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Author/ contact
Peter McMurray Lasting Impressions
Richard Collins A Snapshot of Catholic England . . .
Abbot Cuthbert (Peter) Johnson Address of Dom Cuthbert Johnson given to the Reunion at park Place May 2012.

Peter McMurray

Nimmo brought Michael Goodstadt and John Larkin's comments to my attention a couple of days ago. Unfortunately I was in the process of digging a suitable grave in dry rocky clay on a steep hillside for my wingman of sixteen years - a determined West Highland White terrier - so I cogitated before answering.

It is difficult to judge the actions of people working in the 1950's under the mores of today. The loneliness and lack of any meaningful support I fully agree with. In fact I sometimes wonder if I lived on another planet.

For example,  I had no idea that any student smoked, yet I now discover there was a major trade in Woodbines :-) .

Pleasant events , well I remember helping Father Fitzgerald load and deliver a ton of dung one day and being rewarded with a trip to the cinema - Spencer Tracey in Bad Day At Black Rock. Helping John Lyden with his cricket practise. Fr. Monaghan's attempts to teach us cricket. In fact I just went with the flow as I was destined to be a priest and belonged to Mother Church rather than my birth family; obedience was the be all and end all.

I sustained much deeper hurt than I imagined from my own method of termination. I went to see Father Superior to discuss doubts I had about my vocation. To my horror, instead of a sensible discussion, he sat back with a pompous air and said there are three reasons for leaving :

1 to get married (me a 17 year old naive virgin);
2 to take up a career  (it would be another 10 years before I discovered what that was);
3 because you are acting like a BLOODY fool (his emphasis not mine).

"I think that you fall into the third category"

He apparently wrote to my mother and the next thing I knew was I was down at the youth employment bureau and being signed up to a modern slave contract i.e. articled to a chartered accountant. The full legal hit of which I did not discover until 2 years later when I went to swap my 2 pound ten a week tick-it -and-hope audit job for a nine pound ten a week job driving a grocery van.

In fact when I found Paul West's site in 2003 I sobbed for 10 minutes as it all flooded back and finally I have forgotten that Superior's name. I then realised the diaspora that had hit my classmates - I was not alone. Quite a few had joined the extreme forces - in fact I have a jazz pianist to thank for my not doing so as he told me he thought that that was just a cop out, which in my case it was. I was just looking for someone to tell me what to do.

I have the greatest admiration for those that, like Commander Bill Nimmo-Scott RN OBE, made a great go of it. Others like Mick Mearns had travelled the globe making my perambulations a simple jaunt.

Did we turn out well because of the schooling or in spite of it? We will never know. Michael is wrong about one thing ; boarding school is a perfectly normal thing today in places subject to the tyranny of distance such as Australia. However I think many parents would freak at the thought of an 11 year old boy, domiciled in central England, finding his own way to and from the borders of Scotland in the depths of a snowed in Winter as I did.

The religious experience is simply a matter of birthplace. In the UK you had the greatest salesman in history - St. Paul - for being Catholic or Protestant. In Russia Marx would have held sway. In China Confucious was over taken by Mao.In India Shiva holds sway although I prefer Ganesha. Middle East Mohammad is the man although Sunnii seem to hate Shia even more than anyone else. In my darkest moments of deep blue despond I found considerable relief in Buddhism and Zen meditation.

My preference is to be considered a Humanist and feel that any belief system based on fear is wrong. In fact I bought A.C. Grayling The God Argument today and plan some thought along these lines. As the Irish humorist, Dave Allan, would say "May your God be with You". Meanwhile I have just taken up the piano haven fallen under the spell of great Boogie-Woogie players such as Paterok and Zingg - what a blessing You-Tube has turned out to be :-) Click here to listen.

