Beaufort Priest was a Man of the People

Fr. Brian Coffey Rest in Peace

By Con Dennehy

“The life and death of each of us has its influences on others”, a line from a Gospel reading that reflects the invaluable contribution the late Fr. Brian Coffey had on society as he spread the word of God across the World.

Tears were shed in Ireland, Africa and the United States this week following the sudden death in New York of the much loved and highly respected Kerry cleric. Fr. Coffey was a member of the Mill Hill Missionary Society and  passed away in Hartsdale, New York, aged 72.

Brian Coffey was born on 1st March 1945 in the picturesque village of Beaufort. His parents, James and Mary (neé Counihan), had a family of five girls and three boys. James was a farmer. Brian was educated at Cullina National School at later at the Mill Hill College in Freshford, Co. Kilkenny. A caring and loving young man, Brian followed his vocation to the Priesthood and from 1965 to 1968, he studied philosophy, first at University College Dublin (1 year) and then at Milltown (2 years). From 1968 to 1972, he studied theology at St Joseph’s College Mill Hill. He took his Perpetual Oath on 1st May 1971 and on 25th June 1972 was ordained to the missionary priesthood in St John’s Church, Tralee by Eamon Casey, Bishop of Kerry.

Following a period in France to learn French, Brian took up an appointment to a busy mission station in Yalisele, Diocese of Basankusu in Zaire. He loved area and immediately left a lasting impression on the local community. He served here until 1979. Though punctuated with health challenges, this was a happy time for Brian.  Illness finally forced him to move to the Irish Region, where he worked for a number of years in parish promotion and vocations ministry. On completion of a renewal programme in Dalgan, he returned to Basankusu in early 1983, for a brief period, as illness forced him once again to leave. He was appointed to the Irish Region and parish promotion work. In 1992, he was appointed Administrator and Organising Secretary in Freshford House, Kilkenny. This was followed by an appointment to North America in 1999. The following year, he joined a multi-faith chaplaincy team at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York State – an assignment which he found highly rewarding. His love of people, the word of God and his presence and availability to the wider community endeared his to the hearts of all he came in contact with. This week social media was ablaze with heart-warming and tearful messages following his passing at the weekend.

Fr. Brian also helped out at the nearby parish and did supplies in other parishes in New York City. He still had some time left over to play golf and go to the gym, as well as spending holidays in his native Beaufort, his last visit on September of this year. He happily served as chaplain to the Kerrymen’s Association of New York. At one point, the Superior General noted that wherever Brian served, it was always conscientiously and with imagination, and with a smile.

Fr. Brian was a modest and holy man who inspired all in his presence. He worked tirelessly in his Ministry and walked the road of bereavement with so many people over the decades, offering comfort and support in so many caring ways.

Fr. Brian will be sadly missed and always loved by his sisters Moira Liegey (New York), Brenda Roberts (London), Margaret Flynn (Kilkenny), Angela Mangan (London) and Sara Peden (Beaufort), his brothers John (Beaufort) and Donie (Castleisland), their spouses and families, the Mill Hill Missionary Community, relatives and many friends.

Fr. Brian will sleep in peace in Churchtown Cemetery, Beaufort where he was laid to rest on Saturday 4th of November following a mass concelebrated by 20 priests from Kerry and the Mill Hill Order and also Bishop Bill Murphy.

Photo: Fr Brian with his brothers John and Donie.