Just after the log was posted last week we heard of the sad death of my predecessor as parish priest here in St. Mungo’s, Father John Craven. Father John, who hailed from Newry, County Down, was a year ahead of me as a Passionist student. Father Lawrence was a year ahead of him. The three of us played in the combined Passionist/Discalced Carmelite football team that swept the boards of the seminary league in the late 1970’s. Father Lawrence was the goalkeeper, I was the right back, and Father John was the centre forward. As a late vocation, Father John was in his 30’s by then, and so he wasn’t inclined to do too much running around, but put the ball in front of him within sight of goal, and he would burst the net. His classmate, another John, was probably the best player on our team, and he knew how and when to get the best out of Father John. As part of a lovely tribute to Father John, the other John mentioned that he was constantly in trouble on the football pitch because Father John would be winding the opposition up, as only he could, and they would then take it out on him, probably because they were too scared to do it to Father John himself. Father John knew how to wind all of us up as students; he could discern our weak points, and he was usually spot-on, but behind it all there was a great wisdom, compassion, concern and kindness.
But there was much more to John than that. He came to the Passionists with a vast wealth of life’s experience behind him and he used that experience to help so many people. He was a man who knew he had to apply himself to his studies, and he did just that, and he also knew how dependent he was on God, and so he was a man of constant prayer. He was a Manchester United supporter and followed them fervently. He loved going out for a cup of coffee and watching the world go by, but, when he was a student, he would often say he was going out for a cup of coffee and a shirt. I can’t imagine he bought a new shirt with every cup of coffee, though, otherwise he would have needed a much bigger wardrobe. He also liked a regular batter burger, or two, from Borza’s chippie up the road from the monastery. Simple pleasures.
After ordination, he spent a number of years as a priest in South Africa and was well loved by the people. He was one of the curates in Mount Argus in the early noughties when I was parish priest. Near to Mount Argus monastery, there was a jeweller’s shop and a cobbler. If he needed a new watch battery, or a pair of shoes repaired, he would spend the time of day chatting with the proprietors, who enjoyed his company as a straightforward, no nonsense, down to earth priest, and a man of the people. Often, he would just drop into them for a chat for no particular reason and they missed him after he moved on. He was parish priest of St. Mungo’s from 2012-2016, and since then he has been in Holy Cross, Ardoyne, in Belfast. There is no doubt that the hallmark of Father John’s ministry was an extraordinary dedication to the sick, to the poor, and to those who were struggling in various ways. Much of his ministry was done quietly, behind the scenes, and there will have been countless people who benefitted from his wise counsel and generous self-giving throughout many years. I imagine we may hear stories now, after his death, of kindnesses we never even remotely knew about.
Over many years, Father John loved taking his holidays at our Passionist house in Paris. There too, he loved going out for his cups of coffee and people watching. He also loved relaxing, almost daily, on one of the boats that sailed up and down the Seine, puffing on a cigarette, and watching the sights of Paris pass by. Recently, in need of a rest, and not feeling too well, he had hoped he might go there for a break, but it never came to be. After struggling through the Monday night novena Mass in Holy Cross last week, he took unwell, and died in the City Hospital a couple of days later. These are only my scattered memories. Others will have more and better stories to tell. But he was a good man, and he will be greatly missed. Well done, good and faithful servant, you can take your rest now in the house of God.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.