Fr Tony Coote was ‘the ultimate connector’, funeral hears

Brother tells congregation motor neurone disease campaigner ‘left on his own terms’

Fr Tony Coote’s coffin is carried out of the Church of St Thérèse, Mount Merrion, Stillorgan, Co Dublin, at his funeral Mass. Photograph: Tom Honan

Fr Tony Coote’s coffin is carried out of the Church of St Thérèse, Mount Merrion, Stillorgan, Co Dublin, at his funeral Mass. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

David Coote wanted people to know that his brother Fr Tony Coote died peacefully, 18 months after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

“He was surrounded by family and friends and was very much at peace. As was the case with lots of things he did, he left on his own terms.”

Fr Coote, the administrator of the Church of St Thérèse in Mount Merrion and St Laurence O’Toole church in Kilmacud, died at the age of 55 last Wednesday.

“By any definition Tony was a wonderful, inspirational leader. His ability to mobilise people for a cause was second to none,” David Coote told mourners at the end of the priest’s funeral Mass in Mount Merrion on Monday.

His brother, he said, “saw the good in every situation and with that good came the opportunity to connect with people, another one of Tony’s great strengths – connecting people, bringing them together, the ultimate connector”.

Their mother brought Tony into the world 55 years ago, he said. “So we all owe her a great debt of gratitude for giving us this gift. She guided us all through our lives and I can tell you very clearly that’s where Tony got his strength, determination and resilience. From our mother. Thank you Mam.”

In his homily Fr John Kelly said the months since his diagnosis in February 2018 became a time of grace for Fr Coote. “Each one of you and countless others nourished Tony by your great kindness and persistent love. I know that Tony was overwhelmed by your tenderness and thoughtfulness and that became his most powerful medicine.”

The disease “may have destroyed his body, death may have broken the bonds of skin and flesh, death cannot break the bond of love”.

He quoted words from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens which Fr Coote liked: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

And he repeated what retired parish priest Fr Dermot Lane had said: “Tell Tony, the priests of Dublin are proud of him. Tell Tony, the people of the country are proud of him.” This was followed by sustained applause.

Mass celebrant Fr Declan Blake spoke of how, two weeks ago, he and other priests were asked by Fr Coote to go to the Dundrum shopping centre to get him clothes.

Since Fr Coote could no longer speak, he indicated with his eyes what he wanted. “So we asked him ‘what do you want, a top? No. Trousers? No. Socks? No. He spelt out on the board ‘pyjamas’. He wanted new pyjamas. Anyway, it was like an episode from Fr Ted going round there trying to find pyjamas.”

Then he wanted to go to the cinema. They ended up seeing Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood. “That was the last movie he was to see.”

Fr Blake concluded: “As the second reading said ‘he fought the good fight, he ran the race to the finish, he kept the faith. And may Tony rest in peace.”

Final prayers of commendation were said by another of Fr Coote’s seminary classmates, new Bishop of Cork Fintan Gavin.

Honorary doctorate

Symbols brought to the altar at the beginning of the Mass, reflecting Fr Coote’s life and interests, included a squash racket and ball, the Thomas Merton book The Seven Storey Mountain, a photograph of UCD volunteers in Haiti, a photograph of him receiving an honorary doctorate at UCD last year, and a Bible.

Chief mourners were Fr Coote’s mother Patricia and his brothers David, Kieran and Pat.

Fr Tony Coote’s mother Patricia arriving with other family members at the Church of St Thérèse, Mount Merrion. Photograph: Tom Honan
Fr Tony Coote’s mother Patricia arriving with other family members at the Church of St Thérèse, Mount Merrion. Photograph: Tom Honan

President Michael D Higgins was represented by aide-de-camp Capt Paul O’Donnell and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar by Comdt Caroline Burke.

Among the many priests in attendance were Msgr Paul Callan, representing Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin (who officiated at Fr Coote’s removal on Sunday evening), Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Éamonn Walsh, and retired bishop Jim Moriarty. Also present was Church of Ireland Canon Gillian Wharton.

Politicians in attendance included Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, and Senator Gerry Horkan.

Burial afterwards was private.

Meanwhile, Trinity College Dublin has announced the creation of a new Fr Tony Coote Assistant Professor in Motor Neurone Disease research.