This week I had to pass up the opportunity of a few days in Paris. Our Passionist parish of Holy Cross, Ardoyne in Belfast is, like St. Mungo’s, celebrating it’s 150th Jubilee this year. The main celebration is on Sunday 24th November. The parish priest of St. Joseph’s at Avenue Hoche in Paris is Father Aidan Troy, who preached so beautifully at our Jubilee Novena in St. Mungo’s last September, but he is also a former parish priest of Holy Cross, Ardoyne. He hopes to be able to join the Holy Cross community for the celebration, but to do that he would need someone to cover Masses in St. Joseph’s in Paris for a few days, as he is there on his own at present. Last Wednesday morning I had a phone call from our Provincial asking if I would be free to cover for him, but, unfortunately, I’m not.
I first visited St. Joseph’s in 1983, travelling on an overnight sleeper train from Rome, where I had just finished my diaconate year and was heading home to Glasgow for my priestly ordination on 18th June that year. Never having been to Paris, this seemed like a good opportunity to relax and unwind for a week or so, and I was warmly welcomed by Fr Eugene McCarthy, the then parish priest of St. Joseph’s who, as it turns out, is the present parish priest of Holy Cross, Ardoyne.
In 1983, when I visited, it was still the original church, before the present, modern church was built. It was from the original church that Father Cuthbert Dunne, a young Passionist priest, attended Oscar Wilde on his deathbed. For most of his life Father Cuthbert didn’t speak about it, but before he died in 1950, fifty years after the event, he set down this recollection of it:
He (Oscar Wilde) made brave efforts to speak, and would even continue for a time trying to talk, though he could not utter articulate words. Indeed, I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and give him the Last Sacraments. From the signs he gave, as well as from his attempted words, I was satisfied as to his full consent. And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me.
This deathbed scene was, or so I’ve heard, the very moving high point of a recent film on Oscar Wilde that came out last year called The Happy Prince, but I’m afraid I didn’t get the chance to see it. A few years after my first visit there in 1983, and just before the old church was demolished, I visited St. Joseph’s again with Father Paul Francis where, with the help of the late Father Marius, we found the entry in the baptism register for Oscar Wilde’s reception into the church. Again, by God’s providence, St. Joseph’s is also celebrating, this year, the 150th jubilee of the site on which the old church, and now the new church was built.
Very often, when a door closes for one person, it opens for someone else. And so it was that, after I had reluctantly turned down the opportunity of those few days in Paris, the Provincial asked if Father Gareth might be interested. I asked him, and indeed he was. It will be Father Gareth’s first visit to St. Joseph’s and to Paris, and I hope he enjoys it very much. Quite what Paris will make of Father Gareth I don’t know, but no doubt he will make the usual, unforgettable impression in St. Joseph’s that he makes wherever he goes.
Here are some of my favourite quotes from Oscar Wilde:
Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much….
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars…
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future…