I was ordained on June 18th 1983. I had spent my diaconate year in Rome and on my way back to be ordained in St. Mungo’s I took a sleeper train to Paris and made my first visit to our Passionist house there at 50 Avenue Hoche, where the Passionist Community looks after St. Joseph’s Church, which serves English speaking people in Paris. It’s a famous location in that in 1900, Oscar Wilde was received into the Church on his death bed by the Passionist, Father Cuthbert Dunne. Many years later, while filming in Paris, as recounted in Who Do You Think You Are, the actor Martin Sheen would find his way back to faith and to the Church by making his Confession to a Passionist priest at St. Joseph’s.
I spent a few days in Paris relaxing and sightseeing before flying home to Glasgow for final preparations. The late, and much lamented, Father Michael Doogan was the parish priest and rector of St. Mungo’s at that time, and he was in his element taking charge of both the liturgical and the social celebrations. The day of my ordination was also my mother’s 64th birthday and Father Michael probably made more of a fuss of her than he did of me, which suited me down to the ground. The ordaining bishop was the late, and also much lamented, Cardinal Tom Winning, who carried the occasion in his usual down to earth style.
In the middle of it all I had a lovely surprise. When Holy Orders had been conferred and I moved around my brother priests and religious to receive a sign of peace, I suddenly found myself looking into the eyes of an Australian Passionist, Father Chris Monaghan, whom I had become very friendly with in Rome. When I said my goodbyes to him he was waiting on his parents coming from Australia to visit him on holiday, and he somehow persuaded them to come to Glasgow. They arrived just as the ordination Mass was beginning and Chris had slipped quietly on to the sanctuary without me seeing him until, there he was, waiting to welcome me as a brother priest by offering me the sign of peace.
Chris was quite an amazing guy. He was studying scripture at the Biblicum in Rome and couldn’t stop scoring top marks in everything he did. He was also a wonderful guitarist, singer and songwriter, which is what had drawn us together in the first place. Added to that he was super fit and when I arrived in Rome he was just starting to train for the Rome marathon at which he was setting himself a target of under 3 hours. He adopted me as his training partner, advising me on a good pair of runners, and encouraging me out at 5 o’clock in the morning to run along the banks of the Tiber to be back in time for a shower before Morning Prayer. This went on from October to February, at which point, with the marathon looming large in April, I could see I was just keeping him back and I left him to it. Chris had many other talents as well, he even designed my ordination cards, but he was also one of the most modest people you could wish to meet and a privilege to have known. He wasn’t perfect though, he ran the Rome marathon in three hours and one second – truly!
The day after my ordination I celebrated my first mass, also in St. Mungo’s, and so, 34 years on, I have good memories to recall and a lot to be thankful for, although I find it hard to believe that I am older now than my mother was then. A prayer from Pope Francis to finish:
Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.