Friday, October 2, 2009

Losing your Fathers

I know many of you will be reading this expecting to hear all about my terrifying brush with minor surgery during the summer, as promised in Issue 142, but I simply can’t let this issue go without relating the anguish felt in the Huntstown area over the loss of not one, but both, of our parish priests.
When I say loss, I do not mean that they have simply gone astray in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and we can’t quite locate them, like the priests in Fr. Ted who were lost and disorientated in the lingerie department of Dunnes.
Truth of the matter is that the Archbishop works in mysterious ways. Fr. Eugene has forsaken us poor sheep and has headed off to the bright lights of downtown Mulhuddart, while Fr. Ralph has been retired, despite the fact that he is still under eighty. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one parish priest is unfortunate; to lose two hints at carelessness.
It seems like a veritable age since Fr. Eugene first rode into the parish, tethered his horse to the prefab that served as the church and proceeded to put manners on us. No longer would we get away with mumbling our responses. No sirree. We would sing our Hallelujahs as though we were trying to impress Simon Cowell and anything less than full participation meant that we had to sing them again until the rafters shook.
It was something of a culture shock. Fr. Jones – who, let’s face it, did not have a voice to make Louis Walsh leap up and down with excitement – had somewhat minimised the singing bits of the mass. Fr. Eugene, however, definitely had the X factor and we now were expected to sing three hymns as well as gospel acclamations and responses at full volume!
Of course, we got used to him and him to us. Under his stewardship, the new church opened in Huntstown, as well as the Chapel of Ease in Littlepace. He introduced the wonderful sight of all the children elbowing each other out of the way to be the first up to the altar to participate in the Our Father and I was particularly struck by his revelation to me, on seeing my Shelbourne jersey about how, as a child, he used to play football in the streets with Shels supremo Ollie Byrne.
Fr. Ralph came later. With three masses to be said between Huntstown and Littlepace every Sunday morning, it would have been something of a test for Fr. Eugene to sprint the half mile between the two churches, so one morning this twinkle-eyed, silver-haired bearded priest appeared at mass, like Ronnie Drew with a collar.
I think Fr. Ralph missed his true vocation as a stand-up comedian. He could have them rolling in the naves with some of his self-deprecating observations and his ramblings and asides were of Ronnie Corbett-esque proportions. And to me, he uttered the greatest line I ever heard from a priest as we were leaving mass after Pope John Paul II died. “Look at the crowds,” he enthused. “We should get rid of a pope every week!”
It’s difficult to know what to do when a priest leaves the parish. My own inclination would be to have a bit of a hooley, though I suspect both of our departing priests’ dancing days are over, no matter how many times Fr. Eugene danced around Ollie Byrne fifty years ago. Besides, it’s not quite the same as when a work colleague leaves and everybody goes out and somebody gets up on the table and bares their backside or tries to get off with that girl in accounts.
I understand that the parish have invited them back for a special mass in October, though to me this is like asking a departing postman to come back and do a few hours sorting. An anonymous suggestion that we hold a karaoke night was apparently ruled out on the grounds that Fr. Eugene would blow everybody else out of the water, particularly Fr. Ralph who is notorious for starting hymns an octave too high.
Similarly, what on earth do you get as a present for a priest that is leaving the parish? Certainly not some of the lurid items that are dished out to departing work colleagues. Although I suppose if a priest is supposed to renounce all worldly goods, then buying him a present is a bit like buying a pint for a reformed alcoholic.
Birthdays, the card shop up in the centre, don’t appear to stock a range of “Sorry you’re moving on, Father” cards, or even, “Sorry you’re retiring, Father” cards. It was only when I looked that I realised that Hallmark don’t really cater for priests at all – I have since written to them and pointed out this gap in their market.
Anyway, the pair of them are gone now this past two weeks. Fr. Eugene is doubtless sipping his margueritas by the pool in balmy Mulhuddart and has probably forgotten about us already. I’ve heard many families in the area are now enrolling in singing classes in preparation for the mass. Fr. Ralph, I expect, is busy forming a Dubliners tribute band with a view to touring the country, providing he can start “Seven Drunken Nights” in the right key.
Meanwhile we have a new priest. Fr. Begley is eying us warily and we’re eying him with equal caution. It’s like when you get a new teacher in school. Doubtless we’re going to try and see how little singing we can get away with in the mass and wondering if he’s going to insist on us singing the third verse of the hymn on the missalette.
There are many who no longer see the parish as a geographical entity. We live in one particular area and the things that bind us together are the public transport problems or the local shopping centre or the pub. However, the church in Littlepace has always had a good attendance at Mass and it remains an important social as well as spiritual centre for many families in the area.
So when you lose both of your priests in one fell swoop, it can rightly be regarded as the end of an era. Gone, but not forgotten.

No comments: