Fr Blog – a week in the life of a priest of Portsmouth Diocese

Fr Blog

What is going on with the roads around here – someone is always digging them up and causing mayhem with the traffic. Getting from Gosport to Bridgemary 3.5 miles away on Saturday evening to celebrate the 6pm Vigil Mass was a really tight squeeze – nearly late – will have to leave even earlier in future. And after celebrating the 9.15 at St Joseph’s in Anne Hill this Sunday morning, it took an unbelievable 10 minutes to travel the mere 1.5 miles back to St Mary’s on the High Street.
Having just got back, would you believe it, with so many special events coming up next week, every man and his dog seem to want to see me even before the start of our main 1100 Mass - just no time to collect my thoughts before having to launch into the next celebration. The choir have a number of changes to hymns and the order of Service for next week’s Confirmation and First Holy Communion Masses. And the altar servers are now able to include the Thurifer and two extra torchbearers for both celebrations. With a new MC also being trained, there are several training sessions and rehearsals now required during the week. Really must start planning and preparing for these big occasions much earlier - but so dependent on others and exceedingly time constrained – as always, nothing new there.
Sunday afternoon at last, and the end of another round of weekend Masses. Feeling quite drained after another hectic week – desperately need some quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament – perhaps tonight. Quick spot of lunch and then time to drop in on the altar server training and practice. So wonderful to see more and more young people becoming servers – 18 now compared to just 2 when I first arrived here 5 years ago. Some so mature and already very spiritual – perhaps a priest or two in the making – must try to devote more time to them.
Was looking forward to a relaxing walk this evening along the sea front to clear my head, but have two people now coming to see me, each experiencing different spiritual problems. Monday, my day off!! Is there such a thing? I suppose this week is much more manic than most with the Bishop’s Confirmation Mass for 15 young candidates on Thursday – first formal visit of our new Bishop to my parish, and then First Holy Communion at the 1100 Sunday Mass. What – two of the candidates cannot make it on Thursday as their family is away!! Going to have to ask the Bishop’s office for a special dispensation to conduct the Confirmation on his behalf for them later. Need to talk to Doug, my Parish administrator – so much correspondence that needs to be tackled – I’ll just send these to him by email for now. Oh, there goes the phone again – chair of our finance committee needs to see me. We were doing so well with the refurbishment; then discovered the roof and window leaks in the church and presbytery – not surprising for a building some 135 years old. Thank heavens for the fundraising efforts of my faithful parishioners - £30K extra is no small sum and especially in these days of extraordinary financial hardship for so many, living in this poorer community around this parish.
So how’s the rest of the week looking? Mass here at St Mary’s at 1200 tomorrow. Ah, Fr John, the Bishop’s MC is over in the afternoon – his first chance since returning with the Bishop and myself from Jersey last week where there was Confirmation and a Deaconate ordination in my previous parish. Another altar server practice in the evening at 5.30pm, followed by a rehearsal for the candidates and their sponsors at 7pm. Rather sad at having to cancel my prayer group for healing on Thursday, due to the Confirmation Mass. But have more people in need of spiritual prayer and healing coming to see me on Wednesday. Make a note to myself – must prepare special homily for First Communion before the weekend – also have homilies to prepare for the other two weekend Masses. Rosary and Mass here at St Mary’s on Wednesday evening at 6.30pm. Mass at St Columba’s in Bridgemary at 10am on Thursday morning.
Need to talk to Joe about a Healing Mass next month – instead of having more as intended, I am forced to have much less – not enough time in the diary for these, but so very much needed. How the numbers attending have grown and coming from so far afield; these are now taking an average of 3-4 hours each. We really must start the Saturday morning walk in Spiritual Healing ‘clinics’. Need to sort this out with the Parish Pastoral Council to get the support needed from the other priests. Must also talk to Rebecca about 1st Friday devotions for July – gosh that is just next week – where does the time go. Must check with George how the tabernacle modification for the side altar is coming along – it will be a great blessing to our Parish to have ‘on-demand’ adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – thank God for spotting this idea during my recent retreat in the USA.
Much later on in the evening now, and judging by the noise coming in from the High Street, the local louts are well into another night of pub and club self indulgence. Instead of complaining about it, we really must accelerate the Pastoral Team’s aim of evangelisation through Nightfever. This mission of going out into the spiritual darkness of the High Street and inviting passers-by into the light of Christ from the exposed Blessed Sacrament inside the church is thoroughly exciting to me.
I’m so looking forward to Wintershall on Saturday – probably not the best weekend to be doing this – sandwiched between Confirmation on Thursday and First communion on Sunday. It was just amazing last time seeing the Life of Christ enacted out in the open on real fields, with real woods, lakes and live animals. Astonishing to see soldiers on horseback galloping right past bringing history and faith to life. As for that actor playing Christ, well he was so good, the scenes often brought a tear to my eye. How incredible for my parishioners to be able to experience this – and so good that we have a coach load of 50 now booked to go – children, together with young and mature people - what will it do for their spiritual growth – thank God for such opportunities – I just cannot wait.
The pilgrimage to Medjugorje earlier this year was just magnificent – why should I be surprised – Our Lady does it every time – makes every pilgrimage there an oasis of grace and blessing. Just wonderful to see day by day the conversions taking place in the hearts and lives of the parishioners that came with me. Must start the planning for next year’s pilgrimage, which sadly will not be to Medjugorje, but will nevertheless be extraordinary going to Fatima in time for the special celebrations. I so hope many more from the parish will go on this one and that the transformation that Our Lady is bringing about here at St Mary’s in Gosport will soon be brought to fruition.

