This morning, for the first time this year, I awoke to snow outside and had to scrape snow from the car before coming into the church. I’m not sure how bad it will get, but it got me to
thinking about my worst, and perhaps best experiences of snow over the years.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1982, while I was a senior student at Mount Argus in Dublin, I had to bring one of the Passionist Community, Brother Paul, to the Passionist Retreat Centre at Crossgar in County Down, to which he had just been transferred. At the same time, one of our Passionist Postulants was finishing a post-Christmas retreat in Crossgar. The idea was that I would bring Brother Paul, with all his meagre belongings, to his new abode; stay
overnight, and then bring our postulant back to Dublin. On the morning of January 7th, we awoke to 3 feet of snow after a heavy overnight fall. The postulant was keen to get back to Dublin as there was to be a family gathering that night to bid farewell to his brother, who was leaving to take up a new job in America the following day. I phoned the AA who advised that, if I drove slowly and carefully, I should get back to Dublin safely, and so off we set.
We hadn’t gone too far when a snow blizzard started. This blizzard was to last for the next 36 hours. I had set out on a route through a place called Hilltown in County Down, taking us through Newry to Dundalk and then on to Dublin. Hilltown is appropriately named as the road is a series of peaks and troughs which became more and more treacherous the further we travelled. At one stage I became aware that there was a line of traffic behind me, and that I was the lead car they were all following in the hope that I would lead them safely. I had no notion at this stage whether I was on the left, the centre, or the right of the road; and each time I cam to the brow of a hill I wondered what I would encounter coming towards me. Eventually we got to Newry, but then decided we would try and get over the border into Dundalk and review the situation. When we reached Dundalk, with nerves frayed, we opted to stay the night and see how things were the following morning. My colleague would miss the family gathering but hopefully still be home to wave his brother off. Next day, slowly and carefully, we set out again. The blizzard wasn’t as bad and the roads were better, although we passed a number of cars that had been abandoned in snow drifts. At Balbriggan we were told that the Dublin Road would be closed until the next day, but then we heard that they were
letting people through and we took the chance. Finally, we made it back in one piece.
Later that same year I had moved to Rome for my diaconate year in preparation for
Ordination. There was a Passionist General Chapter on at the time with participants from all over the world. On one of the free days there was a trip to the Shrine of St. Gabriel at Isola del Gran Sasso. I went with them and as we came out of a newly constructed tunnel through the Gran Sasso mountain the snow was deep on the ground. It looked stunningly beautiful, and I remember there were some Filipino Passionists who had never experienced snow, who asked that the bus would stop so that they could get out and touch the snow and feel it in their hands, which they did with the excitement and wonder of children.
Another memory was in the early noughties when I attended a meeting at a Passionist
Monastery in Austria, which was situated next to a ski slope. With no intention of skiing I ascended the mountain in a chair lift. To this day it remains my most profound experience of silence, and it was also my first and only experience of dry snow, as I waded knee deep to a small war time chapel on the mountain, and never got wet. My most recent encounter with heavy snow was in 2017, not long after my return to Saint Mungo’s, when, you may
Remember, I was stranded here at the church and had to sleep in the office for two nights
because I was unable to make it home to Bishopbriggs.
What will this pandemic year’s snow bring? Who knows? Just keep protecting yourselves, others, and Christ in your lives.