Funeral takes place in Ennis of Czech national Josef Pavelka

Priest places ordination stole on coffin as parting gift to homeless man

The 10am funeral Mass of Josef Pavelka (58), a Czech national who had been intermittently sleeping in public toilets in Ennis, Co Clare, and who was found dead in a laneway of the town earlier this month, did not start on time yesterday.

That was because so many members of the public arrived carrying musical instruments – among them Ennis’s Gospel Choir – that negotiations had to be first conducted among them as to when each would play in tribute to Mr Pavelka.

About 150 people attended the funeral Mass in the town's cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, which was led by Fr Ger Fitzgerald, and concelebrated by Fr Tom Hogan, Fr Patrick Conway and Fr Pat Taaffe.

Mr Pavelka’s coffin was flanked by two rows of large candles, and atop it, along with a framed photograph, were tributes. They included a handful of the euro coins he was known to ask passers-by for, palm fronds, two religious bracelets, a box of Amber Leaf cigarettes, flowers in cellophane, and a personalised card and a candle, which had stickers of hearts, doves, and a guitar on it.


Before starting his homily, Fr Fitzgerald drew a long breath, and looked quietly over the congregation. He delivered the 10-minute homily in a tone that combined steel and compassion.

'An enigma'
"Over the last month of his life, Josef has become almost like an enigma," he said. "Many people will recall happy memories of Josef outside the church here, or inside the church here. Or of him wandering up O'Connell Street, asking for €1, €2.

“However, many more will remember a man who had many opportunities to improve, but yet he did not.

“However I believe we must now journey on a new road, because ultimately it is not important whether Josef wanted €1 or €2, or whether he was an alcoholic.

“What is important here is Josef’s humanity. Josef was no Holy Joe and I’m not here to [sing] his praises or make of him what he was not, because I can tell you, there were times when Josef drove me nuts.”

Fr Fitzgerald went on to say: “It would be so easy to be up here and to moan today about State-sponsored bodies and to lament what has been called ‘killing Josef with generosity’ and to whinge about the denial of the two lads living in the public toilets. However, we must remove that attitude.

“Because, behind all that is the tragic truth of a human life being lost here in Ennis, and the worst of the tragedy is it is a scene that is being repeated everywhere all over Ireland.

“Every night, people in Ireland are homeless, lost, lonely and wondering what will happen next. Josef’s passing was a tragedy; a tragedy which has brought much publicity here to Ennis, not all of which has been positive.

“Yet this is not a time to be angry or to be annoyed, it is a time to unite. To take action. We need to work with each other to improve on the wonderful work already happening. We need to unite to ensure what happened to Josef will not happen to anyone else.

“To those in power here in Ennis and in Ireland, I ask you, I plead with you on my knees, to you as a representative of Jesus here in Ennis, I ask you to please review the policies we have towards the homeless and the weak.”

The offertory gifts taken to the altar were, Fr Fitzgerald explained, chosen to represent Josef Pavelka’s life. They were the Czech national flag, the woollen hat “he always wore” and a bouquet of bright flowers to “symbolise eternal life”.

Choir's tribute
Fiona Walsh, director of the Ennis Gospel Choir, sang Lean on Me and Amazing Grace during the Mass. She explained that the choir had voluntarily come to sing "because we always used to practise on a Tuesday, and we met both Josef and Peter regularly at the back of the church. They used to help us carry in our instruments. They were always there, even in bad weather, and we always had a concern for them, but it was difficult to know what to do".

Polish friend
Peter Baram (35), a Polish national, was regularly seen with Pavelka and, until recently, also sometimes slept at nights in Ennis's public toilets. He was not at yesterday's funeral as he is attending a residential programme for alcohol addiction.

Before the Mass concluded, Fr Fitzgerald told the congregation that he had “one last little present for Josef”. It was “something he was always pestering me about, and something he always wanted,” he said.

He held up the white stole he said he had worn on the day he was ordained a priest.

“To show the unity from the church with the poor, and to show unity with Josef, to you Josef, I present this stole that I was made a priest in, and I hope that you like it,” he said, as he walked over to leave it carefully on top of the coffin, to a spontaneous burst of applause from the congregation.

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland

Rosita Boland is Senior Features Writer with The Irish Times. She was named NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year for 2018