The great Jesuit teacher, Costello SJ

Fr Costello

The Rev Fr Emmet Patrick Costello SJ died peacefully in Sydney last month. After 71 years of religious life, Fr Costello finally decided he didn’t want to speak any more – and passed quietly away. Others, though, spoke about a remarkable priest.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ delivered this homily at his funeral Mass. 

In his 90th year, Emmet P. Costello was determined to be here to witness the events of 7 September 2013. He stayed amongst us for almost another 40 days and 40 nights. All is now accomplished. Now he is on that holy mountain where the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. To the end, Emmet was a son of Ignatius, a man of the Church, and a counsellor to many. He loved the Jesuits, the Church, and the Australian polity, while always lamenting the state of each as only a true devotee and committed member could.

In the preface of the second edition of his book, Christ My Brother , he had written with his characteristic bravado and connection to persons in authority: "Some years ago Cardinal Martini, the brilliant Archbishop of Milan, said to me: 'This is 1996 but some in the Church are talking as though it was 1966, or worse as though it was 1866!"

Is the Church keeping abreast of the times? After Vatican II, Cardinal Suenens, Primate of Belgium a most powerful force of great vision at the Council, wrote: 'Suddenly we realised we were entering a new century every ten years.’

With Em, we were only one handshake or one conversation away from the great movers, shakers and events in the Church and the world.

Many of you gathered in this Church today have an intimate story about Emmet's friendship and pastoral solicitude for you and your children as you wrestled with the relevance of your personal faith and the teachings of the institutional church in your busy worldly lives.

Emmet may have taught you or your boys at school. He may have celebrated one of his 10 minute masses with you at home. He stood by you in the good times and in the bad. He gave wise counsel, if only by listening, on all manner of things from the spiritual to the intensely material. He assured you that though the state of Jesus Christ was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself ... and became as we are; and being as we all are, he was humbler yet; Jesus became a brother to us all, a friend of us all.

Christ asked his disciples: 'Who do people say that I am?' Emmet wrote, it was Peter who made the stupendous act of faith: 'You are the Christ the Son of the Living God. ‘

Emmet never tired of insisting that Christ was divine as Son of God and human as our brother. In good times and in bad, in the midst of wealth and poverty, amongst the powerful and the downtrodden, Emmet always brought us back to 'this interpersonal relationship with Christ as brother and totally compassionate friend, fully and perfectly human, like us in everything, sin alone excepted'.

One of my abiding memories of Emmet is the recessional out of St Mary's Cathedral at the conclusion of this parish's sesquicentenary mass in 2006. I happened to be the concelebrant who processed out, next to Emmet who conducted himself like a vice regent with the walking stick and the affectionate wave to parishioners in every second pew.

Behind every smile was a story to which only he and the parishioner were privy — at least until we arrived in the sacristy whereupon I received an extensive pastoral debriefing on those in attendance. I forget what organ voluntary was playing but it should have been Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance.

Emmet nurtured our friendship and tended us spiritually, not just through his presence and preaching but also through his life time apostolate of reading and writing. On the eve of the great feasts many of you received the newssheet of succinct points for spiritual reflection. The author Costello mastered the art of summing up his message in punchy, unadorned points. Here is the opening paragraph of Christ My Brother:

The modern age, better educated than ever before, is questioning everything and the Church is subject to ever increasing scrutiny. The Church is divine and human, often very human in its lack of vision and limitations. It always has been and always will be — but we must see beyond the human defects to the centrality of Christ who is all perfect…

Full homily:

Obituary on the Sydney Archdiocesan website:

The Prime Minister remembers:

Obituary in The Age:

Obituary in The Catholic Weekly:

Fr Costello on life’s challenges:

Fr Costello, Eyes on Christ:

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