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A Snapshot of Catholic England in the 1950s
Riichard Collins

Three siblings in this photograph and, left of the celebrant,
Francis Scholes, future Editor of the Toronto Star

Those were the days. We were happy in the knowledge that we belonged to a Faith that claimed to be the one true Faith where there was no such thing as liturgical change. "I can categorically state" said Fr Barry, dipping his hand into a bowl of olives. "That there will never be laymen or women on the sanctuary" (apart from male altar servers, that is). And we believed him, certain that rubrics and doctrinal truths were just that.

Parish life in Hounslow and nearby Heston seemed pretty idyllic. In our parish, out of a combined total of circa 1,000 souls, only one couple were divorced; our lives centred around the church. Saturdays were church cleaning days for the girls whilst the boys served at either the 8am or 10am Masses and then ran chores for the housekeeper, a dear soul by the name of Miss McInernie.

Sundays offered a choice of Masses 8am, 10.30am and 12 noon (where the Irish navvies would gather at the back of the church in their navy blue Sunday suits, leaving before the Last Gospel because the pub opposite was open). And, in the afternoon, Sunday School followed by Rosary and Benediction.

Parish notices were read out before the homily and special attention was paid to donations in the collection plate. Weekly totals of the offerings were announced and special votes of thanks given to the three donors of the ten shilling note (50 pence) and the two donors of the one pound note and the donor of the five pound note (gasps of breath at this stage). The average weekly wage was less than five pounds so a donation of that size would be today's equivalent of more than five hundred pounds! There were no ten pound notes then.

The total number of altar servers was in the region of 30 plus and, at Christmas and Easter, the full number would turn out so that, at the sermon, the smaller boys had to sit in serried ranks on the altar steps; what a picture that must have painted. And, as today, the MC post and that of thurifer, went to the aged ones until a new curate arrived and began training up the eleven year olds. After a few weeks noses were well and truly put out of joint by a precocious eleven year old MC-ing at the Sunday High Mass.

A great sight was to watch these young boy MCs directing large groups of servers at the inclination of the head or a discreet movement of the hand, far better than their older counterparts who appeared to be as subtle as Rome policemen directing traffic.

Socially, we had all the usual groups Children of Mary, Legion of Mary, SVP, Knights of St Columba (and Squires), Cubs, Scouts and Guides and St Stephen's Guild. Every couple of months there would be a parish dance where Catholic girls would meet Catholic boys, inevitably resulting in a Catholic wedding a year or two later.

Young boys began serving on the altar at the age of five and were expected, at the age of seven, to be able to give the Latin responses of the whole Mass without the aid of a missal or a prompt of any kind. You stood beside Fr Steer in the Presbytery and solemnly worked your way through the Mass. If successful you were allowed to serve in what we called the "Right" position at Mass. This was the senior position for Low Masses. The server taking the "Left" position would have done so following a quick consultation process in the sacristy; all others knelt at the side altar steps.

Weddings were always popular amongst the altar boys as you stood a good chance of a small consideration in the form of half a crown (12.5 pennies) for your services. Requiem Masses were less popular due to the fact that mortuary refrigeration must have been pretty basic then and the custom was to receive the coffin sometimes two days in advance of the Mass. This meant that the church stank to high heaven by the time the Requiem was held.

It is quite hard to conjure up a list of what was bad about those times. Liberals would have you believe that we were swamped in a wave of lacy cottas and clerical repression but I would just call it a disciplined way of practising one's Faith. I can only think of one 'bad' practice and that was the overnight fast before receiving Holy Communion at Mass the next day. Masses were always punctuated by one or two people fainting as a result and creating noise and disturbance in so doing. When the three hour fast was brought in, all breathed a sigh of relief and the crashing of bodies in the pews came to a halt.

Change could happen and for the better

Taken with permision from Richard Collins:

REPLY: John Nolan
June 28, 2013 7

I much preferred serving at funerals; the rite was more impressive, they were on a weekday so you got out of school, there was a ride to the cemetery in a big black car. By 1960 half-a-crown was on the stingy side and in my parish it was a rare best man who tipped you five bob.
Reply: jadis
June 30, 2013

I can only think of one 'bad' practice and that was the overnight fast before receiving Holy Communion at Mass the next day."

