Five years ago, in December 2017, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Father Justinian’s priesthood. We had a simple celebration of Mass in the church with some members of his family, and then headed out to a local restaurant to share a meal, during which the owner of the restaurant, who knew his family well, and who also knew the occasion we were there to celebrate, came over and presented Father Justinian with a magnum of champagne. It was a lovely evening and, by any measure, a wonderful landmark to reach. However, I think he may be overtaking it this weekend. This Sunday 6th November, Father Justinian will celebrate the 70th anniversary of his Profession as a Passionist. In November 1951, the year I was born, he entered the Passionist Novitiate at the Graan in Enniskillen. Prior to that he had been in the Passionist Junior Seminary at a place called Wheatfield in North Belfast. He had to retake an exam and so he was six weeks later joining the Novitiate than his classmates, one of whom was the late Father Eustace Cassidy, well known, loved and remembered here in St. Mungo’s. Father Eustace was professed at the more normal time of 25th September that year but, so as to fulfil the norms of canon law, Father Justinian had to wait until November, and so he made his First Profession, all on his own, on the Feast of All the Saints of Ireland, 6th November.
You may remember I mentioned a few weeks ago that Father Justinian always begins conversations with people he is only meeting for the first time by saying that he is the oldest man in our Province. He is now 91. The second part of his introduction would always be to add that he is the oldest by age, but not by Profession. The oldest man in our Province by Profession is his great friend, Father Ralph Egan, whom some of you may know. Father Ralph made his own First Profession in the Graan in Enniskillen, where, until very recently, everyone started their Passionist life in our Province, on 12th September 1951, and he is still going strong, but then, he is a meagre 89 years of age, and still doing his bit at Mount Argus in Dublin, his native city. However, as mentioned before, all that will change on 21st November this year, when the Saint Joseph’s Passionist Province of England and Wales becomes fully integrated into Saint Patrick’s Province, with the subtitle of “The Passionists of Ireland and Britain. The new Saint Patrick’s Province will have 3 members who will be senior to Father Justinian by age, and to Father Ralph by Profession - interesting times!
Thinking back to my own First Profession, things had changed a great deal from Father Jus’s time. In the early 1970’s, instead of going straight into the Novitiate, a year of Postulancy was introduced, also in Enniskillen, which was followed by Philosophy studies in Dublin, and then Novitiate in Crossgar, Co. Down. This was, in theory, to allow a more gradual process of entry into the Congregation, and to a greater sense of the kind of commitment that was required, and to a more mature decision to embrace religious life. In my own case, having joined the Passionists in 1975, it would be 1980 before I made 1st Profession. This reason for this was that, after my Philosophy studies, I also did a year of Theology, while I waited on my classmates to finish their Philosophy studies as, me being older, and having acquired an accountancy qualification, I did a 2-year Baccalaureate, while they did a three-year university degree. Even then, we started novitiate a bit later than we should have, as Pope John Paul II was in Ireland from 29th September to 1st October 1979, and we were involved in events in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and in the Diocesan Seminary in Maynooth. So, our Novitiate, which should have begun in mid-September, didn’t begin until early October 1979. Canon Law usually requires a full year’s novitiate but we were allowed to anticipate slightly, and me and my classmates made 1st Profession on 28th September 1980. Have I lost you! Anyway…
As always, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.