Obituary for Fr. Edward McCorkell

Fr. Edward died peacefully at the age of 86 in Carroll Manor Nursing Home in Washington, DC, where he resided for two years. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 April, 1926, George Joseph McCorkell was the second of three children of George Francis McCorkell and Emily Forde McCorkell. His older sister, Nancy had entered the Sisters of Mercy as Sr. St. Anne; she was a beloved sister and they steadily maintained intercontinental communications throughout their lives. Sr. St. Anne died earlier this year. Fr. Edward’s younger sister is Deirdre Ryan, the widow of the former Irish Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Ryan.

Throughout his life at Berryville, Fr. Edward regaled new-comers to the Abbey with remeniscences of his childhood, his father, who worked for a gold mine, his choral responsibilities as a boy soprano and his liturgical apprenticeship as acolyte to the Bishop of Pretoria in full pontifical ceremonial. Young George McCorkell emigrated to the United States in 1944 to pursue a vocation to religious life entering the Paulist Novitiate; within a year he transferred to the Trappist monastery, Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island. He was given the name Edward, lived through the celebrated fire and transferred to the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp that the Governor of Rhode Island made available to the homeless monks. He contracted tuberculosis in those primitive conditions and, as would seem incredible to anyone who experienced his boundless energy, suffered the removal of one infected lung at a local sanatorium. He professed solemn vows in 1950 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951.

Fr. Edward held many positions of responsibility during his long monastic life. He served for several years in the mid-1950′s at the foundation of Holy Cross in Berryville then returned to St. Joseph’s Abbey in Worcester, Massachusetts, to serve as the Prior or second superior. In an era when the Trappist vocation was often nurtured on on popular piety, Fr. Edward saw the necessity of returning to the early monastic sources. When he was assigned the chaplaincy to the Trappistine nuns of St. Mary’s Abbey, Wrentham, Massachusetts, he gave weekly conferences to the sisters on the teaching of John Cassian. He was later sent to be superior of the young foundation from Spencer in Santiago, Chile for several years. When the paternity of that foundation changed from Spencer to Gethsemani, Fr. Edward requested to return to the United States and was sent as appointed superior to Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville; he was elected Abbot by the community in 1967.  He retired from that responsibility in 1980.

During his years as Abbot he juggled the ongoing changes in liturgical, ecclesial and monastic life following Vatican II. He fostered ecumenical relations between the Christian communities in Frederick and Clarke Counties, a dialogue he continued into his old age. He supported the promotion of Cistercian spirituality, a movement that began brewing in the Order before the Second World War. He was on the Board of Directors of Cistercian Publications, which translated and published the twelfth century Latin texts into English. Fr. Edward was a regular participant and chair person at the Cistercian segment of the Medieval Sympsoium sponsored by Western Michigan University. An enthusiatic reader of Thomas Merton and inspired by the example of Dom Bede Giffiths, Fr. Edward branched out into inter-religious monastic dialogue after Merton’s death in 1968. He became a proponent of the contemplative prayer of the Christian tradition for all people in modern society.

After retiring as Abbot in 1980, he continued to be of generous service to the Cistercian Order and his own community. He continued his active involvement in Ecumenical dialogue and the Medieval Symposium and served as Novice Director at Holy Cross from 1989 until 1996. Four of his novices continue as solemnly professed members of the Berryville community. After 1996, he helped as confessor to retreatants in the Abbey’s Guest House; his spiritual direction, in person and by mail, went far beyond the boundaries of the monastery. As he entered the new millenium, Fr. Edward experienced increasing physical and mental impairment due to progressive dementia; but he continued to serve the community in humble and helpful ways. He certainly desired above all else to be of service and to participate in community exercises as fully as possible.

Physical limitations were a sore burden to him and he eventually consented to reside at Carroll Manor to receive the care and attention and security he needed. The trial of diminished memory did not seem a great handicap to him. During Thanksgiving of 2011, he suffered a stroke and in 2012, a serious fall, leaving him bedridden. After a brief health crises, he slipped away quietly around 3:00 AM on Monday, 2 July. He will be missed dearly by those who came to love him and remembered vividly by all.

Many monks and nuns will remember Fr. Edward wishing the celebrants of birthdays or anniversaries, “Ad multos annos“ , Latin for ” onward for many years.” Fr. Edward, after over fifty years of monastic years and eighty-six years of age has completed his plenitude of years. It would not be in character to wish him eternal rest; rather we pray for his eternal life. And we’ll remind him to keep us in mind and intercede for the particular needs of Holy Cross Abbey. It may be the good Lord who’ll be needing the rest now.