Agreed. My grandmother - a diabetic from the age of 35 to her death at 56 in 1946 - was unable to take Communion for years (any sort of dispensation was unknown to her). Also the nonsense about swallowing toothpaste or water when brushing your teeth. Again this was probably over scrupulosity, but it terrified first communicants.

My father got half a crown in 1926 for serving at his Grandfather's funeral - but this was a bit of an event. By the mid 60s this was my weekly pocket money, and would buy an Enid Blyton paperback in WH Smiths.

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Address of Dom Cuthbert Johnson given to
the Reunion at Park Place May 2012


As I look from the window of my cottage in Great Swinburne, Northumberland, I can see across the fields the A68, the very road on which 53 years ago I travelled on the Bus from Newcastle with David Ritson heading for Saint Columba’s College at Newtown St Boswell’s. If I had looked out of the window of the bus and seen Swinburne with its tiny church and six little houses, I could never have imagined that half a century later I would be living there.

As we all look back over the years we see so many events and happenings that were unexpected and not according to the plans we had formed. A centenary celebration like all anniversaries is a time of reflection. It is a time of thanksgiving for blessings received and a time to affirm our continuing hope and trust in the Lord and His providential designs.

As I headed for St Columba’s, I believed, as I am sure the other 56 students travelling to the same destination believed, that we were setting out on a journey that would eventually lead to the life of a missionary priest in Africa.

The intake of students in September 1959 was the largest ever, but of the 57 students only three of that year were eventually ordained to the priesthood. Two are now White Fathers, Chris Wallbank and Dick Kinlen, the other is myself.

In recent years we have heard so much about numbers, the rise and decline of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Statistics have their place and have to be taken into account in decision making at every level. Unfortunately, there has been in recent years an unhealthy and unspiritual approach to numbers. The decrease in recruitment is seen by some as a negative reflection upon the life of a seminary or religious community and some interpret such decline as a sign of failure. I do not agree with those who express such views and I would go even further and say that such views are not in harmony with the teaching of the gospel regarding success and failure.

Over fifty years ago Donald Attwater warned against, what I call the numbers game, when he wrote, "First, last and all the time, the White Father's task is, not to produce impressive statistics, but to bring about the interior conversion of the peoples to Christ, to bring to the individual African soul knowledge of those things which" eye hath not seen nor ear heard."

Thank you for inviting me to share with you some of my thoughts on the occasion of this centenary of the arrival of the White Fathers in England, fifty years ago I celebrated the Golden Jubilee of this event at the Priory. Since this is a family celebration I would like this morning to offer some reflections from my experience as a student at St Columba’s and the Priory, as a mark of gratitude for what I received during my period of formation with the White Fathers. It was a time when seeds were sown and which came to fruition in various and many unexpected ways.

As you know, St Columba’s College on the banks of the river Tweed is set in exceptionally beautiful countryside. It is also a place steeped in historical memories, especially religious

ones. It was in the vicinity of St Boswell’s that Saint Cuthbert began his life of service in the monastic life. The ruins of the four border abbeys, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose were nearby. Although like my fellow students, I found these monastic sites fascinating, I had no idea that one day I would find myself leading the same kind of life for which they had been built.

Obviously we were too young to have thought of the ancient abbeys as "signs of the consecrated life in the mission of the Church", but this does not mean that the ruins were not of special significance for us. Our four school houses were named after these abbeys and we took pride in ensuring that through our efforts at every level our house would be the best. The holy ruins were a reminder to us that others long ago had given themselves to the service of the Lord just as we wanted to do. For those not so familiar with the area Dryburgh was the neighbouring property across the river and Melrose was within easy walking distance.

We were aware that we were living in a very beautiful area and for those of us who came from the industrial areas of Britain we were truly filled with awe as we visited the Eildons, Scott’s view, Wallace’s monument and the farm animal market at St Boswell’s.

