A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Denis Basil Scully s.m. BSc

What follows is a tribute given by Fr J O‘Neill sm at Dennis’ funeral at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on 5 August 2014

I feel privileged to honour Fr Dennis Basil Scully SM BSc. For me he was a confrere, a colleague and a friend.  He was also yours and also in some cases a relative. His friends called him ’Dennis’. I will do that.

Dennis was from Christchurch, the youngest of 11 children in the Scully family. They all pre-deceased him. One of his older brothers was Fr Morris Scully.

The Scully family belonged to the Cathedral parish in Christchurch. Dennis was an altar server as were his brothers before him. Dennis, however, was the one chosen to serve the bishop’s Mass and to be on the Cathedral’s episcopal ceremonies.

At St Bede’s College, Dennis was a remarkable student. In those days we sat an exam called ‘Public Service’ in form 4 or 5. (That translates to Year 10 or 11 for you modern listeners). The results when published ranked all candidates from throughout New Zealand. Dennis got top of New Zealand – came out number one- a remarkable achievement. I have to report that I came 121 when I sat Public Service. Handwriting was part of the exam and, if you had seen my handwriting either then or now, you would see why.

Dennis entered Greenmeadows seminary in 1942 a difficult time. Japanese armies had invaded the Western pacific and were on the edges of Australia. Next it might be New Zealand.  New Zealand suffered blackouts, rationing and other shortages. In 1943 Dennis and I and 10 others were novices at Highden in the Manawatu. These twelve hungry active young men found wartime food rationing hard to take. But Highden farm was plagued by rabbits. Our Novice Master Con O’Connor put one of Dennis’s many skills to double use. He was a crack rifle shot. Besides doing all the things novices have to do, Denis improved the menus with plentiful rabbit meat and, at the same time, helped free the farm from rabbit ravages.

At this time the war was brought home to us when Highden became the refuge for several missionaries who had been evacuated from the Solomon Islands in the face of the Japanese invasion. Some of these were elderly Frenchmen.Dennis remained quite a scholar. He had come to us from St Bedes with a love of classical Latin and he became our resident Latin expert. He had studied Virgil’s Georgics at St Bedes. It is a poem about farming in ancient Rome and has a long section on beekeeping. So it is not surprising that our Novice master Fr Con O’Connor appointed him to look after the Highden bee hives.

Resident at Highden at that time was an elderly Latin Scholar, Fr Frank Bartley, totally deaf. He and Dennis would share Latin sayings, Dennis in writing. One encounter between these two has stuck in my mind. Fr Bartley was late for a meal, when he saw what was left he said to Dennis ‘Tarde venientibus, ossa’ which means ‘latecomers get the bones.’ Dennis replied ‘Quae super sunt, porcis do.’ ‘I give the leftovers to the pigs’, the next line from the same poem by Horace.

Dennis was professed in 1944 and ordained in 1949.

His first appointment was to St Patricks College in Wellington. In those days St Pats had no groundsman, no cleaners, no caretaker, no lab technicians. The staff did all those things as well as teaching. I learned this quickly when I joined him at St Pats. Like the rest of New Zealand St Pats was recovering from the war. It needed someone like Dennis.

Dennis was required to teach science, not classics. In addition to being full time teacher he coached a rugby team, took his turn as chaplain to the Island Bay Home of Compassion and was, for a time, chaplain to the Catholic Tramping Club. While doing all these other things he attended Victoria University and gained a science degree.

After 10 years at St Pats, Dennis was appointed to other Marist colleges, including a term as rector of St Pats High Schools Timaru.

When age began to catch up, he became assistant in various parishes. He spent three years on exchange in England. His final parish was Akaroa for 7 years. Then he retired to Mary Potter Courts in Christchurch – but became their unappointed chaplain. His final 4 years was in retirement, first at Marian Court, Silverstream, and when mobility became a problem, he moved to the nearby Home of Compassion at Silverstream. He was very grateful for the care he received from the community at Marian Court and the careers at the Home of Compassion where he died as peacefully as he had lived there at 7.45 am on Wednesday July 30 aged 90.

Dennis, my friend, I am sure you heard the words, ‘well done good and faithful servant’. Rest in peace now after 90 years of labours for the Lord.

Moe mai ki te Atua. Moe mai.


