The sudden and untimely death of Br. Matthew Corkery osb at the age of 44 has shocked everybody who knew him. The initial reaction on hearing of his death was of disbelief. How could someone who was so involved in almost every aspect of life in Glenstal Abbey be taken away so quickly? There were no warning signs at all. He looked so healthy and was so full of energy as he went about his many tasks in the school and monastery. He had lost weight and for the last number of years was carefully watching his diet.
But now we all have to come to terms with the fact that he will no longer be the familiar figure around Glenstal that he has been for the past twelve years.
John Matthew Corkery hailed from Rathbeacon in Cork where he grew up under the loving eyes of his parents Finbarr and Carmel. He started school in Second Year in Glenstal in September 1981 and graduated in 1986. His younger brother David also went to Glenstal and indeed was a fellow student of Fr. William Fennelly(1987). John was always a good student who had a particular flair for languages and business. He was a keen sportsman and was one of the finest kickers out-of-hand of a rugby ball Glenstal Abbey School has ever seen. A 50 meter spin-kick to touch, curved and perfectly placed came natural to John. In recent years we saw his deft touches of the ball when he played in the staff–v-student football games.
By and large, John’s time in Glenstal Abbey School was fruitful although, there were periods of challenge. He continued his studies in U.C.C. where he graduated with a degree in French and Economics. On leaving university John moved to Dublin. He went into the insurance industry and soon became a leading expert in Pension Funding.
When John left Glenstal Abbey School there was little sign that he would return to the “other side” of the arch. He never found ultimate fulfillment in his career in insurance despite his success. In the search for a deeper meaning in his life John turned to Glenstal and made contact with the then Abbot, Fr. Christopher. They both came to the agreement that John would give the monastery “a go” and he joined the novitiate in 2000 as Br. Matthew. He was solemnly professed in 2004.
Br. Matthew became interested in the affairs of his alma mater and soon had a keen involvement there. He became Assistant Junior Housemaster for a year in 2002 after which he went to Oxford. These years were some of the happiest in his life. He studied Theology in St. Benet’s Hall specializing in the early monastic tradition. Here he won the respect and affection of his fellow students and tutors as was evident from the presence of the Senior Tutor of St. Benet’s at his funeral.
On his return to Glenstal in 2007, he was appointed Junior Housemaster and remained in that job until 2009 when he became Gamesmaster. Among his many talents he was a natural teacher. He studied for his Higher Diploma in Education in the University of Limerick in 2006/2007. Since then he taught Business and Economics in the school.
With his love of sports, the discovery of his teaching talents, his progress in the spiritual life, Br. Matthew found a new contentment. He was now an ever-familiar face around the school, in the classroom and on the playing fields. His organisational skills translated into success on the rugby fields. He also made sure that games other than rugby were available to all students in the school, whatever their abilities. To this end he was instrumental in the construction of the magnificent new tennis courts.
Br. Matthew was never shy about expressing his opinions on any and every subject. As his brother David remarked, you only had to tap Matthew on the shoulder to get him started. Many’s the student, parent, monk, member of staff or whoever was close at hand became recipients of Br. Matthew’s “lenghty and interesting” opinions on life, sport, religion, business and much much more. Many of Br. Matthew’s sayings became catchphrases with the students in the school who found great amusement in repeating them…mostly out of context. But as Br. Matthew often pointed out “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. Indeed, Br. Matthew was self-deprecating in his humour which was often, quick, biting and very funny. As he matured in years and in wisdom he was able to laugh more and more at himself, something that in his earlier days he would have found difficult to do.
Br. Matthew didn’t have the best singing voice in the monastic choir but often told us that while he was singing in-tune everyone else was out-of-tune. He reasoned that “all of God’s creatures have a place in the choir” and why not Matthew Corkery!!!
Br. Matthew never lost contact with his family who in fact, became ever more important to him. He was devoted to his parents Finbarr and Carmel and made regular visits to visit them in Rathbeacon. He was hugely proud of his brother David and sisters, Mary and Fiona as well as his sister-in-law Mary and brothers-in-law, Seamus and Eoin. Br. Matthew followed closely the lives of his nieces and nephews, Carmel Anne, Claire, Jack, Tom, Meg, Julie, Emma, Maeve, David and in particular Sean.
There was never a dull moment when Br. Matthew Corkery was around. Whether he was teaching, organising games, expressing his many views or attending the monastic offices, his presence in our lives we often took for granted. And now he is gone and we are bereft at his untimely departure. It is hard to imagine the unspeakable grief of his parents and family. And yet, that is now the sad fact that we all have to come to terms with.
The Corkery’s have lost a son, a brother, a brother-in-law and an uncle. Glenstal has lost a monk, a teacher, a brother and a mentor. Many have lost a friend. We will all miss him. The number of people who attended his removal and funeral was staggering. Seldom has Glenstal Abbey church been so packed. Abbot Patrick was chief celebrant at the funeral mass where David gave a most eloquent and moving eulogy for his brother John. The prayer of Br. Matthew’s parents for their beloved son was also deeply moving.
The students of the school were so magnanimous in their response to Matthew’s death. Captain James Ryan and vice-Captain Michael O’Riordan led the students of Glenstal Abbey School in their grief. Br. Matthew would have been so proud of them all. The sight of the Glenstal Abbey School students forming the Guard of Honour for the funeral cortege is something none of us will ever forget.
Br. Matthew was a keen enthusiast of both tennis and golf. He always referred to the practice of replacing the damaged divot. He learned of the wisdom of St. Benedict’s advice of “not letting the sun go down on your anger”. On the night before his death Br. Matthew joined the monastic community at a social gathering in the common room. He was in the best of form eliciting peals of laughter. He was full of joy and expectation. When we found him lying in his bed the following day he looked so totally at peace. His life’s work done. He had replaced all the divots.
Requiscat in pace