October 6 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Journeys into the past and future

A road trip to Dundee and a reflective week has THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS in a nostalgic mood — BY FR JOHN BOLLAN

Last week ended in a bit of a blur, only some of which could be accounted for by my ‘change of season’ cold and self-medicating with Night Nurse. On Friday morning, St Joseph’s Primary School hosted a coffee morning in support of Macmillan Cancer Care. Pupils, staff and parents had pulled out all the stops in providing a mouth-watering array of home-baked goodies.

This event is always well attended, but even more so this year since the school was making its donation in memory of Deacon Paul, who lost—and won—his fight with cancer four months ago.

Paul’s wife Margaret, their daughter Niki, and his youngest grandchild Alexander were all in attendance to join in the highly calorific fun. I’m sure Paul, who was always a friend of cake, would have been very chuffed by it all.

In the afternoon, I headed off to Dundee to prepare for a teaching session on Saturday morning for those ‘setting out on the journey’ in pursuit of the bishops’ qualification for teaching Catholic RE in schools. This was a chance to be reunited with the director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, a year-mate of mine at St Andrew’s College of Education, who has gone on to far greater things than any of us could possibly have imagined as we carried on at the back of the class in those carefree days in Bearsden.

I had just checked in to the Travelodge in Dundee, and was—as I always do—playing with the tiny kettle, when I noticed a text message from the bishop. A text from the bishop, particularly one asking you to phone him, is seldom a good thing. As I had predicted last week, last Friday was the day he was making his moves around the diocese but, not having received a call from the vicar general, I knew I was ‘safe’ for now. Upon phoning His Lordship, I learned that he was keen to enlist my support in the education office, helping its already-stretched director, Canon Michael McMahon.

In a moment of weakness, I acceded to his request: I’m not exactly twiddling my thumbs here, but I know the need is genuine. Before long, the bishop had released a list of the new appointments, including my own as ‘assistant director of education’ (I thought it was agencies like the FBI or the CIA which had assistant directors) and, not long after that, I was being congratulated on my ‘promotion’ by various well-wishers on social media.

I chuckled at this, since I’m not sure being reappointed to a job you were first appointed to 21 years ago really counts as a promotion. I doubt the shops stock many cards wishing folk well ‘on your second bite at the cherry,’—although you get such niche cards these days, nothing would surprise me.

Dundee was lovely, as were the students from around Dunkeld and Aberdeen Dioceses. They were bright and engaged, with lots of insightful questions and observations about their own experiences in the classroom. It’s also good to ‘touch base’ with the up-and-coming generation of teachers and, hopefully, school leaders.

One aspect of Travelodge hospitality which I’d forgotten about, or perhaps never really noticed before, is that it’s ‘dog-friendly.’ I shared my lodgings in Dundee with a couple of greyhounds and a very perky Westie girl. While this was delightful company, I felt a pang of guilt about leaving Jasmine behind with her Auntie Helen.

She could have come with me after all, although I’m not sure how she would have coped with the journey to the City of Discovery. Even with the moderate restraint of her doggy seat belt, she still likes to lend a paw with the steering and give cuddles en route, which is never the best idea.

Moreover, the journey back would have been a little much. There was an accident in Glasgow just before the M8’s Kingston Bridge and the traffic was backed up all the way to Junction 2 of the M80. This meant a tense, stop-start progress through a few miles of Glasgow which took as long as the rest of the journey down the A9. I began to feel somewhat tense as I hadn’t arranged cover for the 5pm vigil Mass and if there’s one group of people you don’t mess with, it’s the St Joseph’s Vigilantes.

Someone who will have been delighted at the bishop’s summons will be the young priest I mentioned last week, Fr Whitworth, who received his first appointment to St Joseph’s, Clarkston. I’m very pleased for Jonathan because he is following yet further in my footsteps from our home parish of St Andrew’s, through St Columba’s High School to St Joseph’s in Clarkston.

He could not hope for a better start to his priestly life: from the youngest parishioners (of whom there are many) to old-timers, like centenarian Hyacinth Brogan, they are a wonderful bunch. I just hope Beatrice can still feed him and the new parish priest, Fr Stephen Baillie, on a Sunday. What Mrs Stewart can do with ginger has to be tasted to be believed.

I have been feeling quite nostalgic lately, as attentive readers of this column may have noticed. This may have something to do with advancing years but also with the fact that this is currently the 50th dispatch from above the snow line.

We are fast approaching a year of stream-of-consciousness nonsense flowing seamlessly from my keyboard to your cherished Observer. I wonder how much more mileage there is in these ruminations, especially if I have yet more demands made on my shrinking attention span as a result of my ‘promotion?’ I’ll entrust the decision to Jasmine.

Elsewhere, St Joseph’s trundles along, as always. We’ve had a succession of back-to-back second collections for a variety of causes, so I always feel very apologetic for these constant demands on people’s generosity. And it’s not just money that the good people of St Joe’s are handing over. I’m currently up to my neck in underwear: not, I hasten to add, for any reason which might interest the gutter press, but thanks to the parish joining forces with the local Rotary Club.

The Rotarians have invited us to help their ‘Smalls for All’ appeal which, as the name suggests, is about providing pants for women and children in Africa.

This is not, of course, an exercise in recycling. My fantastic parishioners are generously donating new underwear for women and children in hospitals, schools, displaced persons’ camps, and all sorts of other locations where these taken-for-granted tokens of human dignity are often in short supply.

I have delegated the coordination of this effort to Claire, a keen soul if ever there was one. She’s kept on top of a rising pile of undergarments and has even come up with a pants-o-meter to let people keep track of how many pairs of each size have been donated.

When alerted to the existence of this pants-o-meter, one (frankly unkind) parishioner wondered aloud if this was in some way related to the quality of Father’s sermons. Thankfully, I am both thick-skinned and magnanimous. I do hope he recovers quickly from the injuries he sustained when that Child of Prague statue fell on him in a freak accident.

The coming week looks a busy one: Mass for the Inverclyde vocations group, the St Peregrine Novena reaches its seventh week, we have the parish quiz night on Friday, the inaugural Bishop’s Ball on Saturday and a presentation on ‘doing my bit’ at the Masses next weekend to try to kick-start more lay involvement in the parish in the wake of the diocesan synod.

Nestling among these good things is a more sombre occasion: the funeral of a (still) young man who was in my year at school. Maybe that’s another reason for my recent nostalgia: I find my mind drifting back to those days when our biggest challenge was avoiding a stitch during cross-country and the cares of mid-life were not even clouds on the horizon.

Anyway, I’ll do my best for John who, in my head, is still 17 (as am I). He deserves no less, bless him.


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