On 27th September 1964, I professed four Vows at a ceremony in the Passionist Monastery, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. I had entered the Novitiate on 31st August 1963 having completed my Leaving Certificate at CBS, Bray, that summer. The way I looked at is was that I wanted to try out this strange thing called a 'vocation' and if it was not for me, I would have been happy to get on with my life. A local priest suggested I wait a few years before joining but understood my wish to test this now rather than wait and then find out it was not for me. Little could I have know that I would never see my Mother again in this life - she died suddenly on 19th March 1964.
That was then. 50 years later, all I can say is that I am still a Passionist. Some people find it (me?) strange that I did not want an 'official' celebration. At the Information Day in St Joseph's garden a very kind group of people prepared a banner and presented me with a cake - that was very much appreciated.. At a student retreat Mass in Marymount School that weekend, some lovely words were spoken about the occasion and a gift presented. In the old days, a special Jubilee holiday was provided by the Passionists to some part of the world that the one celebrating wished to visit!
My reason for not marking the event is because I feel it would be insensitive to celebrate now. During those 50 years a great deal of damage was done to children and vulnerable adults by a relatively small number of consecrated Religious. Even though I am, by the grace of God, not numbered among those who damaged God's little ones or committed criminal acts, I belong to a church that did. It would go against my principles to have a celebration at a time when so many people are still hurting.
My reason for going into details about this is that some people may have thought that I was being deliberately awkward or odd! At present I am so delighted to hear the words of Pope Francis and others reflecting what I have always believed to be the mind and heart of Christ. I left home in 1964 from a loving family and entered into a system of clerical formation that even then did not make much sense to me. I remained hoping that the clerical formation would improve. It didn't and was slow to change. I loved the studies I did, the friends that I made but the training to which my generation was subjected was not of Christ.
I have survived in religious life because of God and the start I got from my parents and family. I have been truly fortunate that in all the places I have ever lived over the past 50 years, I have been cared for by loving people who showed me why God put us on this earth. I have friends to this day stretching back to student days and since. For these people I could never thank God enough.
On 19th December 2020, if God spares me, I will celebrate 50 years as a priest. That is another day like 27th September 2014 on which I will know that all this is God's work and not my achievement. A.T.