In the ancient world, it was thought that one’s name influenced one’s character and life. Seán Melody, who has died aged 67, did not, of course, choose his surname. But many young people were drawn into the world of music and the stage by his passion for the performing arts.
He was a much-loved priest of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore – some said he was the best bishop Waterford never had – with an astute grasp of business matters. As director, he led the Catholic Communications Institute, and its better-known subsidiary Veritas Publications, between 1994 and 2000.
But it was his involvement with the musical society at a Waterford secondary school where he was chaplain that drew most attention. -
Along with Brother Ben O'Hanlon of the De la Salle order, Seán Melody was responsible for a school production of Oliver, Lionel Bart's spirited musical version of Charles Dickens's story, in 1981. Nancy ("So Long As He Needs Me") the female lead, was played by a teenager called Carrie Crowley, who went on to a career in acting and broadcasting.
A succession of talented youngsters fell under Seán Melody's influence. They included Jamie Beamish, currently playing Iago in repertory in London, Keith Dunphy, who won a place at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts (RADA) and appeared in the film of Les Misérables and The Wind That Shook the Barley, and musical director Bryan Flynn, who died last year at the early age of 43. They and many others had stardust sprinkled into their young lives by Seán Melody.
“Seán’s enthusiasm was infectious” Carrie Crowley recalls. “When there was a big new stage show in London, Seán was always the first person from Waterford to see it. He’d come back full of
or whatever it was, full of new ideas he wanted to try out on stage.”
Seán Melody’s journey began in the family public house in Ballymacarbry in the picturesque Nire valley area of west Waterford. His father impressed on him the importance of remembering customer’s names, a habit that would serve him well. After attending the Christian Brothers’ high school in Clonmel, he went to Maynooth to study science and theology.
At university, he immersed himself in student campaigns for improved academic standards. He showed courage in challenging colleagues and those in authority over outdated theological concepts or pastorally irrelevant practices. He made clear his disdain for “churchiness”, which he saw as a poor substitute for living his faith. He was ordained in 1971.
After a year as a teaching chaplain in Waterford, he studied for a master’s degree in education at a Catholic college in Strawberry Hill, London. In his free time he haunted the theatres of the West End, attending performances of world-class musicals.
Back in Waterford he was appointed diocesan adviser to schools on religious education, coaxing, coaching and perhaps even pushing some priests and teachers to get their heads and hearts around the latest pedagogical principles and the resultant textbooks and practices.
This was no easy task, given how stultified the catechism and its rote learning had become. He also engaged in the catechetical conversation at a national level, working closely with programme writers, bishops and fellow diocesan advisers, encouraging teachers in trying out new materials in classrooms.
Seán Melody faced his final struggle with cancer with typical courage. Every day he struggled to say Mass. Towards the end, he used a discreetly placed barstool to hold himself up on the altar. He asked the congregation if he should continue to say Mass in public and they insisted that he did. Two strands of his life came together in the old show business adage – the show must go on.
Seán Melody is surivived by his brothers David and Pat, and his sister Maura (Kelly).