Fr Piotr Glas

This past week I celebrated the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Soon I will leave Jersey, my first parish appointment, and move to St John’s Cathedral in Portsmouth to work as Assistant Priest in the cathedral parish and as Priest Secretary to Philip our Bishop.
The past three years have flown by. I have been incredibly busy and also very happy and content. I knew that the transition from seminary to parish would be a challenge, but I had no idea that the learning curve would be quite as steep. Perhaps it is better that I did not know just how steep it would be! 146 baptisms, 131 funerals, 27 marriages and about 1,500 Masses later, I move on to my next appointment with a lot more experience to bring to bear, but also I hope with a lot more humility, realising that I always don’t have or need to have the complete answer to every question or problem presented to me.
At times in the past few years I have felt completely out of my depth, especially in dealing with the very large Portuguese speaking population we have here in Jersey. That’s maybe not a bad thing. It has helped me realise that I, like everyone else, am saved by God’s grace alone and that it is precisely in and through human weakness that God’s power is made manifest. The key is to let go of my ego and to let Christ act in and through me. Easier said than done, which is why priests need so many prayers to ensure we stay on the right track.

Fr James McAuley

On 2nd July 2013 I celebrated my second anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. I can’t believe how quickly time is passing; so much has happened in those two years; we have a new Pope, we have a new bishop, we have a whole new structure being rolled out across the diocese…’s such an exciting time to be a priest in the Diocese of Portsmouth!
I actually celebrated my anniversary in Wokingham as I was there with the Bishop for the Pastoral Area Confirmations Mass. In May Bishop Philip asked me to take on the role of Diocesan Master of Ceremonies and so I have been going around with him for all the Confirmations across the diocese. This has been a fantastic experience! I really enjoy it; it’s a great way of getting to know the Diocese, other priests and to see the different churches we have in the diocese.
It’s amazing to see 40 – 60 candidates in most cases coming forward to be Confirmed by the Bishop. We have so many dedicated young people in the Church…’s really encouraging.
On Saturday I will have the privilege of being the MC at Rev. Ben Theobald’s ordination to the priesthood which will take place in the Cathedral…..another new priest for the Church; thank God!

