A LOCAL priest who served as secretary to the former Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Cahal Daly, who died last week, has described him as someone with 'big in intellect, vision, imagination and a big of heart.' The Parish Priest of St Anne's in Dunmurry, Fr Edward O'Donnell, served as the Cardinal's secretary during his time as Bishop of Down and Connor from 1982 to 1990. "Cahal Daly was a big man. Physically small in stature perhaps but in every other sense a big man - big in intellect, in vision and imagination but above all big of heart," he said. "His intellect allowed him to be confident in himself but his sense of compassion for others made him a humble man. It was this rare mixture of confidence and humility which made him such an attractive personality." He said that there was always a constant stream of visitors from all parts of the world who came to discuss current religious and political issues with him.
"This kept him at the heart of the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond for almost 50 years first as priest/lecturer in Queen's University Belfast, then as bishop successively in Ardagh and Clonmacnois (1967-1982) Down and Connor (1982-1990) and in Armagh (1990-1996) where in 1991 he was created cardinal," he said.
"He was an omnivorous reader and over the years built up a personal library of some 20,000 volumes which on his retirement he donated to Queen's University, Belfast.
"For Cahal Daly scholarship was a real joy. But this was not a pursuit of learning for its own sake. His keen sense of pastoral responsibility sprang from the learning and in particular from his reflection on it a reflection which in turn led back to and influenced his scholarship." Speaking of his work during the Troubles Fr O'Donnell said: "It was therefore with great inner strength and courage that he met the challenges and emerging at that time. He tackled head on the problems of social justice and violence."
He concluded: "He was unfailingly courteous, temperate and always a gentlemen. Members of his staff said that regardless of their errors, mistakes or -negligence he was never irritable or critical. It takes little imagination to realise the loyalty that this attitude engendered in his staff and how working for him could never be conceived as a nine of five job."
During a special service at St Peter's Cathedral on Sunday Fr O'Donnell said: "He did not underestimate the problems facing the Church, nor did he believe that there were simple solutions around the corner. "But he was convinced that the credibility of the Church could only come from Christ. However, he was acutely aware of the importance of translating Christ's Gospel into pastoral initiatives, geared to a land in which the concept of "Christian society" is now seriously weakened, and in some places gone." Fr Dermot McCaughan, Parish Priest of St Patricks in Lisburn, said that Cahal Daly will always be remembered as an outstanding leader who had 'strong principles' and was totally opposed to violence.
"He was a champion of peace and justice and he helped bring the conflict to a conclusion," he said. "He was a very wise scholar and someone of immense compassion."