General education and ethos

In a contribution to the Pelican Website entitled "Looking back with gratitude" a former student Patrick Southall who was at St.Columba's and The Priory between 1954 to 1958, wrote the following:

"I look back with gratitude to my teachers at St. Columba’s and the Priory. They took on the task of teaching a grammar school curriculum to boys of mixed ability. Most of us had not passed the 11 plus. Most of us would not continue to prepare for the priesthood after several years, but the White Fathers always showed great concern to safeguard the educational prospects of every student whether he decided that he had a vocation or not. They did a totally professional job not just in the classroom but in every aspect of a rounded educational experience including sport, spirituality, leisure, work-experience and character building".

These sentiments are a well founded and just tribute to the work of the Fathers and Brothers in the junior seminaries. There is no doubt that many who passed through St Columba’s and the Priory can associate themselves with those words of appreciation. Similarly, the words of Eugene MacBride recalling his experience in the early fifties, "The White Fathers conferred many benefits for which I am eternally grateful" would be echoed by us all.

What was it that has brought about a feeling of gratitude among former students? What was it that the Fathers and Brothers communicated to us that made such an impression and left its imprint upon us?

In the work and lives of those members of the Society with whom we had contact and who played various parts in our formation we experienced the fervour of their commitment to Christ.

This spirit of commitment was expressed in the motto on our school badges "Ad salvandos Afros". Whatever they were called to do, even teaching and working in the seminary was still for the salvation of the African peoples.

Ad salvandos afros is only part of a much richer description of the White Father who was to be "Sacerdos et Victima ad salvandos afros", Priest and Victim for the salvation of Africans.

The Missionaries of Africa were to be fully identified with Christ Jesus who came for our Salvation and was the Priest, the Altar and the Victim of His sacrifice which brought about our redemption. The work of the White Father was to be "to continue Christ’s work on earth".

There were no ideological theories for the life of the members of the Society. The greatest ideal that was set before them by their founder was to be incorporated into Christ in order to be able to say with Saint Paul "It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me". Cardinal Lavigerie declared that the "fundamental aim of the Society is the sanctification of its members, the more so because the holiness of the apostle is the condition of the fruitfulness of his work." It is not therefore surprising that Cardinal Lavigerie insisted so much upon the importance of prayer. The life of every member of the Society was to be rooted in prayer which Lavigerie regarded as the first and foremost duty of the missionary.

What was said of Father Buniol in an article written by a White Father in 1958 was also true of many of his confreres: "Such untiring energy and devotion to the task committed to his care was based on one thing alone—prayer. We did not need lengthy conferences on the value of prayer. We had before our eyes a living example of solid piety.

Finally Fr. Buniol instilled into us all a great ambition, namely to work on the missions in Africa. Being a White Father he had an ardent desire to go there himself. However his superiors thought that he was needed elsewhere and so he realised his ambition through us. We left the Priory with one ideal, "Ad Salvandos Afros.".

The importance of this vision of dedication to the work of the Gospel and how real it was even for us young boys cannot be underestimated. This was the ideal that Cardinal Lavigerie had set before his first disciples and the ardour of this flame never waned. In 1876 Lavigerie wrote: "The characteristic virtue of a missionary is zeal. Zeal is the perfection of Charity".

Of course, those who were responsible for our formation and well being, were not perfect and just as boys the world over quickly find chinks in the armour of their teachers, we too were aware of their limitations. However, at the end of the day we knew that they had a vision and a goal in life and they shared their enthusiasm with us.

While the White Fathers were very faithful to what they had received they did not live in the past. If there is one thing that struck me even during my student days is how the Society was always forward looking. I remember Father Joe Haigh speaking to us in 1961 about Africa and he said quite explicitly that the Africa that we would see would be so different to what he knew. And in an almost prophetic vein, he outlined the dangers that lay ahead both political

and social and suggested that the future might bring with it a new age that would call for great heroism perhaps even martyrdom.