Fr John Chandler

I know I must be getting old when it takes me a week to recover from a weekend Confirmation retreat! But what a retreat we had... We took 21 from our group, by minibus, to the Franciscan Retreat Centre at Coldash. We enjoyed a truly spirit filled weekend looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord blessed us with sunshine too. The transformation in the young people was incredible in such a short space of time. The Franciscan team are skilled in getting the group to open themselves to the prayer and to share their faith during the sessions they lead.

It is exciting and inspiring hearing the young people share their thoughts on faith and the Church albeit challenging too. They finished the weekend with a session called ‘My Church, Our Church. It was good to hear that they were keen for us to run more for them including a post–Confirmation group and that they would even ask we have these sessions weekly! The challenge now is to find & recruit the parents/catechists to help lead this initiative .... the young people are so hungry for it, but with our hectic lives and many commitments, I came back feeling a little anxious - can I and the Pastoral Team find those adults with the time and the passion to feed them?

We had a Pastoral team meeting last night and discussed this and, as a team, we do feel we can start something. This is so positive and I hope will show the youngsters that we took their opinions offered at the retreat seriously. They need a voice and have much to share. In a society full of distractions, we need to get in there first and work with them and help build that personal relationship with the Lord ... without that relationship, they won’t have the chance to hear His call.

On another note, my ‘ego’ took a battering! One lad at the weekend said they wanted to be able to ‘communicate and relate more with the elderly’ – naming me as one of the elderly!! It is funny how our perspectives change with age!

Fr John Cooke

I was so so pleased to see Andy Murray win Wimbledon last weekend. The sun really is shining! It seems like after years of toil and hard work, his time to reap the rewards has come, just as after a long, cold winter, we finally have some warmth! I know that I need these reminders sometimes, in sport and nature, and other places, of the importance of perseverance.
Last week I was speaking in a school about Oscar Romero on the theme of “Aspire not to have more but to be more.” There is a prayer attributed to this Central American Archbishop (although some will say that he never spoke or wrote the words) which forces me to recognise that “the Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.” It is in God’s own time that the Kingdom will come to fruition. Sometimes, as I plug away, I wonder what, if anything, will become of the seeds that are planted and foundations that are laid. But there is something liberating in knowing that “we are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own”. There is peace in believing that the kingdom will come.

Fr Mark Hogan

Since my last contribution to the Fr. Blog page, two significant events happened in my life that taught about the nature of vocation. Both of these events led me to put my complete trust in the care and providence of God.
Firstly I learned that I needed a hip replacement and this happened on April 25. As you might imagine, it wasn’t quite what I had expected at the age of 47. It was the first time I’ve had surgery of any kind, therefore putting my trust in the surgeon and his team was something new for me. I had to adjust to a different way of praying from my normal, daily routine which meant trusting completely in God and simply being aware of his loving presence during my convalescence. For five weeks I couldn’t celebrate Mass, daily or Sunday, or the other sacraments with the people of the parish. I felt as if I couldn’t do anything for God so I had to trust him to do everything for me.
The second event was Bishop Philip asking me to be Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia. This came as a great surprise to me and not only did I have to place my trust in Bishop Philip’s judgement, but, once again, I had to put my complete trust in God. The promise of obedience that a priest makes to his bishop is important in that it highlights the fact that one’s vocation is, in fact, God-given. It is God who calls us and it is up to us to listen to that call and to respond generously.
In discerning God’s purpose for us we need to put our complete trust in Him and simply ask Him to reveal to us His plan for us. It is often when we feel powerless and most aware of our dependence on Him, that we understand more deeply our personal vocation.

Fr Michael Dennehy

This week has been dominated by schools and zoos! Primary school on Monday to be put in the "hot seat" with Yr5 asking me all about the role of the priest. As always, a range of questions, some of them really well thought out and perceptive. Secondary school on Tuesday: me talking about the call of God which comes to each of us - to participate in the divine life, which is Love itself; others, including two sisters, a potential seminarian and a married woman sharing their own experience of God's call in their life.
Thursday, I went to the zoo to listen to the Bishop speak on priesthood in the new evangelisation. Well, it was the conference centre next to the zoo really but that sounds less exciting. All three were thought-provoking and inspiring, leaving me almost ready for the weekend.