Homily for Denis Scully sm

by Paul Shannahan sm

Scully Akaroa

Denis Scully sm at Akaroa

Dying with dignity is in short supply in many countries nowadays.

The current war zones of Israel, Syria, parts of Africa manifests a suspension of respect for life, for families even whole communities. Those who thirst for power, possessions and control resort not to the ballot box but to violence to achieve their selfish ambitions. It is chilling to watch. It is abhorrent to think about.

But even within Ao-tea-roa New Zealand which enjoys the safety of distance from corrupt governments and war torn states, our expectation of being allowed to live out our natural lives surrounded by carers and the love of family is under threat.  Lurking in the corridors of parliament are those who are planning to give dying with dignity a new interpretation by legislating for what in fact is the direct termination of lives.  Sensationalized stories by some in the media highlight serious and sad cases but dismiss dying with a truly humane and dignified care that the  hospice movement offers. It is good to remember the respect for the living cherished by Mother Mary Aubert and Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the lead they gave in their ongoing foundations.

Fortunately Dennis Scully received an overflow of respect and love, at the Christ –centred Home of Compassion in Upper Hutt. His nieces and nephews and his Marist religious family added their cushion of prayers and love.  A message from Barry and Judith Burden yesterday and the presence of Judith’s brother  here to-day from Cooktown Australia -  illustrate their affection and respect for Fr Dennis who over 50 years ago officiated at Barry and niece Judith’ wedding at St Peter and Paul’s Lower Hutt.  May their witness and our support for the dignity and worth of every person prevail.

Let’s hope that the seamless image of respect for life from the womb to the tomb that Cardinal Bernadine of Chicago advocated will yet capture the hearts of all.

When the news of Fr Dennis’ death sped along the bush telegraph at Akaroa last week I received many unsolicited words of genuine praise. He earned the genuine regard of his parishioners and the positive respect of the wider community. A resident and Anglican lady of Pompallier Village that borders the presbytery said to me on Monday “I just loved Fr Scully”!!
His interest in people, in fact, his desire to be with people and enjoy their company was a mark of his pastoral ministry. His ‘modus vivendi’ was to get on with people. This benevolent attitude certainly reflected that of St Peter who was quoted in the Acts reading this morning

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10/34). 

He practiced with dignity a respect for all he met in the course of his daily exchanges, preceding  Pope Francis who has highlighted his conviction that God is at work in every life and all are worthy of our respect.

Yet, as a member of a religious order, he was formed in the commitment of proclaiming Christ to all people; and by word and example offering them a relationship with God’s Son Jesus Christ. This tension of respect for individuals  in their search for God, coupled with the desire to lead all to a living faith in Jesus Christ is the lot of all of us as baptized members of Christ  - is it not?   Dennis Scully blended this twofold aspect of mission in and to our post Christian society. 

Growing up in a very Catholic home of 10 brothers and sisters may help explain his abiding interest in people. His intellectual prowess was known to all who lived and studied with him as band member Fr Bern Ryan highlighted at the vigil service last evening. Surprisingly, cowboy stories were a favourite recreational activity. But his computer-like mind always defaulted to interest in people.

This gift family, of a mother, father and siblings where the Catholic faith prevailed gave him an appreciation of things spiritual. Along with his brother Maurice it led them onto the gift of themselves in priesthood and a life time of service. It fitted him for community life as a Marist living under the banner of Mary.

As priest and preacher these words of Jesus from Luke’s gospel were familiar to him - “we are to be dressed for action to have our lamps lit; to be ready for the return of  the master and to be awaiting the great wedding feast of Heaven.  Dennis Scully was blessed with clarity of mind to his last days. He was ready for the return of the master. He read Lukan words often “You too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (L12:35-40).

Let’s pray for him as he goes before his creator and Lord.

Let’s keep these words before us always, let each of us be like God’s People waiting for their master’s return and earn the proclamation “Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes”.

A question begs to be addressed. To where is our brother going?

Mary Coleridge depicts it this way -
There, in that other world,
what waits for me?
What shall I find after that other birth?
No stormy, tossing, foaming,
smiling sea but a new earth.
No sun to mark the changing of the days
No slow, soft falling of the alternative night
No moon, no star, no light upon my ways
Only the light.
No gray cathedral, wide
and wondrous fair,
That I may tread where all my father’s trod
Nay, nay, my soul, no house of God is there but only God.   

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