At the beginning of this week, I travelled over to our Passionist Retreat Centre in Crossgar, County Down. The reason for my journey was to attend a meeting of leaders and administrators from different parts of the newly expanded St. Patrick’s Province – Ireland & Britain. The task before us was to make progress towards a unified approach to elements of our Passionist life that previously would have had a slightly, or in some areas, more than slightly, different approach when we were two distinct provinces. This applied to areas such as mission, finance, media & communications, safeguarding, formation, and others. It was a very big agenda to get through, and we will be at this task for some time to come.
Miraculously, I had no problems on my travels. Flights departed and returned on time. Despite them being small, propellor type aircraft, and the weather being stormy, everything went smoothly. When I arrived at Belfast City Airport on Monday night, Father Antony was there to meet me. He had travelled by car from Minsteracres to take the Cairnryan-Belfast Ferry. He had planned his trip to fit in a visit to the brethren in Holy Cross, Ardoyne, and then on to collect me for the final stage of the journey. As a note of interest to St. Mungo’s people, on that same day, Father Terence McGuckin, much loved in St. Mungo’s in years past, left Holy Cross to take up residence at Mount Argus in Dublin, where he will be able to be better cared for, as he, like most of us, gets older and frailer. When I was first posted to St. Mungo’s, after ordination in 1983, it was to replace Father Terence as Vocations Director. At the beginning I had to struggle to be accepted, simply because of people’s sadness at seeing Father Terence go. In the end, however, people’s goodness and kindness, and their love for the Passionists in general, won them over – as well, of course, as my sparkling personality! Arriving at Crossgar, Father Antony’s classmate, Father Aidan, came down to open the gate for us and then, after a quick hello to those who had arrived earlier, we retired for the night, both of us being very tired.
In preparation for the meeting, our Provincial Secretary had put together a document outlining our personnel situation as we expect it to be at the end of 2023. It makes for sobering reading. If there are no deaths, which in itself seems unlikely, there would be 52 members of St. Patrick’s Province; 4 of whom would be over 90; 20 of whom would be over 80; 14 of whom would be over 70; 8 of whom would be over 60, and only 6 of whom would be under 60. We would also have 3 members on loan from other provinces, 2 from India and 1 from Africa, all of whom would be in their 40’s. Obviously, the stark realism of that has to be taken into account in moving forward. Still and all, we travel with faith and hope.
At the end of the meeting, I was brought to the airport for the journey home by Father Tom, the rector of Crossgar. Also in the car was Father Martin, one of our English brethren. I was fascinated to hear Father Martin speak of his current Passionist life as a leader in a community in North London, quite near to the Passionist church of St. Joseph’s in Highgate, which is part of the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933. Hospitality is one of the keystones of the Catholic Worker Movement and, at present, Father Martin lives with two other leaders, and nine guests, most of whom are asylum seekers. It’s a hard life, and I have great admiration for him in the selfless work that he does, which he easily and rightly connects with our Passionist spirituality as having a care for the crucified of today. I think it’s fair to say our province is now more diverse than ever before. Pray for us.
Father Frank’s Log will take a wee break now until after Easter. I hope you all have a very happy and blessed time.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.