.
For years he declined invitations to travel to give retreats. First of all it was because he felt that the primary focus of his mission and ministry was here at the Prayer Centre to create a place of silence and welcome for anyone wishing to find and quiet space and find God and he felt that he did not want to be diverted from that focus.
After his return from the first cancer he made several flights a year for check ups in New Zealand and that was about all the travel that he could manage. However, last year he accepted to go to another Pacific Island country to give two retreats and he was to have been away for three weeks. He was due to leave Fiji this coming Wednesday. We were very concerned for his well-being and several times tried to dissuade him from going.
Uncharacteristically, he even recently said that given his present unwellness he regretted acceptingto go but would never renege on a commitment once he had made it. He was all prepared to go. Father Denis’ last retreatant left this morning and he celebrated his last Mass yesterday morning here in our chapel. Even though he has not been all that well over the last few weeks he was still very concerned about the meditation and over the last two months we had revisited most of the schools to revise the teaching of meditation in each class.
He is sorely missed by all of us and the many people he loved and who loved him. Many times before he has gone away but always in the knowledge that he would return. This time the experience is completely different. There has been since his death a silence enveloping the Prayer Centre which reminds me of what it must have been like on Holy Saturday.
On the night of his death I returned to my room and searched for a copy of a talk which Fr Denis had given at a meditation retreat day several years ago. I found great consolation in reading it again and want to share part of it with you. Father Denis wrote: