A tribute to Father Patrick ‘Sylvie’ Duffy

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Priest of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska

The year was 1929—the month was August—and the day was the thirteenth when a boy-child was born to Annie Kearns and Patrick J. Duffy of Athenry, County Galway, West Ireland. Very early, he was carried to the Church of the Assumption, Athenry and was baptised into the Catholic Faith and given the Christian names of Patrick Sylvester. Thus his journey of Faith began—a journey that would take him to many crossroads of life during his 60 years of Christian pilgrimage.

At an early age—from 1934 to 1942-he was a pupil at Carnaun National School. From 1942 to 1947 he came under the influence of the Holy Ghost Fathers at Rockwell College, County Tipperary. From 1947 to 1950 Father Patrick attended University College, Galway. His seminary training took place at St. Patrick’s Carlow, Ireland and he was ordained in Moyne Park in 1954. The ordaining Prelate was Bishop Dougherty of Yakima, Washington for whose Diocese Father Duffy had volunteered. He arrived there in the Fall of 1954 and was assigned to St. Paul’s Cathedral as Associate Pastor. In 1957 he became Pastor of Holy Trinity, Goldendale.

But his missionary spirit beckoned him farther afield even to the “most difficult missions” in the Land of the Midnight Sun—Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1959 he was made Pastor of the Church at Delta Junction—in fact he built the Church there and became widely known to the pioneer travellers on the Alcan Highway. He seemed to have come across the “Songs of a Sourdough” by Robert Service for he had one poem which he would recite when telling of his Alaskan Days:

“This is the Law of the Yukon and ever she makes it plain:

Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane.

Send me the best of your breeding . . . Lend me your chosen ones.

Them will I take to my bosom. Them will I call my sons”

He was at Delta Junction for two years when in 1961 his Bishop sent him and two others “out” for studies. One priest went to Wisconsin, one went to Europe. Patrick Duffy went to Harvard. He obtained his Doctorate of Law at Harvard and spent time at Stanford where he acquired his Ph.D. and a Degree in Communications. His brilliant intellect was, at last, discovered. From now on his wisdom and knowledge would be sought after incessantly and nationwide, by Bishops, Priests and Laity alike. From 1965 to 1970 Father Duffy taught at Catholic University, Washington. He was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley from 1970 to 1975. From 1976 to 1989 he was teaching at the University of San Francisco where he was acclaimed more than once as “Teacher of the Year”.

In 1987, Father Duffy came to live at Cardinal Newman Clergy Residence. It was here that I got to know him best. I found out that he was a gifted priest and possessed exceptional qualities like loyalty to his friends; an understanding of differences; an appreciation of life and a value of time. He had a keen mind, constantly searching and questioning. He was a man of prayer and had a remarkable love for the Priesthood and the Church.

Many parishes in the Diocese have felt the influence of his ability to organise and preach a homily which attracted people to listen. Even a man as brilliant as Father Keenan Osborne was drawn to sit in the pew on Sundays when Father Patrick Duffy preached “just to hear what he had to say and how he would present to the people the Good News of Jesus”. I am sure Father Duffy will be missed by his friends and all those whom he touched by his gentle caring along the way. If as John Donne says “any man’s death diminishes us”, we can definitely say that the death of this gifted priest will leave us and the Church poorer for his passing.

We are happy, Father Patrick, that your soul passed through old Ireland on its way to final destiny. It was the way you wanted it to be. And now your remains are laid to rest near the entrance to the Church of your Baptism. In your dedication to Christ and the Priesthood your journey has gone full circle. Your grave will be a constant reminder, asking the people as they go to Mass, to offer a prayer that the “Light of Heaven” may be yours and that it may be given to all who leave father and mother, brothers and sisters for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.

“No farther seek his merits to disclose

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode.

(There they alike in trembling hope repose)

In the bosom of his Father and his God”

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About this record

Written by Thomas Keogh

Published here 05 Feb 2021 and originally published 1991

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