THE sudden death of Fr John Cummins PP in a freak car accident at his home brought shock and disbelief to his parishes of Abbeyleix and Ballyroan and the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
Fr Cummins suffered fatal injuries in the driveway of the parochial house in Abbeyleix last Wednesday afternoon, shortly after attending a joyful Grandparents’ Day celebration at nearby Scoil Mhuire NS.
The 52-year-old spent more than two hours at the school before driving a short distance to the parochial house on the Ballinakill Road. He parked in the driveway and opened the front door of the house.
Fr Cummins had not yet deactivated the house alarm, suggesting that he rushed outside when he saw the car moving on the incline. Tragically, he was fatally injured when he fell under the wheels of the moving vehicle.
The sound of the house alarm alerted a neighbour, who contacted emergency services. Laois Fire and Rescue Service confirmed that it was called to the scene of the tragedy at 4.20pm and worked alongside gardaí and the ambulance service. An air ambulance also attended the incident, but the much-loved parish priest’s injuries sadly proved to be fatal.
Shocked members of the clergy attended the scene as news of the tragedy spread throughout the diocese. Portlaoise curate Fr Paddy Byrne, a close friend and colleague, was among the first to arrive at the house, where prayers were recited and the last rites were administered. Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty visited the scene and blessed Fr Cummins’s remains before they were removed to Portlaoise hospital amid devastating grief.
A native of Newbridge, Co Kildare, Fr Cummins had been parish priest of Abbeyleix and Ballyroan for only 18 months, but had a remarkable impact on the local community, where he endeared himself to everyone with his wide smile, gentle nature and exuberant spirit.
Abbeyleix cllr John Joe Fennelly said the community was plunged into disbelief and shock by the death of a man who was not only a wonderful parish priest but an exceptional person. Cllr Fennelly said: “It didn’t matter who you were, everyone was the same for Fr John and he treated everyone with the same respect and kindness. He was here for only a short time, but he had an incredible impact. Only last week, he was busy holding meetings to form a parish committee and he had endless plans for both parishes. He is a massive loss.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney from Ballyroan said the parish was devastated by the passing of a very gentle person, who was chairperson of the board of management at Scoil Eoin Phol Naofa II and played a huge role in both school and community activities.
In an announcement to the diocese in the hours following Fr John’s death, Bishop Nulty said: “My thoughts and prayers are with Fr John’s mother Renee, brothers Con and Gary, sister Maria and other relatives, his priest colleagues in Kildare and Leighlin, his team in Faith Development Services and Accord, Carlow and, of course, his many parishioners in Abbeyleix and Ballyroan, his former colleagues in IT Carlow and parishioners of Carlow Cathedral parish. John is a tremendous loss to all of us in the diocese. I will hold all of you in my prayers over these very difficult and lonely days.”