Missing Fr Leo Clarke

A tribute to the recently deceased Columban missionary, Fr Leo Clarke, which was published in the Columban missionary magazine in South Korea.

From my childhood up to when I was a young man our country was dirt poor. I grew up seeking to fill my stomach with potatoes, corn, mackerel soup and maize we received from the church. I even stole some yeast that remained after the making of rice wine, put it in my pocket and ate it on my way to and from school.

From a foreign country that was far away, a Columban priest arrived in our area of Samchuck. There was no place for us to go to or place where we could play except the church wall and grounds. There we were allowed to play games and enjoy ourselves.

For the first time in our lives we were able to taste the delicious candy and chocolate that Fr Leo generously gave us.

He also supplied us with a volleyball and baseball for us to play with. I think I began to attend the church as a result of the warm welcome we received from Fr Leo.

When I was a second grade middle school student I was baptised receiving the Christian name of Luke. Having failed to memorise the answers to the one hundred catechism questions I could not be baptised at Christmas but had to wait until the feast of the Epiphany in the new year when Fr Denis Kearney baptised me.

I believe that it is thanks to the Catholic Church that I have been able to live as a respectable human being. I lived with my uneducated and unemployed widowed father who possessed neither a house nor a scrap of land. I found myself clinging to My God.

Most believers attempt to go on a pilgrimage once in their lifetime. Many desire to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land the place where Jesus spent his life.

However, due to pressure of trying to eke out a living I have not been able to set foot on that sacred land up until now.

Late, indeed far too late, I overcame my challenges and reached the stage where I could fulfil my dream of going on a pilgrimage.

Together with my wife Teresa I had made plans for a pilgrimage this fall, which would include visiting Ireland, the home of Fr Leo Clarke whom we have not met for forty five years.

We planned this pilgrimage in order to be able to visit Fr Michael O’Loughlin, and the graves of Fr Oliver Kennedy, Sr David and a number of Columban priests and sisters that we knew for a long time.

But then a thunderbolt fell like a bolt from a clear blue sky.

Reading the Korean Columban Mission magazine I discovered that Fr Leo Clarke, the person I can never forget, had departed this world.

My eyes were full of tears for the longest time as we arranged to have a memorial mass celebrated in Songnaedong church here in Samchuck.

Fr Leo presided at our wedding as well as building houses for six poor families. We are all eternally grateful to him.

Personally, I believe that my whole live was due to the prayers and the advice of the Columban priests.

Lord, grant eternal rest to Fr Leo Clarke.

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