Frank Prendergast, Labour Party politician, union official, and Mayor of Limerick City for two terms, passed away on 19 February at the age of 81. He was a native of Dooradoyle, Limerick. President Michael D Higgins was among the mourners who gathered in St John’s Cathedral for the funeral Mass. The chief celebrant was Jesuit priest Fr Todd Morrissey. Fr Morrissey, as well as others who recalled Frank Prendergast’s life, drew attention to the depth and breadth of his learning, his immense interest in education, and his enthusiasm for all local enterprises – in sports, politics, local history, and community groups.
Like losing a brother
What right has the Jesuit website to feature Frank Prendergast, who was laid to rest on 24 February? He was so close to the Jesuit community that it felt like losing a brother. But it seemed as though everyone in Limerick and beyond wanted a part of him, as he lay in St Mary’s Cathedral: not just the Mayor and Council of Limerick, but the President of Ireland, the Taoiseach through his aide-de-camp, the Minister for Education, the bakers (that was Frank’s trade and union), the musicians (he listened to Pavarotti on his deathbed), and the Labour Party. Frank was a TD in the 1970’s; He enjoyed his time in the Dail as an opportunity to serve the whole country, in policy and in the service of the less well off. On an issue of conscience, he went against the party, to the detriment of his political career. Frank was elected to Limerick City Council in 1974, served till 1999, and was twice Mayor of Limerick. He loved meeting people, and serving people. He also had an element of steel. He stood up for matters of principle. He was prepared to speak up whenever something he valued was challenged unfairly – the reputation of his country, of his city, and on matters of conscience.
There were sportsmen in the mourning crowd, representatives of hurling, swimming, water polo, and above all rugby. Frank was a formidable player in each of these. He was also a formidable reader. He had to leave school at 14 when his mother died, to help provide for his six siblings, but all his life he had a hunger for knowledge. One person described his death as the closing down of a library. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Local History, Irish and European History, the Irish Language, and Church History. Widely travelled in Russia and almost every European country, he took a particular interest in the Church’s history and architecture wherever he went. He wrote regularly in Irish language newspapers, published books – “Limerick’s Glory”, “The History of St Michael’s Parish” – and articles on web sites. He served on numerous school boards and was chairman of Ard Schol Ris and Gaelcolaiste, Luimneach.
It fell to an educational colleague and close friend, Fr Tom Morrissey SJ, to lead his obsequies and speak of Frank. They had worked together on the first board of Crescent College Comprehensive, and laid the pattern for the great school it has become. His four children, Conor, Eoghan, Orla and Aideen, all attended CCC; all were school captains. The Jesuits of Dooradoyle were among his close friends, and they will miss the Frank whom Tom described: a person of profound faith, of warm welcomes, and of great joy in life, in his family and in the people of his city. May he rest in peace.