I didn’t know Dereck O’Reilly who passed away tragically young this week, but I do know his father Connie and I’m sure he was a beloved and wonderful son, friend, co-worker, very like his father with a helping hand for everyone.
Yesterday, the Franciscan church on West 31st Street in Manhattan – from where Father Mychal Judge left to attend his beloved firefighters and became the first casualty of 9/11 – was packed to capacity on a freezing and very busy New York mid morning.
The church is a true refuge in the heart of Midtown west, with beautiful frescoed walls, an oasis of peace in a frenetic neighborhood.
The great and the good and the normal and the ordinary of the Irish American community were there. One of their own had passed from a very popular family and they were there to pay a reverent goodbye.
The picture on the altar was of a vibrant young man dressed in t-shirt and shorts, gazing at the world on a beach with a confident and clear stare. That is how I’m sure his family will remember him. It was a wonderful and resonating image.
I pass the church where Dereck's service was held on my way to and from Penn Station every day, and it is one of the few that still operates a bread line for the poor. The spirit of love and charity, as embodied in Father Judge, who I knew well, lives on there.
It was a fitting place for the funeral mass. The church, which holds about 1,500, was full. Connie O’Reilly is one of the most respected and liked Irish businessmen in the city, a Cavan native who owns a string of successful bars and restaurants in New York.
Along the way, if Connie could do you a favor he did. Who knows how many immigrants he put to work, how many he helped get their first start in America? He has always been a great community voice, a GAA booster, helpful on immigration, on the peace process, helping a new immigrant find his bearing.
He has never been one for the limelight, yet his reputation was evident in the massive crowd that gathered in his hour of grief. When it comes to loyalty and the outstretched hand, it is hard to beat the Irish.
Though I didn't know Dereck, the depth of grief evident among his siblings and friends said it all. This was a beloved young man, gone far too soon from earth. The tears were abundant.
The massive crowd, which included Irish Consul General Barbara Jones, and the respect for the O’Reillys will hopefully help the family cope a little with this sad and solemn moment.
The ties that bind the immigrant Irish and Irish Americans are often not apparent until such a disaster strikes. In the Franciscan church, though, you could feel the love for a great Irish family who had always done their best for everyone else.
The St. Francis of Assisi prayer for moments like this speaks for itself.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
May Dereck rest in eternal peace -- in iothlann De go gcastar sinn.