Early this morning I dropped off Father Gareth and Brother Antony to catch a train to Euston Station, from where they will head to the Passionist Retreat of St. Joseph’s at Highgate in North London. St. Joseph’s sits impressively at the top of Highgate Hill and has a magnificent dome. The story goes that during the 2nd World War the Ministry of Defence requested that the dome be covered so that it didn’t become a marker for the enemy, to which the rector replied that when they covered up the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral he would cover up the dome of St. Joseph’s. Neither were ever covered. St. Joseph’s wasn’t bombed but the dome of St. Paul’s did suffer some damage. Very near to the church is Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx is buried, or, if you prefer, Jeremy Beadle is also buried there.
The reason for Father Gareth and Brother Antony’s trip is to take part in a gathering of young Passionists from our Province, the others being Father Frank (Trias) who is based in Minsteracres Retreat Centre in County Durham; Brother Conor who is based in Crossgar in County Down, Northern Ireland; and Brother Aidan who is based in Highgate itself – so, two Scots; two from Northern Ireland, and one Welshman. Such gatherings are invaluable as young Passionists from our part of the world are few and far between, and it’s good that they meet from time to time to encourage and support each other, and to continue their growth and development in Passionist Religious Life.
These five men are spread throughout a few years of formation, whereas when I entered in 1975 there were six in my class alone, which in itself was small compared to times past. Of the six, two were from Glasgow, two were from Belfast, one was from Nigeria, and, at first, I thought the other might have been from Sweden or Holland or somewhere like that, as he spoke very quickly in a kind of sing-song accent, and I couldn’t understand a word he said, but it turned out he was a lovely guy from County Clare in the West of Ireland. Till the day he left I still couldn’t understand him.
After a year of postulancy at the Graan in Enniskillen, we moved to Mount Argus in Dublin to begin formal studies, and there were 21 of us on the student corridor, a motley collection of religious all-sorts. In the monastery itself, between priests, brothers and students, there were over eighty men. Between the student corridor and the community chapel, where we all gathered for community prayer and Eucharist, there was a passageway referred to as the race-track. This was because on any given morning you would find two or three students who had overslept, racing along with seconds to go for the start of Morning Prayer, trying to escape the steely gaze they would receive from the student director, if prayers had already been intoned before they got there.
Most of us studied at Milltown Park, a Jesuit institute about five miles from Mount Argus. Our mode of transport was bicycles. Many of these bicycles were from a store of abandoned, lost or stolen bicycles in the keep of An Garda Síochána, the Irish police. One of our Passionists in Mount Argus was chaplain to the police and so, once it was deemed that certain bikes were never being reclaimed, we were able to acquire them for the students. By the state of most of these bicycles we could see why they were abandoned or “lost”, and that stealing them was probably deemed by the thieves to be a mistake in the first place. It was quite a sight to see us all heading out of a morning to class.
We would return early in the afternoon for a bit of lunch and then gather in the recreation to relax for a while, before we got down to study in our rooms. Part of our recreation together was the “neglected record slot” whereby someone would dig out an old 78, 45 or 33rpm disc that had been left behind by previous generations of students and play it full blast on the turntable. It would then be awarded roses or raspberries – but mostly raspberries. We had a small snooker table too that we enjoyed, and quite a few excellent footballers who lived for getting out onto the pitch at the back of the monastery, and for playing in the seminary league on a Saturday, which, more often than not, we would win. Needless to say, we had our tensions among us too, but, all in all, it was good to have each other, and I admire our present crop of young Passionists who have to travel at times a lonelier road. So, hopefully, our five young Passionists will have a great few days together and come back the better for it.
Jesus. give the light of your Holy Spirit to those young people who have received the grace of a Passionist vocation. Inspire them to give their lives, keeping the Memory of your Passion alive in their own hearts, and in the hearts of others. Amen.