I was in Cork recently for my mother’s birthday. I was collected from the station and promptly sent to mass with my mother for a local priest’s month’s mind.
I hadn’t even known that Fr. C was dead. At the mass (cast of thousands, well 10 priests on the altar) there was a long and interesting sermon about his life which in no respect chimed with what I knew of him. Until I was 11, every evening in term time, my parents would eat with Fr. C while my siblings and I were fed elsewhere. My parents therefore knew him very well and they were fond of him. I only met him occasionally and, as this was the 1970s when adults were not obliged to show interest in children unless they actually were interested (possibly a better system than that which currently applies where everyone has to be fascinated by children all the time), he paid me no great attention.
I was a bit surprised when he turned up on the altar at my wedding to concelebrate the mass with my father’s cousin (who was the priest we had asked to come). On the day, Mr. Waffle raised his eyebrow – who was that – and I shrugged whispering, “Family friend, rather dour.” And then Fr. C christened all my children for me. He was as gruff as ever and I can’t say that I ever had a conversation of any length with him but I came to expect his lined, frowning face at important religious rites. I was surprised to hear the priest at the month’s mind refer to him jovially as Canon Mike and a “charismatic priest”. I can tell you, he was never Canon Mike to me and the charisma, if any, was in trace quantities as far as I was concerned.
Still, I do feel that perhaps, from his now lofty perch in heaven (gruff, but holy, you know) he may just, unexpectedly, keep an eye out for my family here. I stopped and said a quick prayer at his grave on Sunday, just in case.