By Ray O’Hanlon
As the world marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a congregation in New York St. Patrick’s Cathedral said farewell to an old soldier who was but a child on that far off day.
A child who would grow into a man dedicated to his faith, his country, his work and, most of all, his family.
Gene McCarthy, whose own service to country was in the United States Marine Corps, died last weekend at the age of 76.
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It was too soon, and there was a sense under the soaring cathedral roof that there were still things to be said, tasks to be completed.
“I was shocked when I heard the news,” said former Irish Echo publisher, Sean Finlay.
“Gene was a wonderful man and a true friend. He was especially proud of his serving in the Marines,” said Finlay, who himself served in the Irish army.
That service was noted more than once and in multiple ways during the funeral Mass, which was attended by Irish Consul General in New York, Ciaran Madden.
The program for the Mass, the chief celebrant of which was Monsignor Kevin Nelan (Cardinal Timothy Dolan attended the wake on Wednesday evening) included the Marine’s Prayer.
The Marine Corps hymn was sung. The flag-draped coffin was carried out the cathedral doors and onto the steps where a lone piper played a lament.
Bronx-born McCarthy had lived his life to the fullest, and this was reflected in the range of people attending the wake and Mass.
They came from business and the full range of New York’s Irish cultural and charitable life to honor a man known for his gentle manner but also fierce devotion to the causes he deemed right and worthy.
In delivering an emotional and revealing eulogy on behalf of Gene’s son Jim, Pauline Turley of the Irish Arts Center spoke of that fierce loyalty and devotion, most especially to McCarthy’s family and his wife Sheila, “his own Sophia Loren.”
Turley ranged across a life’s work, passions and interests. Gene McCarthy took on many causes, indeed an extraordinary number of them, and was a pivotal figure in the life of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Knights of St. Patrick, which he had chaired.
Outside the cathedral the Mass attendees embraced and talked.
It was warm and sunny, a portent of summer, and for sure a better weather day than that 1944 one of such great import.
But Eugene Gerard “Gene” McCarthy was an American with his Irish roots in Kerry so the vagaries of weather, like life, were there to be measured, met, overcome, embraced.
Semper Fidelis. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.