By Cate McCurry, PA
A priest who died after pushing his friend from the path of an oncoming bus has been hailed as the “people’s priest” who lived to help others.
Tributes were paid to popular priest Father Con Cronin and respected bus driver Mark Wills who both died in the tragic accident in Co Cork on Tuesday.
It is understood that Mr Wills died after suffering a heart attack at the wheel.
He was driving for Bus Eireann when he suffered the suspected heart attack and lost control of the vehicle in Monkstown.
As the bus swerved across Strand Road, Father Cronin pushed his friend to safety but he died at the scene.
At his funeral at St Joseph’s Church in Coomhola, the priest of more than 40 years was described as someone who lived their life for others.
His funeral took place a few hours after a service for Mr Wills, a father-of-two from Ballincollig.
The 51-year-old was described as “loyal, fun and mischievous” and a man who put his life at risk during the pandemic.
Family, friends, colleagues and clergy paid respect to both men and their bereaved families.
Bishop of Cork and Ross Father Fintan Gavin told mourners at Father Cronin’s funeral that everyone will remember where they were when the heard about the tragic event which claimed the lives of the popular priest and respected bus driver.
“We can truly say that Con’s life, like Christ’s life, was a life lived for others, and this was brought home very powerfully at the moment of his death,” Bishop Gavin said.
“His last act was to push his friend from the path of the oncoming bus and thus save her life.
“Sadly, he himself was unable to avoid the impact of the bus and he and Mark lost their lives.
“During his life Con appreciated the importance of table-fellowship. No one was excluded from his table.
“He understood the importance of inclusion and of divine indiscriminate welcome. Hospitality was one of the many great qualities he practised in spades.
“All were welcomed in his circle of friends, and no questions were asked. He showed extraordinary generosity and kindness throughout his life.
“His life, we can really say, was a life lived for others. It was poured out as a libation. He was generous to a fault. As the saying goes, he would give you the shirt off his back. That was Con, he fought the good fight, and it was a fight.
“He reached out to everyone. So many people have commented on this aspect of Con’s personality – creed, race, gender, were not important for him. He treated everyone as an individual, and helped everyone to be their true selves.
“His rich, resonant and booming voice filled many a room and made people feel at home. He was a real tonic for those who are feeling down or any way depressed.”
The west Cork priest was also a member of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society for some 49 years.
A number of Nigerian priests flanked the coffin as it was brought inside the church.
He is survived by his brother, Teddy, and his sisters-in-law Margret and Mary.
Teddy told mourners that the pandemic restrictions upset him as he could not travel and meet people.
“Con lived life and loved life. I don’t think he can have any regrets,” he added.
“Con loved journeys and on this final journey last night, down through the three parishes of West Passage, Monkstown, and Ringaskiddy, we the family were very comforted by what we saw and were so proud.
“On Con’s final journey, we truly believe that for the first time he is going home.
“I say goodbye to our friend, my hero, the man, the missionary, the people’s priest.”
Earlier, Mr Wills’ funeral took place at St Mary and St John in Ballincollig on Saturday.
Paying tribute to his dad, Mr Wills’ son Cillian said his family are very proud of him.
He also paid tribute to Father Cronin’s family, saying they too are having a “tough time”.
“All the memories I made with (dad), the golf, going fishing when we were younger, was everything,” Cillian added.
“I hope he is proud of us as we are of him.
“It’s tough but we will be strong for him as that is what he would have wanted.
“It’s hard but unfortunately it’s life, you can’t take anything for granted.
“I still can’t believe it, it’s surreal.
“It felt like a movie on Tuesday, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
“But we will be strong for him.
“I love him and will never stop and I know he loved us.”
Scores of Mr Wills’ Bus Eireann colleagues gathered outside St Mary and St John, while around 100 people lined the street as the hearse made its way to the church.
Father Cian O’Sullivan told mourners that, by Tuesday evening, Mr Wills’ family’s world had completely changed.
“The normality and the privacy became surreal and very public with the passing of Mark,” Father O’Sullivan added.
“Mark’s life, and particularly his role as a bus driver working for Bus Éireann, is one of those roles in our community which is so, so vital.
“Lots of people think they are important because of the jobs they do, but certainly the service that bus drivers, like Mark and his colleagues give, not just now but certainly during the start of our pandemic, going to work, putting their lives at risk, welcoming people into their bus.
“The work of a bus driver is not just getting from A to B.
“I looked up the route that Mark used to drive and you need to have certain qualities and certain patience to drive that route every day because if you were just doing it for a job, you would be finding it very, very difficult to say, I start here and I’m returning here.”
Among the gifts brought to the altar in recognition of Mark’s interests were a rugby tie, a Manchester United jersey and a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Mr Wills’ brother Brian said that their lives had changed forever.
He thanked the emergency services and his brother’s colleagues at Bus Éireann.
“The support from all our friends, family and Mark’s friends has been amazing over the last few days,” Brian Wills added.
“To the Cronin family and the people of Passage West and Monkstown, they have been so good and we really are truly sorry for your loss.
“We heard stories about Father Cronin yesterday, a great man, good fun and I think cut from the same cloth as Mark, by the sounds of it.
“To all of Mark’s colleagues and former colleagues, we are humbled by your support.”