There is little doubt that the international character of the Society and the fact that there were Fathers on the teaching Staff from various parts of the world was a significant influence upon us. Even the Irish, Scottish and English members of Staff had spent time abroad either in their own period of formation or at work on the missions. This fact brought a colour to our experience that was not available in many other schools enjoying a higher reputation for their educational work.

For example, under the influence of the French Fathers we were frequently reminded of the importance of reading the Scriptures. This seem to be obvious today but it was not so in pre-1959 British Catholic Education. In Catholic schools the "penny catechism" was the staple diet. While that Catechism did provide a structure, stress was laid upon learning it rather than understanding it. And my own experience is that little was given in the way of explanation. Terms and phrases that made no sense were never explained.

With the arrival of Bernard Joinet on the Staff some of the continental renewal in catechetics was introduced into the teaching of the faith. Unlike the British system students were encouraged to ask questions and receive explanations.

Leisure and work experience

Times of leisure were important and played an important part in creating a sense of community. The much appreciated days out Camping or "tinkering" in the Valley or Gallidown helped create initiative and develop team spirit.

The short period of daily manual work played an important part in creating a sense of responsibility. Everyone had a job to do and we were made to feel that we were making a contribution to our well being. There were a great variety of jobsfrom feeding the hens and pigs to polishing floors, sweeping and dusting. There was an unstated but genuine respect for the work that others did and there was never a sense that some tasks were menial.

Character building

Healthy atmosphere for the development of friendship. We were more than just affable companions and while there were a few examples of what can healthily be described as a youthful crush, there was nothing of the cheap or sentimental. The boys were able to develop not only affectively but also effectively, showing great concern for one another’s well being.


There was a healthy period of time allocated for a variety of sports without being excessive. Father Thomas McKenna made gymnastics interesting and encouraged the timid. The competitive spirit was cultivated and everyone had to play his part. There would some gifted players but this was never a hindrance to team spirit.

Cultural activities

Various cultural activities were available to develop the horizons of young minds. Hobbies were encouraged and brought out hidden talents. When some boys epreed the desre to learn how to paint an art teacher as brought in from Edinburgh. Listening to music became more accessible when it took the place of reading in the refectory.

The Debates were always popular, serious and amusing, and always respectful of divergent points of view.

Among the theatrical productions I remember Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral which were both performed to quite a high degree by such young people. Added to stage production were play reading groups.

Films were always enthusiastically welcomed. Access to television was limited but programmes like Panorama were recommended as a means of understanding current affairs.

Liturgical Life

Obviously, given the way my life developed in the area of liturgy, the first Englishman to obtain a doctorate in Liturgical Theology and then spending thirteen years in the Congregation for Divine Worship in the Vatican, this is an important area for me.

In January 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his intention of calling an Ecumenical Council. The English speaking world was not prepared for this event, whereas the German and French speaking countries were more open to the possibilities of a Council. They had seen great strides made in the sphere of Biblical, Liturgical and Patristic studies. There was also a greater openess to ecumenism on the Continent. Consequently, because of the international character of the Society, we young students were better prepared than most for the developments that were to take place during the years following the announcement of the Council and its subsequent implementation.

In the summer edition of that same year 1959 an article appeared in the Pelican about the Liturgy in the Priory, keep in mind that these remarks were made three years before the Second Vatican Council opened: "Our Major Superiors issued instructions to ensure that all present at Mass should participate actively in it and not be mere passive onlookers."

In order to make this participation effective it was recognised that catechesis was necessary: "The Mass is therefore explained to the students in detail ; its prayers analysed, the significance of its gestures pointed out to them. All these explanations are the first step towards the goal of enabling the students to understand, pray, and offer the Mass.".

Problems which we are still experiencing today 50 years after the Second Vatican Council were already diagnosed at the Priory, listen to this perceptive analysis, "there are inevitable difficulties bound up with the students' age, and perhaps with the hectic atmosphere of the world in which they live. There is a sameness in the prayers and actions of the Mass that can easily engender indifference and make prayer exceedingly difficult. ... Even when our daily

Mass is seen to involve personal offering and sacrifice, young people still need variety in the manner of their offering and sacrifice."

