Monsignor Horan

One of Monsignor Horan's greatest joys: welcoming with the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. J. Cunnane, Pope John Paul II on his arrival at Knock Shrine. - 9/30/79.

Monsignor Horan proudly displaying the "Golden Rose" a most treasured gift presented to Knock Shrine by Pope John Paul II. - 9/30/79


Instead the thousands stood in silent prayer as the body of their beloved hero, Monsignor James Horan, arrived back from Lourdes for burial in Knock today (Tuesday), in a quiet corner of the graveyard - the spot indicated sometime ago by the architect of modern Knock and the man who delivered an airport in a bid to bring prosperity to Connaught.

Born on May 5th, 1911, in the townland of Tooreen, Partry, the son of Bartley and Catherine Horan (nee Casey);

He had achieved more in his lifetime for his people than any politician had delivered. His great vision, his boundless good humor and his resourcefulness had endeared him to millions beyond his own parish.

He was able to put a sum of 3M - the amount needed to, complete the airport - into perspective: "We will complete the project with the help of the ordinary people of Ireland, " he proclaimed, undaunted by a task which would have been shunned by lesser mortals.

On Monday the ordinary people - his people - came to pay their tear-filled tribute, mingling with the politicians, the church leaders, as the casket was borne from the aircraft across the tarmac and down the narrow, twisting road from 'what will shortly be dedicated, "The Monsignor Horan International Airport," and on to Knock Shrine where he had labored so vigorously for the past 23 years.

Thousands lined the route while thousands more waited at Knock to pay silent tribute to a man who could make things happen, get things done. Many cried openly as they fingered their rosary beads in the morning rain.

Only a few months ago he had seen his airport opened. He had watched with boyish enthusiasm as flights came and went to places like Rome, Lourdes and Britain. And on Tuesday last - a week to the day from his burial - he had proudly welcomed 250 passengers from a Transamerica charter from New York.

He might have stayed in bed, for he was recovering from his operation, but then, in his own words, he was an old man in a hurry, and he was anxious to set the final seal on an enterprise which had captured the imagination of the world.


But even he, a man with exquisitive timing, did not realize as he set on last Wednesday for Lourdes that his would be the first coffin to pass through Knock Airport.

He was found dead in his bed in the Tara Hotel shortly after 7 a.m. on Friday morning by his sister, Nancy, a nurse, who had gone to call him. His four sisters had traveled with him, Nancy, Bridie, Mary and Margaret.

The night before he had been in sparkling form, despite a recent operation for a complicated hernia. Tom Neary, his right-hand man and Chief Steward at Knock Shrine, said. "We had a lot of banter, good fun and chat - I rarely saw him in such great form even though he was always a man without moods. But he seem to have been very happy, especially on that night "

After dinner he had rested for a while, but joined many of the pilgrims at the hotel for a sing song. He sang many of the lovely old song which were favourites of his, and concluded with his standard "If I Could Help Somebody As I Pass Along," a number which he sang in halls and lounges in Ireland and America as he went about raising money to complete the airport.

But Tom Neary had an idea 'hat the Monsignor was trying to tie up loose ends. "Before he left from Knock for the Lourdes pilgrimage he was anxious to sign the contract for the landing lights. He wouldn't leave until it was signed. And then, when he had done it, he said to me 'Now! The airport is there whether they like it or not!' "

His closest friends saw it as fitting that he should die in Lourdes, the focal point in Europe for Marian devotion, for the Monsignor often spoke of creating a bridge between Knock and European Shrines. He saw the airport as an essential ingredient in developing that link and in increasing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Monsignor Horan went to Lourdes every October when things quietened in Knock. This year he went in July. "He always said he would go when she was ready for him. He always said, if She wants me I'll come." said his brother, Bart, of Portlaoise, who flew out to Lourdes on Friday with his brother, Pat, of Kilmaine, on learning the news.

The Priest of Knock Centenary

Father Michael O'Carrell, C.S.Sp.

MONSIGNOR JAMES HORAN - what kind of a man was he? Was he just a great entrepreneur? Was he the greatest fund-raiser of our time - with over 915 million to prove it? Was he one of the great aviation experts of our time? Or was he a saint?

The Centenary

Knock was blessed in the person of Archdeacon Cavanagh, parish priest at the time of the Apparition in 1879. A century later there came one worthy to bear his mantle, to play his part in serving the great design of God and Our Lady around this hallowed spot. The wealth of history, of spiritual power, of pastoral renewal is manifest in the striking contrast between the two men. A contrast entirely in externals, for at heart they were identical in the mystery of the Catholic priesthood. I write this brief tribute to Mgr. James Horan, to whom I, like so many of his brother priests and fellow-Irishmen, am forever indebted, with special thankfulness for what, in word, and deed, and gesture he taught me about the sublime mystery which surrounds Christ's ordained ministers. In an age racked with anxiety and questioning about priestly identity, here it was lived fully, happily, generously before our eyes.