Fr Mark Hogan

A snapshot of ministry: some random musings.
I didn’t know our church could fit in excess of 350 people, but the recent Feast of Corpus Christi saw our church packed with more people than I have known in my time in the parish. One of the First Holy Communion families turned up in a horse-drawn carriage; I missed that spectacle. And when over three quarters of the children turned up the following Sunday for Mass, I was delighted. Let’s see if that commitment continues, I hope and pray it does.
We recently had a Diocesan audit, where representatives from the Diocese came to look at our parish policies and procedures, our finance and governance. I must admit that I was a little nervous about this and out of my comfort zone. I have no problems telling people about the love of God, but spreadsheets and financial accounting are not my competency – thank God for those generous volunteers who are gifted in those areas. It was an exercise in that type of collaboration and service that Paul alludes to in the letter to the Corinthians where the members of the body of Christ have disparate gifts, but all are indispensable for the healthy functioning of the body. I think that I must be the little toe, playing a small but necessary role.
Last Saturday I joined a group of about 25 others who had planned a physical endurance challenge on the Isle of Wight; in the course of one day we had planned to cycle just shy of 50miles (48 to be exact) and walk a further 28 miles right across the island. We achieved what we set out to, having completed the cycling leg by late morning and spending the rest of the daylight hours walking. Thank God we made it back to the ferry for the last crossing that day. As you might expect, I had parish commitments the following morning and the small matter of celebrating the Eucharist for the community.
Lastly, from time to time I get offers of food or a take-away box prepared for me if I visit someone, a family or community. This is great as it saves me cooking, is a wonderful expression of care and concern from my people and I get to sample some lovely different cuisines. Yesterday, when I returned to the presbytery after some parish visits, there was a massive fresh water fish on my doorstep (I think it was/is a trout). It was huge and weighs about 4kg (I’ve just interrupted this mail to weigh it...on my Ikea scales). What to do with such a whopper? Of course I don’t want to throw it away, but I will never get through it and my freezer is too small to accommodate it. An impromptu party has been arranged! The local Filipino community have been mobilised and will descend on the presbytery and we will have our own foretaste of the heavenly banquet! Jesus said that he came that we might have life to the full – I am taking Him at His Word.

Fr Paul Leonard

He was perfectly gracious but he told me in no uncertain terms that he did not need me yet. When the ambulance brought him into the Hospice from the hospital I had been visiting another patient. Ken’s family had spotted my collar and latched on to me immediately. But Ken told me that he had plenty of living still to do! He would get the staff to call me when it was really necessary. It took a while, but at last he accepted that a chaplain might not wait to the last moment to be with someone. And the Sacrament of the Sick does not have to be the ‘Last Rites’ anymore, either. So, when he had let the staff settle him in, he asked me back for a chat. We got on well. I came to know him better than I know some of my parishioners, for all that he insisted that we would not have a meaningful relationship; he was ‘on his way’ ... and he pointed emphatically upwards!

That was in the morning, after the Parish Mass: that weekday congregation is always a great little powerhouse of prayer for all the various people I meet during the day. They might not always get to know the names of the people for whom they are praying ... but they certainly know how to pray.

The afternoon was of a different nature altogether. I was with Years 5 & 6 in one of my schools. They were full of life and hope and confident expectation. One of the boys, Ben, who serves at Sunday Mass, and whose mother is a teacher, has decided that he is going to be a teacher, a footballer and a priest. Mum only has to work weekdays, footballers shine on Saturdays and Father Gerard only works on Sundays. It really is simple, when you think about it!

We were talking about baptism and about who had and hadn’t been baptised and what it all meant. One bright lass, Alyssa, asked if Jesus only loved people who were baptised. Another bright spark, Callum, whom I baptised last year when he was nine, had come to faith through his school. He also serves at Mass now. He helped me by chipping in that God loves everyone but that being baptised helps you know it even more: one of the best bits of theology I have ever heard, and I could hear him underlining his point!

