Last Sunday night, we celebrated the final streamed Mass from the Oratory in Bishopbriggs, at least for the time being. There was a poignancy about it, as we feel we have made a real connection with those who have joined us on the streaming service for the past 16 months or so. There are a lot of memories attached to it. It was on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 that Father Laurence was taken into the Marie Curie Hospice as his long, brave battle with cancer of the oesophagus neared its end. Father Gareth, Father Antony and myself, all spent time with him that evening, but then, early on the morning of 18th March, I received a call to say that he had passed away. The following day again, 19th March, St. Joseph’s Day, all the churches were closed for the first lockdown. We decided we would need to provide a streaming service, but the Oratory in the house was far too small and not fit for purpose, so we thought it would be a fitting tribute to transform Father Laurence’s room into a temporary Oratory for the duration, never imagining that it would be required for such a long period of time.
The week before Father Laurence died, we had been visited by our General Consultor from Rome, Father Mirek, who was kindly accommodated in St. Dominic’s in Bishopbriggs. This was intended as a fraternal visit in preparation for our Provincial Chapter, scheduled for the following June, but now only taking place next week, 13 months later. With the pandemic hitting Italy hard at that time, Father Mirek was unable to return to Rome, and so, instead, he returned to his native Poland. It was round about that time too that Father Gareth went down to Wales to see his mum, and then got stranded because of lockdown restrictions. We wouldn’t see him again for another five months.
Father Antony, being young and fit, transported all the things that we would need from the church for Mass. An altar, which once belonged in the old Retreat; a lectern; altar missal; Lectionary; altar linens; vestments, and much more besides. To make space, the old Oratory became a storeroom for things from Father Laurence’s room, including his bed, and a wide assortment of equipment provided by the district nurses, and by the NHS. At first, we simply celebrated daily Mass but then, as time moved on, and restrictions continued, we began to provide a variety of other services as well, and so it went on. Father Gareth returned and, at first, he seemed to be curtailed by being such a big man celebrating in a comparatively small space, but he soon got over that and became a larger-than-life figure in peoples’ homes when it was his turn to celebrate the streamed service. Sometimes, all three of us were celebrating together, and it did seem quite cramped. When the church opened up again, albeit in a limited way, we continued the streaming for those still unable to get out to church, but now it must come to a close. As I said, our belated Chapter will now take place next week and, for three days beforehand, our Superior General wants to come and stay with us, so the Oratory must be transformed into a bedroom again. That’s the task on hand at present and, thankfully, it’s almost complete. The small Oratory is now restored to former glory; a new bed has had to be acquired, as well as new bed linen, for what will now become a visitor’s room; everything taken from the church has been returned. Father Laurence’s equipment, as well as his old medication, has been packaged for return. No sooner had we put together his personal items than his brother phoned. Now that the family are able to travel, they are keen to come and see us, and to collect those items, so we will arrange that for after the Chapter. It all feels like the end of an era, and we can only hope that there are better days to come.
All four of us in Bishopbriggs will head for the Chapter; Father Gareth and Father Justinian in one car; Father Antony and myself, together with Father Joachim (our Superior General) in the other car. The house and church will be well looked after in our absence, and we will be back before you know it, to begin a less restricted schedule in the church. Please pray for us. As always, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.