St. Mungo’s is one of a number of parishes in the diocese where the priests take their turn to be on call through the night for the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. This means that you have a pager on which the hospital can contact you between the hours of 10.00pm and 7.30am, at which hour the daytime chaplain takes over once again. If the pager sounds you are given a number to dial and are then put through to a ward where one of the nurses will give you the essential details concerning the patient and, usually, say that the family has requested the attendance of a priest to administer last Sacraments.
Last Friday it was Father Gareth who held the pager and thankfully he had a quiet night with no calls, then on Saturday night it was my turn. At 10 o’clock the first call came in. I got together my holy oils, holy water, pyx containing the Holy Eucharist, and my ritual of prayers and blessings, then drove in from Bishopbriggs, choosing to park at the Church then walk over to the hospital. It’s a privileged moment to spend with a family and always one in which the loving presence of Christ is very tangible. After administering the last Sacraments, I got back to Bishopbriggs around 11.30pm to find Father Gareth waiting up for me. He asked me how I got on and after a brief chat we agreed that at least it wasn’t a call at 3 o’clock in the morning. But then, at 3.45am, there was another call, and it was into the same procedure once again, this time getting back around 5.15am. Once again I stress that these are privileged moments, and grace-filled, but still I have to confess I was pretty wrecked getting up for the 10 o’clock Mass that morning and it took me a day or two to fully recover.
Of course, not that long ago, the Passionist Community at St. Mungo’s had sole care of the chaplaincy ministry in the Royal Infirmary until diminishing numbers, coupled with increasing age and frailty, rendered it impossible for us to continue. When I was first stationed in St. Mungo’s from 1983-86 it was the legendary Father Ambrose Fay who was the chaplain. He was on 24-hour call but would finish on a Friday evening and, to give him a necessary break, another member of the community would take over from Friday evening until Sunday, when Father Ambrose would take over once again in time for the hospital Mass on Sunday afternoon. I remember vividly being on call one weekend back in 1984 when six members of the one family died in an arson attack as a result of the Glasgow ice-cream wars. Thankfully, experiences like that were few and far between.
Part of the procedure in those days was that when someone had been given last Sacraments it was written into their file in green ink so that, when the nursing staff changed over, the new shift members would be able to see clearly that such and such a person had been attended by the priest. I’m not too sure why it had to be in green ink, but I remember also when I did a year’s chaplaincy duty at Longriggend Young Offenders Institute, that the chaplain knew which residents were Catholics because their names were written on green cards that were attached to their cell doors. In just about every case, in my experience, the Catholic residents were very happy for the chaplain to enter in and have a chat. But there was obviously some kind of presumed connection in established institutions between Catholics and the colour green – I can’t imagine what that would have been!
This will be the final log for a couple of weeks, and as I am writing this I am aware that many people will spend this Christmas in hospital, or by the beside of loved ones in hospital. There will also be those who will be working at Christmas to care for those in hospital – including chaplains. The same can be said of prisoners, prisoners’ families, prison workers and prison chaplains. I wish them all Christmas peace and I share with them this Christmas prayer of good Pope John XXIII.
O sweet Child of Bethlehem, grant that we may share with all our hearts in this profound mystery of Christmas. Put into the hearts of men and women this peace for which they sometimes seek so desperately and which you alone can give to them. Help them to know one another better, and to live as brothers and sisters, children of the same Father. Reveal to them also your beauty, holiness and purity. Awaken in their hearts love and gratitude for your infinite goodness. Join them all together in your love, and give us your heavenly peace. Amen.