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In Memory of Rhona Fegan

In Memory of Rhona

1942 - 2007


It was with great shock and sadness that the Tullylish community learned of the sudden passing of Mrs. Rhona Fegan on Monday 16th July 2007.

 

Rhona was a very popular member of the community and well known through the surrounding district.

Born in Hallsmill in 1942, Rhona was the youngest child of Jack and Jane McKey. It was in 1956 that, as a young 14-year-old girl, she replaced her brother, Denis, as organist in St. Patrick and St. Colman’s Church, Laurencetown. On 15th April 1963, Rhona married Seamus Fegan from Gilford and they took up residence in Millpark, Tullylish. A devoted couple, they played a very active part in the parish, particularly in the Scout Movement. Rhona was also a voluntary leader in Laurencetown Youth Club. It was in 1984, while living in Hazelbank, that Seamus died suddenly at the age of 40.

Totally bereft, Rhona found life extremely difficult but with the help of family, friends and her deep faith, she found the strength to go on. The “Beginning Experience” organisation proved to be an immense help and Rhona then offered her services to the group, helping others in a similar position.

Of course, it was as church organist that Rhona was best known and, coupled with her deep faith, she was able to express this important part of her life through music. As Fr. Powell said in his sermon.

“Her belief that faith is something to celebrate was evident by the fact that she was always the first to suggest ‘something upbeat and ‘joyous’ and not mournful or sombre. As far back as the 1970’s, the beat of drums and the sound of an electric guitar were heard coming from the church. This was not down to Rhona’s love of that sort of music, but her strong belief that youth should be allowed to express their faith in their own way. It was never a problem for Rhona to have choir members sitting around the piano in her home, working out new harmonies and melodies. Her preference to ‘play by ear’, opened up the world of popular music in Laurencetown Church as Rhona only had to hear a new hymn and within minutes, had it off to perfection - harmonies included”.

Due to declining health, Rhona retired as organist in December 2005. In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the Church and community for over 50 years, Rhona was awarded the Papal Honour of “Bene Merenti”, one of the highest awards a layperson can receive in the Catholic Church. In July 2006, during the Sunday Mass, Fr. Powell presented the award to Rhona in the presence of her family, friends and community. It was fitting and fortunate that so many choir members, past and present, near and far were able to pay tribute to Rhona on that day. The family have very kindly donated the award, which will be displayed in the gallery of Laurencetown Church where Rhona spent so many happy hours, teaching, playing and correcting diction!

Her funeral Mass was celebrated in Laurencetown on Wednesday18th July 2007, the chief celebrant being Very Reverend Gerald Powell P.P. The Concelebrants were Very Reverend G. Conway and Very Reverend P.J. Murray.

Mr. Tony Byrne, Rhona’s cousin, delivered the Readings and her nephews and nieces read the Prayer of the Faithful and brought the Offertory Gifts to the altar.

The hymns for the Mass were those chosen by Rhona herself, one year earlier, for her “Bene Merenti” celebration. (Entrance ‘Be Still for the Presence of the Lord’, Psalm: ‘On Eagle’s Wings’, Offertory Hymn: “With Joy and Love”, Communion: ‘The Clouds Veil’ and ‘I Watch the Sunrise’.) Soloists were Mrs. Lynn Laverty, Sean O’Dowd and Jim Burns.

Rhona herself had a magnificent voice and, in her honour, Gounod’s Ave Maria was chosen as the Communion Reflection. This was Rhona’s pièce de résistance and when her cousin Colum McGarry played the opening bars and soloist and friend Lynn Laverty began to sing, heads bowed low in the packed congregation. Overcome with emotion, they silently recalled the days when Rhona’s unique voice resounded around this same church.

Rhona was ‘a great lady’, at peace with herself and the world. She had many gifts, her greatest being the gift of humility and was always quick to point out that her gift of music was exactly that – a gift given her by God. She lived the Gospel every day of her life, sharing her talent, encouraging others and always ready to give praise. Even in her ill health, she made herself available to play at funerals in the surrounding district and always without a fee, ‘just to make it a little easier on the families’.

Rhona bore her suffering with dignity and patience. Even though she suffered ill health for most of her adult life, Rhona did not complain. She was a great listener, friend and confidante.

Referring to Rhona’s ability to “move house more than most”, Fr. Powell told the congregation that this was her final move and as her remains left the church, the choir sang her “theme tune”:

"To do your will is my desire.

To live in you, Lord is my life.

To spread your love through all the earth,

To find in you the joy of life."

Rhona is survived by her sister, Mrs. Maureen Morgan (Gilford), brothers Brendan McKey, (Gilford), Sammy McKey (Lurgan) Denis McKey (Bangor).

It is with deep regret that we in the Core Group of the 'Circle of Mercy' have learned of the death of a valued and loved member of the Laurence town circle. Rhona, we will miss your presence, your smile, and your dedication to the local Circle of Mercy. Our sympathy goes out to her family and to the other members of the Laurencetown Circle who will miss her sorely. May she rest in peace and intercede for all of us who 'wish to love the gospel according to the spirit of Catherine McAuley.