I must write to some extent in a personal context. I think I need not fear any charge of spurious association with the one who since his death, and long before it, was rimmed with a shining legend. I knew him very well; he often talked confidentially to me. I saw him in most, if not all, his moods and tenses and he knew well that the more I saw of him, in whatever change of circumstances the more I admired and loved him. In every way I could I supported the initiatives he took, every venture he embarked upon.

The Highlights

There was a carefree side to him. He had neither time nor inclination to play the saint, to look like a holy Joe. His language was spiced with wit, which, with certain persons in mind, could be acerbic. A roguish side too, as there was to Don Bosco, to the superb, unpredictable Teresa of Avila, and, no doubt, to hundreds of other saints, if we were told the whole truth. I recall some most amusing anecdotes which the Monsignor told himself, which showed this side clearly. And the finale would be the peculiar, meaningful smile in which he exceeded. Did such incidents lessen my esteem? Quite the contrary.

But let us look at the record, for it merits the epithet prodigious, in the full meaning of the word. Three moments stand out in the sixteen years Monsignor Horan spent in Knock: the solemn blessing and dedication of the new church of 'Our Lady, Queen of Ireland', with the participation of Cardinal Conway and fourteen bishops, as well as a large number of priests on 18 July, 1976; the arrival in Knock on 30 September, 1979, of Pope John Paul 11, not "wine from the royal Pope", but the Vicar of Christ in person; the 24 October, 1985, the first flight out of Connacht Regional Airport, headed for the Eternal City and Loreto, "the greatest day in the history of Connacht for a hundred years", as Mgr. Horan rightly said.

Each moment was a climax. What an amount of patient thought, of prolonged, incessant hard work was, in each case, needed as preparation. Consider the church. I recall my first visit to Knock on 8 September, 1937, fifty years ago. Nothing existed apart from the parish church, which was limited in space, but a modest hall. True, Knock was as yet unknown to many, little appreciated by most. The groundwork of the revival was to be accomplished by Knock Shrine Society. The information was provided by Mr. Justice Coyne's books and lectures and by the Knock Shrine Annual.

A central oratory was built, but it became clear that the problem of an adequately sized church must be faced. Knock had, since the days of Archbishop Joseph Walshe, become the accepted national Marian shrine: symbolic events among many were the national gatherings to pray for peace at the outbreak of war and to give thanks afterwards. The statue had been crowned with official Roman approval and in the Marian concelebrated Mass during Vatican 11, the same Archbishop had joined twenty three other prelates around Pope Paul VI.

The Papal Visit

The climate was, therefore, propitious, but it took the vision and courage of James Horan to think on the scale which the events dictated. Again papal interest was not lacking: the foundation stone laid on 15 August, 1974 by Archbishop Cunnane had been blessed by Paul VI. But buildings cost money and already the figures were in millions. The Canon, as he then was, characteristically went ahead and the Lord provided.

The papal visit was to benefit many in Ireland. The first large gathering was in the Phoenix Park and much of the papal presence was outside Knock, in Dublin, Galway, Maynooth, Limerick. But the Pope's opening words at Knock gave the clue to his choice of Ireland before so many other countries which were clamouring to have him: "Here I am at the goal of my journey to Ireland: the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock." In truth, it can be said that if any one man brought the Pope to this country it was James Horan. The susceptibilities of others passed over could be assuaged by the argument that an important centenary was decisive for Ireland.

But much had been quietly done to make the setting appropriate. The surroundings were acquired by the parish priest, landscaping undertaken, facilities and amenities provided. At once there arises the question, as in considering so many aspects of this man's amazing career: How did he do it? How did he find time for so many tasks, many demanding prolonged, delicate negotiation, all demanding finance? Great men constantly provoke such questioning.

The Airport

A third capital event in Mgr. Horan's life was the initial flight from the Airport. I was working in France when he died and I preached on him to a congregation captivated already by the circumstance of his death. But when I said that he had built an airport, they certainly looked up: this was beyond anything they could imagine. He did it. It was, in the end, of a piece with all that the man had done. It was really the result of deep concern for others.

Here he must be allowed to speak for himself: "The Economic and Social Research Institute, a state-sponsored body, issued three important statistics in the past two years. One statistic stated that the average income of a family in the West of Ireland is 25% lower than the average income of a family in any other part of Ireland. I mean the province of Connacht. The second statistic is that the unemployment figure for Mayo is twice the national average for the Republic . . . The third statistic issued by the ESRI was that it would cost 2,000 million to bring the roads of the country up to standard, and perhaps a similar sum to improve our railways". The ESRI proposed regional airports as a solution, a fact conveniently forgotten by critics.

The Airport had its vicissitudes and we must hope that the book on the subject which Mgr. Horan began or was thinking of doing, will appear. The priest became the target in these strange goings-on. Again let us hear him: "Notwithstanding the number of times that it has been stopped and blocked and knocked" he said in 1982 "and public announcements made to that effect, the work is proceeding very satisfactorily." He tossed off a remark about media people coming from abroad to "record for posterity the Airport that never was", only to find "tremendous activity . . . hundreds of machines and transport vehicles moving with great enthusiasm."