Practical measures were taken and there follows a list of innovations, "we have tried out several different ways of assisting actively at daily Mass: a fully Dialogue Mass twice weekly, along the lines laid down by Father C. Howell, s.j. (this commentary is read by one of the students) ; and on two other weekdays there is singing of hymns appropriate to the various parts of the Mass. At all Masses the epistle and gospel have been read in English by one of the students."

And to conclude, the following phrase will resonate in your ears with what the council was to say about the Liturgy five years later, the author of this article speaks of the Liturgy and the Sunday Mass as the focal point, "from which all other activities stem and from which they derive their meaning and unity."

These initiatives were modestly described as "our attempts to make the students more conscious of the Sacred Liturgy as a source of life, and as a living drama, in which they are actors and around which the whole purpose of their lives as future-priests is centred.". The value and importance of these efforts was such that the author of the article on the Liturgy at the priory in 1959 wrote, "We pray that the future will see these experiments carried further, and our students made more aware of the dignity and responsibility of the Priesthood to which they aspire.". Five years later with the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium the renewal of the Liturgy began.

At St Columba’s in 1959 the Liturgy was equally the subject of interest and concern and the French Canadian Camille Dufort and the French Bernard Joinet were to exercise considerable influence over the students in this matter.

There were customs and practices which were quite new for the students. For example, at the entrance to the church there was on a table the cruets and an empty ciborium into which we put a host as we came in. Two boys would take up the bread and wine at the offertory- while this is common now it definitely was not so in 1959 and approximately a decade was to pass before a procession of gifts began to appear as a normal part of parish liturgies.

On Feast days when there was not a High Mass, six boys would process in with the celebrant and their task was to act like a schola, and read with him in an "audible voice" the Introit, Gradual/Alleluia, Offertory and Communion Antiphon. The Epistle and Gospel were read in English. The Dialogue Mass was readily accepted.

The standard of music for the Liturgy was very high and this was thanks to the work of Father John Conway. The Choir at St Columba’s joined the "Pueri Cantores Association" and were called the "Little Singers of the Celtic Cross". They were chosen to represent Great Britain at the International Congress of the "Pueri Cantores" held in Rome in 1960, and this included singing the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica with Pope John XXIII.

I am afraid I fell foul of Father Conway over the choir because one evening during recreation I was standing with several fellows who were choir members, and I came up with the idea

that they should sing and I would conduct them. Since we were below the window of Father Conway’s room it was rather provocative. He came down in a rage and when he saw me waving my arms about, pretending to be him, he called me a good for nothing and all sorts of things. He felt that he had gone a bit over the top and made a public apology the next day!

The high musical standard that we had known at St Columba’s was to be found at the Priory thanks to the work of Mr Heath who gave many years of dedicated and generous service as choir master at the Priory. Mr Heath ensured that everyone participated in singing the Mass and he was able to do this through his own personal enthusiasm and his evident devotion to his work.

It was the custom at the Priory to sing Compline on a Sunday evening. During the course of 1962 it was decided that we should sing it in English and I prepared a setting of the Salve Regina. The transition from Latin to English took place without any complaints.

Another important formative factor at the Priory was the presence of Mr Dan Williams, a former Baptist minister and steeped as he was in the Bible he was able to give us a thorough grounding in the Scriptures. Mr Williams left the Priory in order to study for the priesthood at the Beda College in Rome.

In 1964 I wrote an article for the Pelican on the Liturgy expressing the hope that the then recently announced programme of Liturgical renewal as outlined in Sacrosanctum Concilium would be quickly implemented.

