Sinead Moriarty: 'The unforgettable kindness of Fr Tony Coote who truly walked the walk'
Father Tony Coote, who was the parish priest of Mt Merrion and Kilmacud parishes in Dublin, has died at the age of only 55 from motor neurone disease.
I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing him. With all the awful controversy and revelations about the Catholic Church in recent years, Fr Tony stood out as a beacon of goodness. A truly Christian man. A man who didn't just talk the talk, but walked the walk.
I wrote an article three years ago about my seven-year-old daughter who had been overlooked for a bidding prayer that she had been practising for weeks for her pre-first holy communion Mass.
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I wrote how, in a desperate bid to 'fix it' I made a complete show of myself by going up on to the altar with all the kids to sing the Our Father, so I could explain the situation to Fr Tony.
Fr Tony, seeing my daughter's distress, kindly asked her to come up at the end of the Mass to have her little moment in the sun. She has never forgotten that kind-hearted gesture, and neither have I.
Much more importantly, Fr Tony also helped out a friend of mine who was left destitute with two small children. When I tentatively approached him for advice and help, he didn't hesitate for a second.
He told me to leave it with him.
To be honest, I didn't really expect to hear back from him. He didn't know my friend and she didn't live in his parish.
The next morning, I received a phone call from him. "I want to help," he said. He told me he had been up all night thinking about her two young sons and how he had to help them. He told me that he had had a difficult time growing up. He said he knew what it was like to struggle to pay bills and keep a roof over your head.
He helped my friend and her two sons to find a home and to get back on their feet. I will never, ever, forget his kindness and generosity towards her. It was all done discreetly and with such compassion and humanity.
When I found out he had passed away I was devastated, because the world has truly lost an exceptional human being. A man who cared about others.
A man who embodied what it is to be Christian.
A man who didn't just talk about helping people, but actually went out and changed lives.
I chose his raw and moving memoir, 'Live While you Can', as one of my choices for the Eason Must Read book club because, while devastating at times, it is also very uplifting.
Fr Tony believed passionately in living each day. His faith was a great comfort to him, but he never shoved it down anyone's throat.
He was only diagnosed 18 months ago with this cruel disease and while it took over his body very quickly, it never dimmed his spirit.
Fr Tony fought his disease with great dignity, determination and humour.
Refusing to feel sorry for himself, Fr Tony became an advocate for those living with motor neurone disease.
Although forced to use a wheelchair, he undertook a 550km walk from Donegal to Cork last year, called 'Walk While You Can', raising €600,000.
Throughout the walk he was surrounded by friends, family and parishioners who all wanted to help this exceptional man.
I leave you with his wise words.
"Life is fragile, grab it with your two hands. Hold on to it and treasure it," he said.
RIP Father Tony Coote.