I was sad to hear of the death in January of Daniel O’Leary, the well-known and clearly much-loved priest, spiritual writer and retreat-giver.
Daniel was a Kerryman who spent much of his priestly ministry in the Leeds diocese and also taught theology and religious studies at St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill. His writings had a certain light touch to them, and indeed he had at one time a regular piece in ‘The tablet’ called ‘Travelling Light’; yet what he had to say was profound, very down to earth, and had an evident authenticity. There are none of us on this earth who are without our struggles, and I’m sure that Daniel had his, but he was able to make something creative from it. His slim but inspiring volume ‘The Happiness Habit’ contains, among many other gems, a wonderful piece of Hasidic wisdom:
“Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way; it will still be muck. Instead, start dancing your life thankfully on this beautiful earth”.
The theme of thankfulness and gratitude is a common one in Daniel’s writing. He encourages us in ‘The Healing Habit’ to repeat at the beginning of every day the words ‘Thank you’, and he quotes Meister Eckhart, the 13th Century German mystic: “If the words Thank You were the only words you ever uttered, you would become a magnet for love and beauty”.
Reading some of the obituaries following Daniel’s death, I was struck by a sense of humanity and compassion; of him being always prepared to meet and accept people where they were. Jonathan Tulloch recounts in ‘The Tablet’ the joy of a neighbour when Daniel had agreed to baptise her granddaughter, which had been refused by another priest. Tulloch was later brought by this neighbour to mass at Daniel’s parish of St Wilfrid’s in Ripon. He found himself in a packed congregation amidst a troupe of Morris dancers who had been organised to accompany the offertory procession. I think I would have enjoyed a Daniel O’Leary mass!
Another common theme in Daniel’s writing is the call for us to get in touch with those places within us wherein lie our deepest longings and dreams. ‘The Happiness Habit’ begins with a quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. There is an echo here for me of the American poet Mary Oliver who also died recently. Her poem ‘The Summer Day’ concludes with these lines:
Doesn’t everything dies at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
I give thanks for your life Daniel. You seem to have lived it well, and I am inspired by you to try and do likewise.