By Fr. Mark Miller, C.Ss.R.
On Saturday, Feb. 11th (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of Prayer for the Sick), a church full of confreres, family, friends and parishioners gathered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Vancouver to remember Fr. Brendan Boland, to celebrate his life, and to entrust him to the ever-loving arms of Our Redeemer. At 92 years of age and after a number of months dealing with a recurring melanoma, Fr. Brendan returned to his Maker. And we are all a little poorer for his departure from our midst.
Fr. Brendan was born in 1924 in Aughouse, County Mayo, “…not quite a village; really only about 5 houses,” according to his nephew, Michael Kelly. He spoke only Celtic at home and had to learn English at school. Eventually he joined the Redemptorists, professing his first vows on Sept. 8, 1943 (he was in his 74th year as a Redemptorist when he died!) and ordained August 27, 1950. He preached parish missions for two years in Ireland, principally along the West Coast, using both Celtic and English. In 1953 he went as a missionary to India where he preached missions, including a two-year stint in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). His last four years in India were as a parish priest.
Returning to Ireland in 1963, he preached parish missions for a year and then asked to be a missionary in another country. To our great benefit he came to the Edmonton province in 1964, planning to stay for 3 years. In 1967 he joined the Edmonton province. After preaching parish missions for several years in the West, he began a new career as a parish priest, first, in Williams Lake, then on to Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary (where he started Holy Redeemer Parish, next to our Holy Trinity Parish) back to Williams Lake, and then on to Holy Spirit Parish in Kelowna.
Fr. Brendan had a great love of his home country, Ireland, which he shared in stories, song and poetry wherever he went. He also developed a great love for Canada, its people, its wide-open landscapes and immense tracts of natural beauty. He was a wonderful parish priest, a gentle & wise counselor and spiritual guide, a gracious and faithful friend. He took great advantage of the world he lived in, skiing (both downhill and cross-country), hiking, picnicking with friends, golfing (which he started in his senior years in Kelowna), touring, and visiting friends. Two nephews and a niece came from Ireland, and another niece from Maine, for his funeral; all had visited him in previous months and were full of stories about this wonderful Uncle who enlivened everybody on his home visits where he went swimming in the ocean, fishing, and sharing the odd glass with family and friends. He was adored by his 8 nephews and nieces.
The words of Fr. Babu Mathew in a special bulletin produced for OLPH Parish capture something of the essence of Fr. Brendan. “Fr. Brendan was everything a priest should be — energetic, cheerful, sociable, a good homilist and an excellent singer. People loved his sense of fun and adventure. He was holy without being overly pious. And he could tell good stories…with a word or two he would have us in stitches. And like a true Irishman, he enjoyed a good stout!”
Most of you are probably aware of how well Fr. Brendan lived his retirement years in Vancouver (2005-17). He purchased the seniors’ bus pass and every day when he felt like it, he would head off on the bus to a library or park or place of interest (a museum or gathering of some sort) or an event. He even used the pass a number of times to take the ferry to Vancouver Island and spend the day in Victoria. Blessedly he kept his cheery disposition and sharp, curious intellect right to the end. And I don’t think he ever said no to an invitation for a meal or a cup of tea (or something) from the many, many friends he had. His palliative home care team told Fr. Babu that he was the loveliest patient they had ever attended.
Speaking as a confrere and provincial, it was always a treat to spend some time in Vancouver during Fr. Brendan’s retirement years. There were interesting conversations, good stories, great chuckles, and sometimes great moments as when he would quote poems from memory. He always radiated a sense of gracious presence and genuine welcome. He remains our teacher and a part of our identity and we shall miss him. We laid Fr. Brendan to rest at Holy Cross cemetery in Edmonton on Feb. 16th. Almost a dozen people from St. Alphonsus Parish, where Fr. Brendan had first worked way back in the 1960s upon his arrival in Canada, joined the Redemptorists from Villa Marguerite and Vancouver to say farewell. It was a beautiful morning, unusually warm for Edmonton in February, but a tribute to this man who spread his Irish warmth wherever he went.