That particular evening brought a committee meeting: it could have made life feel routine. But we weren’t in a meeting for a meeting’s sake: at the end we knew that we were helping to make life different for some people in our Parish. And we remembered in whose name we were doing it.

New every morning: no day in priesthood is the same as the day before. As my young niece Alice would say, it helps me stay real!

Fr Gerard Flynn

The Pilgrimage of Faith in the Year of Faith. For the Year of Faith the Havant Pastoral area followed the seven letters to the seven Churches in the book of Revelations. For Seven feast days which fall on Sundays we shared lunch, walked a short distance to another Church in the area, prayed and returned to the home Church for a short prayer service.
The response has been amazing with anything from 80 to 150 at the four Pilgrimages we have had so far. The Hayling Island experience was outstanding. Catholics walked the short distance to St. Mary’s Anglican Church where there was a warm welcome and then together all walked back to St. Patrick’s pondering on the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit it being the feast of Pentecost.
As part of the preparation for Confirmation we invited he Candidates to walk with us. The response from the young people and their participation was gratifying to observe. The young people seemed to response to a people who were doing something, and the beauty was that they wanted to do the pilgrimage as well. After the first one the young people actually asked if we could have more of these.
There is also a spin-off in ecumenism in that the People of other Churches are keen to get involved.
We have three remaining Pilgrimages, Corpus Christi, September 8th and the Feast of Christ the King.

Fr Tom Grufferty

This week I've visited a couple of our diocesan schools - St. George in Southampton and All Hallows, Farnham, with a religious brother, two sisters and a seminarian (it sounds like the beginning of a joke: have you heard the one about...). We were really warmly received in both schools as we came to talk about the different paths in life that we are on and encouraging the students to reflect on their own life-path. Students engaged really well and asked some great questions. We had time for a quick mass followed by a trip to Nandos for lunch! Then in the evening, I managed to see Hampshire Royals beat Lancashire in a 40 over game at the Ageas Bowl, with Michael Carberry notching up an unbeaten 150 with his 5th 6! A very good day indeed!

Fr Mark Hogan

Welcome to the May Day Bank Holiday and the forecast is for sunshine over a long weekend. It will be a change from the usual rain at bank holiday time. On Monday I am off to Carlow College reunion at the Chateau Impney in Droitwich. Every year all the Irish Seminarians hold a get together at Droitwich, these days the numbers are far smaller than in the past, however I always enjoy the gathering and meeting up with old friends.

The month of May is also the time when the Parish Sacramental Programmes come to an end. Our RCIA Thursday evening sessions end with Pentecost, First Holy Communion Mass is on 11th May but we have to wait for Confirmation which is fixed for 28th June at Douai Abbey. I always breathe a sigh of relief when they are done and dusted, it is as if another year is completed. Then there is space and time before it all starts again in September.

From time to time I am called to Radio Berkshire, the station is here in Reading. This Sunday morning I am the guest for an hour while they run through the Sunday papers, the news and sports etc so it is an early start – 7.00am. During the resignation of Pope Benedict and election of Pope Francis many of us from the Catholic Church were given many hours of airtime, most of which seemed positive and good. Bishop Philip did a very fine interview with Radio Berkshire when Pope Francis was elected. The media in the Northern half of our diocese don't make the connection with Portsmouth, so our people were pleased to hear Bishop Philip on radio in Berkshire.

