This Sunday, 7th May, is Vocations Sunday, and so I thought I would share with you, briefly, my own vocation story. Some of it you will have heard before.
My life began in Glasgow on 24th June 1951 and, even though it was the Feast of John the Baptist, I was called Francis, after my father. My childhood, as the middle of three boys, was unexceptional except that my father died before any of us had reached double figures. That made life a bit of a struggle, especially for my mother who held down three or more jobs at a time to keep us housed and fed and clothed. I was bright enough at school and mad about football. I was put back into short trousers because, being a goalkeeper at that time, I came home too often from games in the playground with holes in the knees of my long trousers and my mother couldn’t afford to get new ones. Better to have bloody knees than torn trousers.
There was a strong Catholic ethos in the family and I served on the altar from age six. I found secondary school lonely and tough as by then we had moved to Drumchapel, and I attended St. Mungo’s, a school which was a long way from my home and a long way from my friends, but I do remember that it gave me my first encounter with the Passionists when a priest came to give a school mission. His name was Fr. Herman Nolan, a wonderful poet and a man of great creativity, even if a little eccentric. He was very dramatic, using sounds and symbols of the Passion to great effect, and he made a big impression on me. (In later years, when I was his rector in Mount Argus, I journeyed with him through his own passion of serious sickness unto death, and he was just as impressive then).
I did just okay in my exams and left with average qualifications. I had quite an ordered mind in contrast with my disordered life, and I was good at maths, so I drifted into accountancy, working by day at Singers in Clydebank, and then at Olivetti on the Queenslie Estate; studying by night, and on day release at the Glasgow College of Commerce, now the City of Glasgow College, and the Glasgow College of Technology, now the Caledonian University.
I was heavily into music, playing double bass in a folk group and touring at one stage with Billy Connolly to raise funds for the families of the Upper Clyde shipyard workers who were having a sit-in to try and save the yards. I felt an affinity with the cause as my father had been a shipyard worker. I was reacquainted with the Passionists in my late teens through Coodham Retreat House in Ayrshire, and, after a few years involvement as a layman on the retreat team, I felt I might be more drawn to religious life than to accountancy and I decided to give it a go, and so, in 1975, I joined the Passionists.
I was 24 when I entered and I had rarely been out of Scotland. I had never flown. However, in the 42 years since entering the Passionsts, I have lived and studied in Ireland and Rome and, as a Passionist priest, I have worked in various ministries, taking me throughout most of Europe and to parts of Africa and America as a preacher, teacher, director, novice-master, parish priest, and various other things besides, finally arriving back in Glasgow as parish priest and rector of St. Mungo’s, where it all began. It has been a decent life, wonderful at times, a struggle at other times, sustained by family, friends and colleagues who provided friendship and love, and sustained by the Lord himself through prayer and mercy. An ordinary life really, and all too human at times, with no doubt more twists and turns ahead, but lots to be grateful for, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone who wanted to give it a try.
Passionist Vocation Prayer
Jesus, you gave your life on the Cross so that we could share in God’s own life and know his love for us. May the love that flows from the Cross transform our hearts, so that we can bring your love and compassion to those whose lives we touch, especially those who are suffering. 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 as Passionist priests, brothers or sisters, keeping the Memory of your Passion alive
in their own hearts and in the hearts of others. May Mary, who stood by the Cross, be their example,
and may Saint Paul of the Cross, our founder, be their guide. Amen.