Father Patrick McDermott, pictured above, died Sept. 16 in Ocean Springs. Photo/Terry Dickson
Bishop Louis Kihneman celebrated a Funeral Mass for Father Patrick McDermott on Sept. 25 at Our Lady of Victories Church in Pascagoula. Burial took place in Ireland. Photo/Juliana Skelton
BY TERRY DICKSON
PASCAGOULA – The year was 1965, and newly ordained Fathers Michael Kelleher and Bernie Farrell had just arrived from Ireland for their very first assignment in Mississippi at Nativity BVM Church in Biloxi.
After being given their assignments for the next day by one of the outgoing associates – one was to celebrate Mass at the Little Flower Convent, and the other at Sacred Heart- the two young priests were left to their own devices.
Enter Father Patrick McDermott – “Father Mac,” as he was known – a fellow Irishman, who arrived at Nativity the previous year.
“Thank God for Father Mac. This young, strong, powerful man with shiny, black, well-groomed hair came through the back door. He greeted us with a very pleasant smile, told us that we were very, very welcome and that this was indeed a very wonderful parish, that we would be treated well and accepted by the people,” said Father Farrell. “He told us that he would be there for us throughout the year, that we would be friends and that we would work together,” said
Father Farrell was a homilist at a Sept. 25 Funeral Mass at Our Lady of Victories Church in Pascagoula for his friend, Father McDermott, 77, who passed away Sept. 16 after a brief illness. Bishop Louis F. Kihneman was principal celebrant for the funeral Mass; also present were Bishop Roger Morin, Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, and priests from the Diocese of Biloxi and Jackson.
“I remember Father Kelleher and I realizing that we hadn’t asked Father Mac how we were going to get to Mass. Father Mac said, ‘Don’t worry about the Masses. I’ll call in the morning and tell the sisters you won’t be able to make it.’ He told us not to tell the pastor, Msgr. Geoffrey O’Connell, and then he showed us to our rooms. These are the first impressions I had of Father Mac, and they have stayed with me for all these years. He was a very, very faithful companion and friend.”
Fathers Farrell and McDermott served at Nativity during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and would regularly attend local meetings.
“By our presence, we were showing our support for the cause of the times,” said Father Farrell. “I remember going to those meetings and hearing all the clatter and arguments and frustration. But I also remember that, when things would quiet down, Father Mac would say a few words and his words were very persuasive. He would say, ‘We’re all children of God, and we should treat each other as equals, and be fair and just without exclusion or exception.”
Father Farrell said he will remember Father McDermott as “a man of faith, who loved God, family, parishioners and fellow priests.”
Acknowledging the sadness of Father McDermott’s passing, Bishop Kihneman, who anointed him the day before his death, said, “It’s also a time of great joy, because one of God’s beloved has been called home.”
Bishop Kihneman thanked the McDermott Family, who were represented by his sister Rosaleen Deery and her husband, Eddie, for the gift of their brother.
“He’s been a great blessing to us as a diocese,” Bishop Kihneman said.
“Over the past four months, I’ve gotten to know him a bit,” said Bishop Kihneman, who visited Father McDermott at nursing facilities in Biloxi, Wiggins, Hattiesburg and Ocean Springs. “At one point, he said to me, ‘You’re never going to get away from me, are you?’”
Bishop Kihneman called those times spent went Father McDermott “a source of great blessing.”
“Of course, right now, being able to hold his chalice today was a wonderful blessing for me and a great joy. So, we lift him up in a very special way. The life of a priest, especially a missionary priest like Father Mac, is not an easy one. When the guys symbolically give up the boat and they hit the heat of Biloxi, there’s a true longing for Ireland. But he found a home here and he truly loved the people.”
Father McDermott was the son of the late Con and Frances McDermott and brother of the late Con, Jim and Gerard McDermott. He attended the local primary school where his father Con was principal teacher. He then attended St. Eunan’s High School in Letterkenny, Donegal; later he attended St. John’s College in Waterford, Ireland where he was ordained June 14, 1964. He arrived in Mississippi in September 1964, where he was assigned as assistant pastor of Nativity BVM Parish, Biloxi. He also served as assistant pastor in St. Elizabeth parish in Clarksdale and St. James Parish in Gulfport.
His assignments as Pastor included St. James Parish in Gulfport, Our Lady of Victories Parish in Pascagoula, Sacred Heart Parish in D’Iberville and a second stint as pastor in Our Lady of Victories Parish in Pascagoula, where he served until his retirement in 2010. He then resided in Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Biloxi.
Father McDermott was also an avid golfer and devoted fan of Notre Dame football. In fact, before his health declined, he would make an annual trip to South Bend with Dr. Matt Kuluz, Father Farrell and others to see the Fighting Irish play.
Dr. Kuluz and Father McDermott became fast friends shortly after Father McDermott’s arrival in the United States 53 years ago.
“He was at Nativity and I was living on Point Cadet in Biloxi. When he came to Our Lady of Victories Parish, that’s when I really got to know him,” said Dr. Kuluz.
