Priests face death, living and thinking to the fullest

Priests face death, living and thinking to the fullest Daniel O’Leary in his last days.
Live While You Can: A memoir of faith, hope and the power of acceptance

by Fr Tony Coote (Hachette Books Ireland, €15.99 / £13.99)

Dancing to my Death with the Love Called Cancer

by Daniel O’Leary (Columba Books, €16.99 / £14.99)


It has often been said that in polite western society death is the last taboo, the subject never mentioned. These two courageous books, recounting two different but parallel experiences of approaching death, shatter this convention completely.

But sharing their experiences two accomplished writers are able to share their intimate feelings and so inform others, for death is the common fate of all. But as Christians they are also able to open up the meaning of faith and the experiences of life in ways which will inform and aid many, many people.


Daniel O’Leary was from Rathmore in Kerry, but worked aboard mostly in Leeds and London, preaching, teaching and writing. His influence was worldwide. He was the author of a dozen books (mostly published in Ireland), and many articles. In his last article before his passing he expressed his profound belief that clerical celibacy was a damaging to the humanity of the clergy. This was in keeping with what he had already written about the nature of the Incarnation.

Fr Tony Coote was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in the summer of 2018. Quickly he became confined to a wheelchair, but did not let this stop him making a cross-Ireland pilgrimage to raise money for charity.

There are lessons and insights into dying and living to be gained from both these courageous men

Writing this book, recounting the impact of the illness on his life, is another way of continuing his lifelong ministry. In the past he had not always met with the approval of some with a narrow view of the loving embrace of social minorities. But that too was is part of his life, his way.

These books are not really about death. They are about life, and how it should be lived to the full every day, and by everybody. This is a message which everyone of whatever age they, are can embrace and actually try to live out. And this full life has to be lived out in the sense that it has to be lived through a love of others.

These are two very different books, but both have vital and important things to say.  Fr Tony Coote’s book is more autobiographical; O’Leary’s less so, but more reflective. I was struck by the agreement over some aspects of life and faith today.

Both were shaken by the abuse scandals of recent decades, especially as Fr Coote had had a violent father and was later molested by a teacher; by the need not just of a greater role for women, but an equal role for women in the Church; and though Fr Coote speaks well of the kindness he received from the Diocese of Dublin, Daniel  O’Leary writes harshly of  what he sees as the “rotten clericalism” at the heart of the Vatican.

There are lessons and insights into dying and living to be gained from both these courageous men, but some of their views are also to be seen as signs of the times which need to be heeded, and not calmly ignored.

But the reader is left with a deep sense of having been put in touch with two incredible men who have matched their experience and understanding of life, with even greater insight into the experience of death.

One feels a sense of privilege in having, through these pages, shared their thoughts and feelings. These are important books and deserve to be widely read.