At the beginning of this week, we received the sad news of the death of Father Ralph Egan, a Passionist who was part of the community at Mount Argus in Dublin. Father Ralph was a classmate of Father Justinian. Until the recent expansion of the province, the two of them had a running narrative where Father Justinian lay claim to being the senior man in the province by age, being two years older; but Father Ralph lay claim to being the senior man in the province by profession, having taken his first vows as a Passionist a year earlier. Both, however, were ordained on the same day, 21st December 1957.
I have many personal memories of Father Ralph, and I will just mention two of them. I joined the Passionists in 1975. A year earlier, Father Ralph had been appointed the first ever parish priest of Mount Argus in Dublin, one of a number of new parishes established in the Archdiocese of Dublin in 1974, because of a significant growth in numbers, how times have changed! After completing my postulancy at the Graan in Enniskillen, I moved to Dublin in 1976 to begin formal studies. My reputation for being involved in music had gone before me. Before joining the Passionists I had been part of the music team at our then Passionist Retreat Centre at Coodham in Ayrshire. On arriving at the Graan I had been asked to set up a music group there for one of the Sunday Masses, and also to get involved in music ministry for Charismatic Renewal, both at the Graan, and around the surrounding countryside. So it was that, on arriving at Mount Argus, Father Ralph immediately asked me to set up something there in the fledgeling parish. The church in Ireland at that time was still coming to terms with Vatican II and with accommodating the changes in the liturgy. After some chaotic, but exciting beginnings, what emerged as the folk group in Mount Argus would continue in existence, in some shape or form, for the next 40 years, with one member in particular being an ever-present, and a mainstay, throughout that whole time. I had a good relationship with Father Ralph, and I remember travelling with him on the ferry to a Provincial Chapter at Coodham in 1977, when he took time to offer me sage advice that has stood me in good stead over the years.
In 2001 I was the rector and parish priest of St Gabriel’s in Prestonpans, in the Archdiocese of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, and Father Ralph was the rector and parish priest of Mount Argus in Dublin. However, after a Chapter a few months earlier, we had both been appointed to exchange roles, with Father Ralph coming to Prestonpans, and me going to Mount Argus. We devised a plan that, in the January of that year, he would bring his stuff over in a car from Dublin, and I would take the same car back with my own stuff. I remember well the night he arrived when, after removing his personal belongings from the car, he then produced 2 black bin bags as well. On seeing my quizzical look, he said to me that these were various bits of administration paperwork from Mount Argus that he hadn’t quite got round to attending to before he left, and that he would work on them in Prestonpans and send them back over to me. I’m sure that paperwork was of extremely high importance but, needless to say, I never saw sight of a single scrap of them ever again, and nobody came chasing me for them.
Father Ralph was the loveliest character you could wish to meet, a wonderful story-teller and reciter of poetry, especially in the Irish language. The richness of his voice meant that, for many years, he was often used by the BBC to commentate on major religious services, both on radio and television. He served the Congregation and the Province of St Patrick in a whole variety of ways over the years. He was forever of good humour, welcoming, humble, kind and generous, and he will be sadly missed. May his good soul rest in peace. We commiserate with Father Justinian on the death of his friend and classmate. The rest of us are well.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.