“He was a very solid person and very welcoming to everyone, including people of all faiths, all kinds of people. That’s the thing that struck me over and over and over again. He was a good person, a good friend and just solid as a person.”
Father Fintan Kilmurray served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Victories Parish from 1989 to 1990, and remembers Father McDermott as a good friend. “He was a great friend to the young priests of his day, very supporting with a super sense of humor,” Father Kilmurray said.
Larry Tabor, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in D’Iberville, said Father McDermott’s “dedication spread through the parish.”
“He was well-loved by members of Sacred Heart Parish. He just contributed so much to the well-being of the parish and the school. He also made sure that everything was well taken care of with the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” said Tabor. “He was a very good-hearted priest who grew the parish. At a time when many of the youth were leaving the Church, he choreographed a lot of things that held the people together, and actually brought new people into the parish.”
As Bishop Kihneman said, it’s not easy for a missionary priest to pick up stakes and leave home for a foreign land. But Father McDermott embraced the challenge and, ultimately made Mississippi a home away from home as well as a place of welcome for his family members.
“He opened up a whole new world to us when he left Ireland for Mississippi, especially when it came it to the Gulf Coast, because we would have never known about Biloxi, Gulfport or Pascagoula or Ocean Springs. Those little towns would not have been on the map” said Father McDermott’s sister, Rosaleen. “He opened up a whole new world for us and it was wonderful when he would come home. It was a great occasion. We’d always go to the airport to meet him.
“The children – our kids all loved him. We made many trips to Mississippi too. One time, when the kids were younger, we drove to Disney World. We also went to Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis. We have great memories.”
Deery said her brother truly loved Mississippi. “The parishioners were so good, so loving, so supportive,” she said. “Twenty years ago, he was offered by the bishop to come back to Donegal because there was a bit of a shortage of priests at the time. But he said no. He could not leave his parishioners in Mississippi. I think he believed he’d be betraying his flock here.”
In addition to his sister and brother-in-law, Father McDermott is survived by his brothers, Donald and Liam McDermott, sisters in law, nieces, nephews, cousins, relatives and a large circle of friends.
In lieu of flowers the family prefers donations be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018 or to Notre Dame Hospice of Mississippi, 5407 Indian Hill Drive, Diamondhead, MS 39525.
Deery also wishes to thank Kare Med in Ocean Springs, where Father McDermott spent his final days, and Notre Dame Hospice.
Father McDermott was buried in Ireland.
Words of Reflection from Father McDermott’s brother, Liam
The death has taken place on September 17th last of the Rev. Patrick Mc Dermott. Fr. Padraig (as he was known to his family) was born in Edeninfagh, Glenties in 1940 and was the son of the late Con and Frances Mc Dermott and brother of the late Con, Seamus and Gerry.
Fr. Padraig attended the local primary school in Edeninfagh where his father Con was the Principal teacher. He received his secondary education in St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny. Later he attended St. John’s College in Waterford where he was ordained a priest on June 14th 1964. In September 1964 he was assigned as assistant Pastor of Nativity BVM Parish, Biloxi, Mississippi. He served in many parishes as Pastor in Biloxi diocese and finally in Our Lady of Victories Parish, Pascagoula where he served until his retirement in 2010.
Because of his dedication and hard work, Fr Padraig was extremely popular in all the parishes he served in. This was demonstrated by the huge numbers who attended his Mass for Christian Burial held in Pascagoula last Monday. There was a great showing and outpouring of love and admiration by his former parishioners.
Fr Padraig never lost his love for his native country and travelled to Ireland every summer on vacation. He also visited all his friends and relations and travelled extensively throughout the country. Never losing his interest in Irish sports, he was a keen and avid fan of the Donegal football team and indeed all GAA matters. Every Sunday night during football season he rang his brothers and sister asking for match scores and accounts of matches. He was especially proud when Brian Mc Eniff managed the county team to win the All Ireland Football final in 1992. And again in 2012 when Glenties man Jim Guinness managed the Donegal All Ireland winning team. Fr Padraig played a lot of Gaelic football himself and to a very high standard whilst attending both St Eunan’s College and St John’s College, Waterford. He was also a keen handball player – a game widely promoted in St Eunan’s College.
Golf was his passion sport in Mississippi and he played it a lot with his friends. After settling down in Mississippi he soon became interested and became a great supporter of American football and baseball. Later he became a fan of the Notre Dame college football team and of the local Saints football team in New Orleans – often attending their games.
Fr Padraig was a wonderful family man and every member of his family visited him many times in Mississippi. His parents, Con and Frances, visited Mississippi on numerous occasions. Although they had a little difficulty at first understanding the drawl of the Deep South, they soon mastered it and they loved the American way of life – the food and the culture. They enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Mississippi and socializing with them was one of the joys while on holiday there. On their return from Mississippi, Con and Frances had many stories and anecdotes to tell their friends and neighbors.