I am most definitely not religious, but yesterday I went to Mass to say goodbye to two extraordinary men. Thankfully it wasn’t a funeral service, but it was a sad occasion. Both men were priests, who are leaving our community, Fr Pat, to another parish after nine years and Fr Charlie, who is retiring after twenty years among us.
I arrived a little late and the normally only half full, large church was as packed, as if it were Christmas. Standing at the back, I had a birds eye view of the crowd, the singers and the two main men on the altar. As I watched I saw the many times heads in the crowd bowed and tissues and fingers were used to wipe away tears. Not being one to pray, I’d time to wonder at the many stories sitting in the church and the part Fr Charlie and Fr Pat had played in each of them. Stories such as mine.
In 2013, Daniel, my friend’s son, was diagnosed with leukemia. He was13 and passed away 11 months later. From the earliest days of his diagnosis Fr Charlie called to his home and throughout that year, gently and without imposing, supported the family. During Daniel’s final few days, Fr Charlie was in the house from early morning until late at night, asking and expecting nothing, but his gentle presence provided enormous comfort and support. Unlike my friend, I have no great faith, but in the days after Daniel’s passing, Fr Charlie and I had a number of ‘discussions’ and his willingness to absorb my quiet rage was healing in itself.
Fr Pat arrived to the parish around this time so had a lesser role in my story but such is his character that over the years he too has managed to have a large impact on non-Catholic, non-religious me. Judging by the many who queued up to say goodbye, like Fr Charlie, I could see how he too had played a significant role in the lives of so many.
Sadly, our communities stories with these men have all now been told. It is never easy to say goodbye, but yesterday I felt it was an honour to attend their final mass and celebrate all they have given us.
Fr Pat and Fr Charlie, thank you for the time, patience, kindness, caring, support and love you have given to so many, often during the darkest of days. I wish you every good wish in your new adventures. You will be greatly missed.