Wherever Fr Anselm Aherne went, he was loved.
“And he was loved because he loved the people he was serving first. It didn’t matter whether they were young or old,” said Bishop Stephen Lowe at a requiem Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton on September 29.
Fr Michael Anselm Aherne, MHM, died in Hamilton on September 25. He was aged 84 and was in the 60 th year of his priesthood.
With his death, the long history of the Mill Hill missionaries in Hamilton diocese draws to a close, Bishop Lowe said.
The bishop said that Fr Aherne’s Irish lilt never left him.
“I was told a story about him this morning,” Bishop Lowe said, “when he was at Frankton. He told a joke in a homily for a school Mass, and the kids laughed. And he told the joke again, and the kids laughed. And he told the joke again, and the kids laughed. And then he said – I just wanted you to remember it! And he would always do that with a lilt.”
“But I think the beauty of Fr Anselm being such a great pastor, and he kept repeating to his people how much they were loved by our God. And that’s what people found in him as a messenger of God – one who loved them and one who they loved as they journeyed together in this great pilgrimage of life.”
Bishop Lowe recounted Fr Aherne’s vocational journey from his Irish homeland to the Mill Hill seminary in The Netherlands and London and to his first appointment in North Borneo in Malaysia, where the priest served for 7 years.
Arriving in New Zealand in 1971, Fr Aherne worked in Rotorua, Panguru, Moerewa, Pawarenga, Rotorua again, Murupara, Pio Pio and Te Kuiti. In 1986, he was appointed parish priest of St Michael’s in Rotorua, where he ministered for 22 years. Later appointments were to Frankton and Raglan.
“And then at the end of that time, when we were going to make an appointment back to Huntly and Ngaruawahia, I had one of the rare run-ins that I had with Fr Anselm,” said Bishop Lowe with a smile.
“And I said to him, Anselm, what to you want to do? Do you want to stay in Frankton and Raglan, or do you want to go to Huntly and Ngaruawahia? And he got it the wrong way. He thought that I was trying to get him to retire – and he was not at all happy – and that stubborn Irishman came out in him.
“When I said, good God no, I would never dare retire you. You are one of the most loved priests in the diocese!”
Bishop Lowe explained that the driving between Huntly and Ngaruawahia might be easier than the drive to Raglan.
“So he went to Huntly and Ngaruawahia,” the bishop added.
Bishop Lowe remarked on the number of people at the requiem Mass on a weekday, and on the number who had packed St Mary’s church in Rotorua the previous evening.
This was a sign of how many lives had been touched by Fr Aherne’s ministry, the bishop added.
Noting that September 29 was the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Bishop Lowe said that the word “angel” means “a messenger of God”.
“From a young age, the Lord put a call on Anselm’s heart to be a priest, a missionary priest. And so, he became a messenger of God.”
“Michael Anselm Aherne lived [the] spiritual life to the full. He lived for Christ and he lived the love of Christ, and he lived it in imitation of Christ, in his simplicity and unassuming nature.”
An obituary on the Mill Hill’s website noted that “a general councillor on visitation to our members in New Zealand in recent years said of Anselm, ‘He is a good judge of character and his sound advice is highly valued. His short daily comments after the Gospel at Mass are gems of practical spirituality’.”
in January, 1996, Fr Aherne was elected Society Representative for the Mill Hill Community in New Zealand, the obituary noted.
This was an appointment to which he was re-elected in 1999. In the year 2000, he represented the Mill Hillers working in New Zealand and Australia at the General Chapter. In April of 2005 he was elected a consultor to the Society Representative in New Zealand, an appointment to which he was re-elected three times in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
After the requiem, Fr Aherne’s body was interred at Ohaupo Catholic Cemetery.