Reading is very rich in Catholic history, here we have the ruins of the great Benedictine Abbey much revered by the people of the town. To celebrate ‘The Year of Faith’ the parishes have combined to produce a booklet ‘Catholic Reading – A Pilgrimage Trail’. It is beautifully coloured, illustrated throughout and tells the story of Catholicism in Reading. Our hope is that people will use this walking guide booklet and walk to the places which hold most significance to our community, see the place where the last Abbot of Reading was executed and find out why the Catholic parishes around Reading came to be. St James here in the town centre is the Mother Church in Reading. We celebrated the 175th Anniversary of the Laying of the Foundation Stone in December. St James is the patron saint of pilgrims so we hope that with the publication of the booklet people will follow the Pilgirmage Trail in Catholic Reading and get a first hand experience of the rich Catholic heritage here in our town of Reading. (If you require a free copy of the booklet please let me know.)

Enjoy the sunshine in May

Fr John O’Shea

From now until October we will be including 33 Field Hospital in our Sunday Bidding Prayers. The Regular Army hospital is based in Gosport and has just deployed to Afghanistan. It is their third deployment to that theatre, having previously deployed several times to Iraq. Their last tour was two years ago. On that occasion, shortly after their arrival, one of their medics was blown up and lost both legs. This was a great shock and emphasised the need for prayer and pastoral support for the rear party and the families at home. The courage of the casualty and of his wife was an inspiration to all who had the privilege of meeting them.

As their Officiating Chaplain I conducted a pre-deployment service for them on the Monday of Holy Week. It was a moving occasion and the soldiers seemed genuinely grateful for the opportunity for prayer and reflection. I assured them that they would be prayed for every Sunday until their return in September. In Afghanistan, as well as caring for any British casualties they will care for Afghan soldiers and civilians. In addition they will be training Afghan medics. I pray that they will keep safe on what should be their last deployment to that theatre. In the meantime I will be visiting the Rear Party and any families who live locally.

Before training for the Anglican ministry I was a regular soldier for some six years. It was an experience that I have never regretted and, in my view, was valuable in my formation. Since, then I spent some 20 years as a Territorial Army chaplain, the last six as a Catholic priest. I found my association with a group of people outside my parish refreshing. It gave an added dimension to my ministry. Since retiring from the TA I have been an Officiating Chaplain. These are civilian priests who assist or replace regular chaplains in the pastoral care of the military. It is an aspect ministry that I value and I hope is of help to the military community.

Fr John Humphreys

Easter is my favourite liturgical feast of the year. It comes at the end of a busy Holy Week, which begins with a flight to the mainland to go to the cathedral in Portsmouth for the Chrism Mass at which Bishop Philip blesses or consecrates the oils and the priests and deacons of the diocese renew the promises made at our ordinations. Then it’s back to the parish for a flurry of activity as cleaners, MCs, flower arrangers, servers etc. work hard to prepare churches for each of the three liturgies of the Triduum.
As a priest, I always find the opening of the Solemn Liturgy on Good Friday, with my prostrating on the floor, very moving. The beginning of the Easter Vigil is, however, the part of the Triduum I enjoy most – the church in darkness, the lighting of the Easter candle from the blessed fire, the singing of the Exultet as we join in the exultation of the hosts of heaven at Our Lord’s victory over death, the welcoming into the church of those who have been preparing for this moment for months or even years.
Easter is a joyful time as it offers us the hope of Resurrection, even in the midst of this earthly life, which will at times be a “vale of tears”. On Easter Sunday morning, I wished a parishioner “Happy Easter” at the end of Mass, only to be told that his wife (aged 40) had died in a freak accident just two days before. She left three young sons. “Peace be with you” said Jesus to his disciples on the evening of Easter Day. His peace is one that the world cannot give and it is one that we as priests are called to be instruments of.

Fr James McAuley

This year, I was lucky to be able to make a retreat the week before Holy Week. It was transferred from earlier on in the year when I was taken ill. The retreat was lovely, but it has meant that I have not been able to take time off after Easter. It is taking me a while to recover the energy levels, after what was a truly magnificent experience of Holy Week and Easter.

For me, I think it was one of the most prayerful weeks I have enjoyed. I feel very blessed. This week, my attention has quickly moved forward to August - to the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, for which I am the Assistant Director. This week, we have a meeting in London with the Catholic Association. This is the umbrella organisation with which our Diocese travels. Here, on Saturday, we have the annual reunion for all pilgrims (past, present and potential). This year we are looking forward to travelling with our new Bishop for his first time with the CA Pilgrimage.

