Today (Thursday 11th January) I offered the 12.15 p.m. Mass with two Passionists who have recently celebrated their diamond jubilees of priesthood; Father Justinian McGread CP from St. Mungo’s community here in Glasgow, and Father Ralph Egan CP from our community at Mount Argus in Dublin. They were ordained on 21st December 1957 along with seven others, all of whom have now gone to God. One of them was Father Eustace, well known to all at St. Mungo’s, and much missed. Father Justinian and Father Ralph each had their own celebration in Glasgow and Dublin respectively, but when Fr. Ralph came over for a visit to Glasgow with his sister it provided the opportunity to have a simple celebration with both of them.
I was thinking back to when I first met each of them. Back in 1969 I was a youth leader at my parish of St. Laurence’s in Drumchapel and we took a group of young people down from the parish to the Passionist Retreat House at Coodham in Ayrshire. Father Justinian was one of the Passionists based there at the time. After a little while I was invited by the Passionists on to the organising team for both the Youth Retreats and the Young Adult Retreats. I remember that our planning meetings used to take place over a weekend down at Skelmorlie, in a house on the sea-front that was owned by some Religious Sisters. I would finish work on the Friday evening and then meet up with some other members of the team. We would get the train to Wemyss Bay and a bus along to the house. When we arrived, Father Justinian would always be there to welcome us with a huge pot of Spaghetti Bolognese and some nice crusty bread, and I used to look forward to it immensely. Father Justinian’s spaghetti became legendary, so you can imagine my delight on coming back to Glasgow at the end of 2016, and coming to live in community with Father Justinian for the very first time, to discover that, nearly 50 years on, he was still making his spaghetti, and I now look forward, every Saturday night, to arriving home from the Vigil Mass in St. Mungo’s, and sitting down to my favourite meal.
I first met Father Ralph in1976. I had joined the Passionists in 1975 and spent my postulancy year at the Graan in Enniskillen. Part of my involvement with the retreats at Coodham was around music and, when I arrived at the Graan, I was asked by the rector, Father Ignatius, to set up a music group for one of the Sunday Masses and also to provide music for the Graan prayer group. Also, my postulancy director, Father Bernard, had me travelling around the countryside with him to provide music at various prayer meetings in halls and homes, sometimes in very remote places indeed. Prayer groups were very popular at the time.
In September 1976 I moved to Mount Argus in Dublin to begin philosophy studies. Although the Passionists had been in Mount Argus since 1856, it only in fact became a parish in 1974, and Father Ralph was appointed as the first ever parish priest. Once again, on my arrival, he asked me if I could set up a folk group in the parish for what was then the 1 p.m. Mass on a Sunday. I put a notice in the parish bulletin for interested members, but it wasn’t specific enough as to who was eligible, so come the night of the first rehearsal I had 40 people there, ranging in age from 14-36. It was a bit chaotic, but somehow, we managed, and we played for the first time at the Mass on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1976. The folk group lasted in some shape or form for 40 years and only disbanded in the autumn of 2016. Father Ralph returned for a second spell as parish priest from 1996-2000, when he was also rector, and in January of 2001, we swapped jobs, he taking over as rector and parish priest in Prestonpans, and me taking over as rector and parish priest in Mount Argus, where I remained until coming back to St. Mungo’s in 2016. I have lived in community with Father Ralph a few times over the years and he has always been very pleasant company and a faithful and committed priest.
Loving God, may those to whom Fr Justinian and Fr Ralph have ministered for 60 years, appreciate, affirm, support, and celebrate their gift of service, and pray for them always.