Sympathy and prayers,

Bonnie (on behalf of the Core Group)

 

 

 

WELCOMING ADDRESS AND SERMON

Very Reverend Gerry Powell P.P.

 

I welcome you to this funeral liturgy for Rhona Fegan. Especially her loving family. Thank you to everyone who have travelled from far and near to be with us today.

We all come here to remember a good person, to give thanks, even in our grief, for Rhona’s life, to offer each other, and especially her family and all those who will most miss her, the consolation of our love and our presence with you today; and to offer also the promise of eternal life.

Our consolation will be the happy memories we have of Rhona; our sadness is that she has gone from us. Our sure Christian hope is that the Lord our God will welcome her home and that one day we will be united together in heaven. In the depth of our loss and hope we now pray and offer this Eucharist for Rhona.

We come to God, knowing we need his mercy and forgiveness, and so in preparing to celebrate the Mass we call to mind our sins.

Lord, you suffered and died in our name. Lord have mercy.

Lord, your heart was moved with compassion for the sick and the bereaved. Christ have mercy.

Lord you suffer with your people at the right hand of the Father. Lord have mercy.

And may almighty God, have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to life everlasting.

Let us pray:

Almighty God and Father of all, you strengthen us by the mystery of the cross and with the sacrament of your Son’s resurrection. We pray for Rhona grant her peace. Welcome her to the eternal joy of the kingdom and give us all new hope in our sorrow that one day we shall all be with you and with each other in your home where every tear will be wiped away. Grant, this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Funeral of Rhona Fegan

We gather in Laurencetown today to bid farewell to Rhona, to pray for the repose of her soul and to pray for the consolation of those who mourn her passing. Death is always a shock. No matter how inevitable the end may be, we always experience an acute pain when one whom we have loved dearly, passes away.

It can be truly said that Rhona was an accomplished musician. No musician ever achieved greatness without gruelling hours and lonely years of practice. She was an excellent organist and choir mistress and for her 50 years of service to the Church Pope Benedict conferred the honour of Bene Merenti on her in recognition of all her generous service to her parish and other parishes in our diocese. We had a wonderful day for Rhona on that occasion on Sunday 2nd July last year– the Mass and the party afterwards when we all sang that great hit: “There is nothing like a dame”. Dame Rhona Fegan. How deserving!

One memory that you have of Rhona is that she moved house a lot – now this is her final move!

On one occasion in St. Patrick’s Church, Banbridge at a wedding she gave the thumbs up for Colum Mc Garry to start playing on the organ the entrance of the bride: “Here comes the bride”. The music started, the priest and altar serves made their entrance, the congregation stood up but poor Rhona got it wrong – it was that the bridesmaids had arrived- the bride hadn’t even left the house and everybody stood there for 15 minutes waiting for the bride.

One time a man called Fegan was arrested breaking into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace and a security alert went out all over England. Seamus and Rhona Fegan were returning from a holiday in Blackpool where they were questioned at Blackpool airport. They had some explaining to do.

Today we can remember Rhona’s faithfulness – she stuck to her convictions through thick and thin and this can be truly said of her devotion to Seamus who died 23years ago; faithful to God and practice of her faith as a daily communicant; she cherished her family and friends. Perhaps today Rhona wants us to stop and consider how great our faithfulness to our faith is, how great is our commitment to Our Lord?

In recent times Rhona has lived and waged a courageous battle against illness. It’s a battle that in the end she lost, but she put up a great fight.

What impressed me about her was the way she would bounce back from everything that life threw up against her; she would set new goals and got on with the struggle. She could accept the limitations her illness imposed on her and still manage to enjoy life. She never lost her sense of humour, nor her interest in what was going on around her, and she hated to feel that she was being left out of anything. Nothing was allowed to escape her attention. She didn’t want sympathy – lived a very full and happy life. Always humble and a great listener. Her husband Seamus was a great part of her life and when he died she missed him greatly.

Rhona’s greatest strength in her illness was the love, support and care of her family and friends. Everyone rallied around and gave her constant encouragement. She would want me to assure you today that she is with God and Seamus and that she is happy.

I know it’s hard to understand why she had to die so young. Just like Our Lord dying a young man. As with the life of Our Lord there will always be the feeling that there was so much more Rhona could have done, so much more that life had to offer her, so much more that she would have liked to do, if only circumstances had been kinder. It was not to be.

But if we are sad today, there is also much to be thankful for. We are grateful for the life she did have, grateful for all the joy she brought into our lives. For you her loving family there’s the comfort of knowing that you were able to show Rhona throughout her life how much you all loved her and appreciated her. You knew that time was precious. All that you could have done for her, you did. There are no regrets.


It is only to God we can turn at this time to try to find some meaning, some consolation; some hope in the situation we find ourselves in. Prayer will bring us through this time.

It’s not going to be easy. Nobody said so. But with God’s help, we will meet this cross. There are very few experiences in life that are harder to take than the funeral of someone who has died long before her time. It’s particularly hard when that person is a sister and a friend.