There is no doubt that the White Fathers have always been forward looking in liturgical matters and this stems from the very first years of their missionary activity. We all take the programme of Christian Initiation RCIA for granted, but a century before the directives of the Second Vatican Council in this matter, Cardinal Lavigerie with the approval of the Holy See, revived the ancient practice of the catechumenate. The candidate had to undergo two years as a postulant, learning the fundamental principles of natural religion, and two years as a catechumen learning the essentials of Christianity.

For the last three months before baptism the catechumens were encouraged to live at or near a mission station, where they received more intense instruction.

The catechumenate with its four years of instruction laid solid foundations for the development of the Church in Africa and the White Fathers’ method was adopted by other missionary societies. Cardinal Lavigerie encouraged devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, especially in the form of adoration.

The healthy and forward looking approach to the Liturgy as I experienced it at St Columba’s and the Priory certainly sowed the seeds for the way my life developped in regard to the Liturgy.

Those of us who entered in 1959 celebrated in the course of our formation two anniversaries.

St Columba’s had been opened in 1936 and so 1961 marked the College Silver Jubilee. This occasion was marked very suitably by two ceremonies which could not fail to impress young minds. The first was the ordination of Gerard Wynne on the 1st of February, 1961, by Archbishop Gordon Gray. Like us, Gerard Wynne had begun his studies for the Priesthood at St Columba's and was the 150th White Father to have been ordained by Archbishop Gray.

The occasion called for much preparation. I was a candle bearer and can say that the instruction we received made an enormous impression upon me, especially in preparation for the celebration of my brother’s ordination at Ushaw three months later.

As Chris Wallbank wrote in the Pelican, "The Ceremony went off well indeed ... and our thoughts were that we hoped our turn would come soon".

Both the priesthood and the Brotherhood were celebrated at the Silver jubilee. In the afternoon the newly ordained gave Benediction during which Brother Casimir made his final Oath in the presence of the Father Provincial.

It was a wise and deeply spiritual decision to have marked the Jubilee by putting before us the Priesthood and the Vocation of the Brother. The Brothers were an inspiration to every generation of St Columba boys and Priorians. What was said of Brother Modeste in 1954 is true of all the Brothers "his example is an inspiration to us all. He has spent fifty years unselfishly in God's service, and the sense of humour which he still retains gives one some idea of his interior happiness.".

The following year shortly after our arrival at the Priory we celebrated on July 16th, 1962 the Golden Jubilee of the Priory. After the liturgical celebrations and fine lunch, at which we were allowed to drink wine, Mr. Heath's choir gave a Concert. And here we are fifty years later.

Concluding thoughts

Those who say that the strength of the White Fathers now lies not in Europe but in Africa do not realise that they are paying one of the greatest compliments possible to the work of generations of White Fathers, Brothers and Sisters. For it was one of Cardinal Lavigerie’s principles that the work of the missionaries was to prepare the ground so that as he wrote "Africa will be converted by the Africans".

The following words written in 1952 are very poignant today: "in the time to come, when the White Fathers have withdrawn to other fields, or the sources of European missionary supply have dried up, the African clergy (trained by the White Fathers) will provide the ordinary ecclesiastical superiors for their own country, and the African Church will be African and the Church be securely rooted in that land." (Donald Attwater).

A Centenary celebration is always a time to look back and to look forward. It is a time of thanksgiving and the White Fathers have much cause for joy and thanksgiving as they survey the past hundred years of their presence in these Islands. I have tried in this small appreciation to express my gratitude for what I received from the Society.

Many years were to pass before I eventually went to Africa. In August 1985 I went to Kenya as a member of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses for the Congress in Nairobi. As they plane began its descent I thought how things might have been different. It had been my desire to serve the Lord in Africa that led me on the path to the priesthood. Perhaps the words of the Gospel which we shall hear shortly at Mass can also have a particular significance for each one of us: "Jesus said to Peter, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." The Lord has lead us all by many various and unexpected ways but through all and amid the changes and chances of this present life I am sure that we have tried to be faithful to the same command which the Lord gave to Peter when he said, "Follow me."

(source: www.africamission-mafr.org)

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