Father Antony and I have just returned from meetings in the North of Ireland. During the homily at one of the Masses, the priest was recalling how, when he was a Passionist postulant in the 1970’s, the director of the postulants would cast them out in the summer and tell them to go and find work, before returning in the autumn. He had gone to work in some kind of factory where they made pallets, but he only lasted three days because his hands were too soft and quickly became blistered and very sore. This priest was three years ahead of me, but we had the same director of postulants, and so it brought back memories of my own class also being cast out in the summer to find work.
I have spoken about one of those summers before, when I went to work in a homeless project in Leeds, the abiding memory of which was scouring the back streets of Leeds with a fellow Partick man, trying to find his false teeth so that he could wear them in court the next day. Another summer I worked as a volunteer, supervising young lads who were doing community service, painting and decorating parts of a convent. I don’t know how good a supervisor I was, but I can honestly admit that I was a useless painter and decorator. I ended up scouring the streets again, this time in Paisley, after one of the lads disappeared and took the convent dog with him. Both the boy and the dog were discovered safe and well. The next summer I took a job in a pub in Partick. My mother was quite a legendary barmaid there, one of the many jobs she held down to provide for us after my father’s death, and her boss was well willing to let me work there. I had a crash course in pulling pints, changing beer barrels and pouring spirits. I learned the technique that was used for washing and draining the glasses. I had no difficulty with adding up the prices as I was always good at mental arithmetic, and I became a dab hand at clearing and wiping the tables. It was hard work, though, and I came to appreciate how my mother would come home exhausted on her working nights, during the years we were growing up, then falling into bed to be up early next day to do cleaning in schools and houses. She loved working in the pub, though, as it was her social life as well, alongside the Bingo on her free nights. I can remember, during the period I worked in the pub, how welcome the short break was, when we would go down into the cellar with a half pint glass of tea and a sandwich, then try to summon the energy to go upstairs and start again. After closing time, we would do a big clean up, before my mother and I would head for the last bus from Partick to Drumchapel. I knew that, compared to her, I had an easy life training to be a priest. My last year of postulancy, before starting my novitiate, was the year that Pope John Paul II came to Ireland, so I didn’t need to find work. There was plenty enough to do in preparation for the papal visit and, as I was to be part of the choir for the Mass in the Phoenix Park, I had to attend lots of practices for that. Once we started novitiate, at the end of which I would become a professed Passionist, summers became somewhat different.
Our meetings went well. It was a joint assembly with our Passionist brethren from England. There was a very good spirit with excellent discussions and conversations, and then fraternal socialising each night. Father Antony and I had a passenger with us on the way back, as I mentioned in the last log. He is our Theology student, Conor Quinn, who will be spending the next six weeks or so with us before taking his final vows. On such occasions I always leave the driving to Father Antony. He is safe, but fast, and I do close my eyes at times on that bendy coastal road, and say a few extra Hail Mary’s, or ejaculations to the Sacred Heart, when he decides to overtake a massive truck. Father John seems to have survived on his own for all the Masses and Confessions, the church is still standing, as is Father Jus, so all is well.
So, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.