It was Rhona’s personality, her warm-hearted character that drew such a deep and open response from those who knew her. Rhona was loved by all. She was a generous and caring person; she was a loving wife and a sister, aunt and friend. On behalf of Fr. Mc Donagh, I wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy to Rhona’s loving sister Maureen, brothers Sammy, Brendan and Denis and sister in law May; nieces, nephews, and the entire family circle.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can try and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what Rhona would want; smile, open your eyes, love and move on. May her noble soul be at God’s right hand. Eternal rest …

RHONA'S DAY OF CELEBRATION JULY 2006

 

Congratulations Rhona!

 

 

“Bene” Merenti for Rhona

On Sunday 2nd July 2006, Mrs. Rhona Fegan was awarded the Papal Honour of “Bene Merenti”, one of the highest awards a layperson can receive in the Catholic Church. The honour was bestowed in recognition of the outstanding contribution Rhona has made to the Church and community over 50 years.

Last December, Rhona retired as organist in St. Patrick and St. Colman’s Church, Laurencetown, after 50 years of service.

It was in 1956 that, as a young 14-year-old girl, she replaced her brother, Denis, as organist in Laurencetown.

For half a century, many have come and gone in the choir, but have never forgotten Rhona. Always strict with the ‘diction’ and never afraid to ‘correct’, Rhona is, and always was, one of the most approachable people you could meet. If anyone had suggestions about a new hymn, she willingly their ideas on board. Her belief that the faith is something to celebrate was evident by the fact that she was always the first to suggest ‘something upbeat’ and ‘joyous’ and not mournful or sombre.

As far back as the 1970’s, the beat of drums and the sound of an electric guitar were heard coming from the gallery. This wasn’t down to Rhona’s love of that sort of music, but her strong belief that youth should be allowed to express their faith in their own way. It was never a problem for Rhona to have choir members sitting around the piano in her home, working out new harmonies and melodies.

Her preference to ‘play by ear’, opened up the world of popular music in Laurencetown as Rhona only had to hear a new hymn and within minutes, had it off to perfection - harmonies included.

Of course, her pièce de résistance was the ’Ave Maria’. Her unique voice could easily have “raised the roof” of the church and certainly caused many a tingle down the spine of the spellbound congregation.

Rhona is well known throughout Dromore Diocese as she has often been called upon to provide music for funerals in neighbouring churches.

Rhona has been a huge influence in all of our lives, whether through weddings, funerals, celebrations, weekly Mass or, more importantly, friendship

Very Reverend Gerald Powell, Parish Priest of Tullylish, presented Rhona with her medal and certificate in the presence of her family and a packed congregation at the 10.30am Sunday Mass.

After receiving the award, Rhona received a standing ovation from the congregation.

The hymns chosen for the celebration were all favourites of Rhona’s, the final hymn being “Rhona’s Theme Tune”:

"To do your will is my desire.

To live in you, Lord is my life.

To spread your love through all the earth,

To find in you the joy of life."

It was also Rhona’s wish that members of Tullylish Youth Group should play a part in her day and 8 members performed “The Rose”, which linked in with another part of Rhona’s life. “The Rose” is the “anthem” of the group “B.E. – Beginning Experience”, an organisation which helped Rhona come to terms with the untimely death of her beloved husband, Seamus, some 20 years ago.

It was a real tribute that so many choir members from the parish choirs joined together for this very special occasion, and very fitting that it was her cousin, Colum McGarry, who was organist and musical director for the Mass, and is continuing the family tradition.

After Mass lunch was provided in “The Den” for Rhona’s family, choir members and friends. After the lunch, Colum McGarry gave a speech that had everyone present rocking with laughter as he recalled some precious childhood memories of Rhona. Father Powell, Oliver Moore, Mary McCann, Lynn Laverty and Sean O’Dowd also paid moving tributes to this marvellous lady.

The day of celebration ended with a three-hour singing and dancing session as Rhona, Lynn and Colum played all the old favourites on the piano.

Congratulations Rhona!

 

The reason for it all!

Rhona gives Colum a few tips!

 

 

Rhona's family looking on as Rhona receives her award

 

The choir

The congregation applaud Rhona

]

All ready for the guests

 

Colum enjoying a joke

All the helpers!

Fr. Powell gave an "Irish Blessing"

Colum had us all in "stitches"

 

Lynn Laverty give her own special tribute

 

 

 

Rhona with her good friend Marie from "B.E."

Anne McEvoy showing Margaret Convery how to
"Shoe the donkey"

 

 

Not many people know this, but Una Tucker (nee Byrne) and Rhona were born on the same day - don't they just look like twins!

The twins again - angelic or what?

Rhona's official photograph as organist of Laurencetown chapel!

It's all in the pose!

Rhona with Kitty Nicholson, Irene Egan and the late Betty Campbell
in Bray

 

The wedding day

Love the basket, Rhona!

Rhona with her late husband, Seamus

What a choir!!

Rhona having a bit of craic with Jim Campbell

At the piano with all the little McKeys'

The many wonderful faces of
"Our Rhona"

 

 

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