On Tuesday I went to the funeral of the man who was parish priest of my home parish, the church in the picture above, in the early 80s. He was a man for whom I had great personal respect. Very often when a new parish priest comes there is ‘murmuring’ in the parish, when Father Anthony came to us there was a small amount of it but it did not faze him, “they’ll get used to me” or “they’ll see I’m not a threat” he would say, and he was right.
There are two things for which I have undying gratitude to him. Firstly, because she had been a stalwart in the parish for over 20 years Fr Anthony arranged for my mum to receive a Bene Merenti medal from The Pope. Mum was not a lady to mince her words “I can’t have that!!!” she cried. She felt she had her reward beforehand when the parish were so supportive after the loss of my dad, and then five years later, my brother. Fr Anthony’s reply was “that’s our job, in your case, the worker deserves a just wage”, and she was presented with her medal by Bishop Tripp (who later ordained me).
The second thing was when mum died in 1986. On hearing she’d died Fr Anthony asked to be told with all speed when the funeral would be as he was due to be away in two weeks, and he was going to postpone it in order to preside at the funeral Mass. Think about that for a minute. Fortunately he didn’t have to, the funeral was within a week. I remember him telling me a year or so later that 28 was ridiculously young to have lost both parents, I felt a little patronised at the time, with eight older siblings and a wife I hardly felt orphaned, but age has made me appreciate the wisdom of his words.
At Fr Anthony’s requiem the homily was delivered by a priest who had been one of his pupils in the 1970s. A priest I have known for over 10 years. I spoke to him afterwards saying what a sublime job he had done with his homily and told him Fr Anthony had been my parish priest, his reply took the wind right out of my sails. He told me he had been in playing the organ at our church when Fr Anthony was the parish priest and that he remembered my brother Stephen and my mum!
I was completely taken aback, we had never discussed this before. Father told me he used to play the organ at the church, this had all passed me by, but then I was married and attending another parish by this time.
More than anything else I could not get this out of my head that evening. It bought back to me just how much of a community the Catholic Church is. There is always someone who knows someone, there are always connections. My wife has said if you get three Catholics in a room together, within 10 minutes all three will share a mutual acquaintance. I think this might well be true, and is a great strength that you stand on various aspects in the Church, whether you are practicing or have drifted away at the moment, we are community, we are Church, and the fact that we are Church, should be valued.