Mgr Patrick Francis Cremin


The first smiling face on the faded "class-pieces" or year photographs which hang in the cloisters of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, is that of Frankie Cremin - kindly, affable, yet greatly at pains that all should know the truth and be saved.

The college, where he occupied the chairs of both moral theology and canon law from 1949 until 1980 - albeit on one salary - was his lifelong home. His vast lecture notes, made freely available to all, are now in countless presbytery cupboards and attics, a neglected monument to his memory; and the ingenious marital predicaments of the hypothetical Caius and Bertha have, like his operatic arias, gone down in clerical history. Few Irish priests do not have a personal memory of Frankie and I have rarely known a levitical banquet where he was not celebrated.

Frank's radical, positive and generally unrecognised contribution to the Mother and Child scheme has been dealt with elsewhere; it perfectly demonstrates his fatal flaw - utter lack of (or disdain for) cuteness. While Archbishop Fogarty of Killaloe, intoxicated by the zeitgeist, was making anti-Semitic noises in the 1940s, Frankie, stubbornly arguing from first principles (his motto: "Obsta principiis"), was suspected of socialism; when the Hierarchy drifted to the left after the Second Vatican Council, Frankie, like his close friend Archbishop McQuaid, was left stranded on the wreck of orthodoxy.

As peritus or official theologian to Vatican II, Frank Cremin was above all homo conciliaris, a man of the Council. He personally drafted paragraph 35 of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, and as a member of the post-conciliar commis ion on the revision of the Code of Canon Law he was deeply involved in rewriting the Church's legal constitution - a labour completed only in 1983.

Who could forget the cameo of Frankie in his prime with Hans Kⁿng - both then with such promising futures! - sparring for the entertainment of the American bishops at the Ristorante Ulpia before being merrily driven back to the Irish College in Kⁿng's Volkswagen?

It was left to Frank to present Humanae vitae to an already antagonised Irish media in 1968. Whereas others had been actively fomenting among Irish priests and people an attitude of "change", Frankie was by conviction, not conditioning, consistently against contraception both before and afterwards. His typically ineluctable question was: if the Church changed her mind on this vital issue, which was the true Church - the one that had opposed contraception or the one that now accepted it?

His career and achievements would have guaranteed any other priest of his generation the highest ecclesiastical preferment. It was not to be, however: thrice proposed, he was thrice blocked for election to the episcopate. Frozen out by a former junior colleague, then senior churchman, whose advancement Frank himself had had opportunity to spoil but forbore (when asked what he had said in consultation with the Nuncio about his ascendant rival, he replied "Veni, vidi Sensi" - nothing, in other words), and isolated by the trend away from doctrine and towards populism, he became redundant. At last even his own native diocese of Kerry was awarded to - Eamonn Casey.

But Frankie survived to see it all fall out - and fall apart. Critical but forgiving, he witnessed the demise of his victors, the decline of his alma mater and the collapse of Catholic Ireland. He could be glimpsed himself, like the sleuthing Fahter Brown, a small, bespectacled, rotund figure in a black soutane, interviewing seminarians, lay students, visitors - anyone - in St Mary's Square, Maynooth, or in the afternoon at Our Lady's altar in the Gunne Chapel saying his daily Mass. People came from all over the country to seek his advice and guidance, which was ever practical, humane, nay liberal.

His appetite for life, food, music, knowledge and fun was robust, his memory prodigious, his stamina immense, his candour and humour childlike. He could hold forth for hours - exhaustive in detail, exhilarating in clarity. He never left an error unchallenged but never belittled the corrected. Tirelessly searching, undaunted to the end and without a shred of malice, he fought the good fight, he kept the Faith. He went to God on the feast of All Saints in his 92nd year. The light of Heaven to his soul.

D. O'H.