Tuesday of this week, the 28th, was the anniversary of both my first, and final profession as a Passionist, also known as temporary and perpetual profession. I was temporarily professed in 1980, and perpetually professed in 1982. Normally, there should be a three-year gap between the two but, because of studies I had previously done, I was granted a special dispensation from Rome, and was fast-tracked after just two years in temporary vows. It struck me this week that, due to the disorientation of Covid-19, I had neglected to mark my 40th, or Ruby anniversary of first profession, which is usually just a simple community meal, and so I made a mental note to celebrate the Ruby anniversary of my final profession next year.
I have different memories of both. First profession comes at the end of the novitiate year which, for me, was 1979-80. The beginning of the novitiate was slightly delayed because Pope John Paul II was visiting Ireland. I sang in the choir at the papal mass in the Pheonix Park, and attended the special event for seminarians at Maynooth college. I would later be glad that I had attended these as, when the pope came to Scotland in 1982, I was tied up with my final Theology exams in Ireland, and so was unable to get home for the occasion.
The novitiate took place in what is now our Passionist Retreat Centre at Crossgar in County Down. It was a year that I really enjoyed, being a very quiet and reflective year, and so, well suited to my introverted nature. It was a time for deepening our understanding of religious life, and of the Passionist charism, before making our commitment to it. I remember, at the end of the novitiate year, my older brother, the doyen of Scottish sports journalist, coming over for my profession, but then I had to get him to the airport that night as he was due to fly out the next day to Romania for a Celtic match in the European Cup Winners Cup which, if memory serves me, we inauspiciously lost, and went out of the competition on away goals.
Two years later, to the day, I made my final profession at Mount Argus in Dublin. The next morning, I was scheduled to fly out to Rome. The Provincial Bursar at the time, whom I have more sympathy for now that I have held that post myself for the past 12 years and continuing, rather than book me a direct flight, had saved a few Irish punts by booking me on a charter to Gatwick, from where I had to get a bust to Luton, and then a flight to Ciampino, from where I would be collected by the rector of the Passionist Monastery of Saints John and Paul, which was to be my home for the next year, as I undertook my diaconate year in preparation for my ordination. As I waited in the departure lounge in Dublin my name was called out over the sound system, requesting me to return to check-in. I was a bit anxious as to the reason for this, but when I got there, I was assailed by a delegation from a group called CASA, which is the Caring and Sharing Association, a group with whom I had been involved for some years, ministering to people with physical and mental disabilities. They had come to see me off, and they proceeded to present me with this enormous pink teddy bear. The airline staff were very accommodating at letting me on the plane with it but, when I arrived at Gatwick, I thought to myself, there’s no way I am getting collected in Rome by the rector of J&P’s carrying a pink teddy bear as big as myself. I looked around the terminal and spotted a mother with her little girl, about 5 years old. I approached the mother, explained my predicament, and asked if she would mind if I offered the teddy bear to her daughter. Both she and her daughter were very delighted and I was relieved of the potential embarrassment that could have ensued. There then followed a very enjoyable diaconate year in Rome before coming home for ordination.
So, as always, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.