By Katie Ascough - 12 June, 2020
Last Saturday, I was in his room in the hospital. His only concern was to talk about his funeral ceremony – and he wrote with his felt-tipped pen, ‘Keep the Mass simple.’ And music? ‘Simple.’ – Bishop Donal McKeown
On Tuesday 9 June the Diocese of Derry announced, with regret, the death of Bishop Francis Lagan, who had served as Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Derry from 1988 to 2010. His funeral took place on Thursday 11 June, with Bishop Donal McKeown as celebrant.
In his homily, Bishop McKeown reflected on his visit to Bishop Francis last September as he lay sick in bed. “I wagged my finger at him and jokingly said something to the effect that in three years I had buried two bishops and didn’t want to have to bury another one for a long time! He smiled graciously, as ever – but clearly, he didn’t take me too seriously,” Bishop McKeown said. “And today we find ourselves at his Funeral Mass to which he had given much thought.
“Last Saturday,” Bishop McKeown continued, “I was in his room in the hospital. His only concern was to talk about his funeral ceremony – and he wrote with his felt-tipped pen, ‘Keep the Mass simple.’ And music? ‘Simple.’ For Bishop Francis, the restrictions imposed by COVID have been ideal in enabling him to be buried with little fuss. In life and in death, he was a simple man.”
Bishop McKeown continued to speak about the importance of ritual and the pain of loss, the ordination of Bishop Lagan “almost exactly 60 years ago, on 19 June 1960”, the birth of Bishop Lagan in 1934, how he was sixth in his family of seven children, and other milestones in his life. On a humorous note, Bishop McKeown recalled how, after the long episcopal meetings they shared together, Bishop Francis “had a broad smile on his face as he waved us off!”
“He died in the early hours of the Feast of Saint Columba, a man of peace. And he is being buried on the feast of Saint Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement’. Bishop Francis was a man who could claim to be a descendant of both.
“He wished to have this funeral Mass in Strabane where he had lived for over 35 years. But he wanted to be buried in his native soil of Maghera. He was deeply rooted in the life of that community and of its strong cultural traditions. Those who know their roots are well equipped to spread their wings … Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,” Bishop McKeown concluded.