Last year, the community at St Margaret Mary’s sponsored the fare for one of our sick and housebound parishioners to go on the pilgrimage. She had sadly lost her husband during the last few years, and more recently both of her legs which had to be amputated due to illness. I was grateful she, and her family, trusted us enough to take her to Lourdes. It was her first holiday abroad ever! Having never had a passport before, she had to get to the passport office in Fareham to make the application. She was understandably v. nervous. However, she had a fantastic time in Lourdes and would like to make the pilgrimage again this year! Phew! She has grown so much in confidence during the last year, which is lovely to see. Since her return from Lourdes, another parishioner who travelled with her as a helper, has taken her under her wing. She has been visiting her, spending time with her and helping her with some mobility exercises to strengthen her upper body. She can now brush her own hair.

This year, for the first time for years - certainly since she lost her legs - our disabled parishioner took the plunge. She allowed us to arrange transport for her to come up to the Church. She wanted to attend our Easter Vigil service! Oh my goodness – wouldn’t it be a bit long for her? It absolutely made my night - she had front row seat and was right next to the font watching everything - we had an immersion baptism. At the end she asked if she could be baptised again! At the social in the Church Hall afterwards she told me that she had felt nervous about coming but, by the end of it, she was adamant we’d all see her again soon. She is coming again on Saturday for the Lourdes Pilgrimage reunion.

Our Lady & St. Bernadette have certainly ‘worked their magic’ with this lady. It is also an example of the continual little blessings that as a priest I am privileged to see in the lives of those we serve. ‘Washing the feet’ of your people is hard work, but it washes your soul with immense joy and satisfaction.

Fr John Cooke

Easter! Time for things new – new life, new hope, new possibilities. This year, all took place against the backdrop of a new bishop here in our diocese of Portsmouth and an even newer Pope.
There’s something about me (someone suggested it’s an addiction to melancholy!) which finds Lent and Holy Week much easier to grasp than Easter. The fasting and prayer and almsgiving can all be reduced to “practical challenges” which, although at times painful and a struggle, I can live out by God’s grace.
Easter, though, offers an empty tomb and that newness which God calls me towards, beyond my limited concepts. Not to some thing to grasp but some one to under-stand, stand under, trusting.
Holy Week in the parish was, as ever, beautiful; the Triduum prayerful and moving; the Easter challenge for myself and for our parish is to move beyond superficial, frothy, Easter bunny happiness in order to discover the profound joy of really believing in the One who makes all things new.

Fr Mark Hogan

Having experienced the excitement of the election of Pope Francis, our thoughts now turn to Holy Week. Holy Week, like no other time of the year, highlights for me the crucially important roles that so many people play in parish life. At a time when more and more priests are serving more than one church, the challenge of Holy Week is a considerable one.
The priest has to preside at the various liturgies but he relies heavily on deacons and lay people to help with everything needing to be organised and put in place. From preparing music to a practising with the altar servers and from printing orders of service to preparing the churches, there is much to be done.
Penitential Liturgies and individual confessions are also an essential part of Holy Week. It is a great joy and responsibility to celebrate with people, the mercy and forgiveness of God. Thankfully many of our people avail of the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in preparation for Easter.
As a priest, it is always a great joy to be present at the Chrism Mass and to renew one’s commitment to the priesthood. I am reminded of my ordination to the priesthood and I pray for the grace that I need. It is also a moment of thanksgiving for the gift of the priesthood which, in my case, has been almost 23 years.
The Easter Triduum is a most wonderful time of joy and celebration, then comes a time of welcome rest. May I wish you all a joyful and blessed Easter.

Fr Michael Dennehy

One of the great privileges of being an ordained priest is being alongside individuals and families when death is around. Each individual faces his or her dying in unique ways, and death may come suddenly and tragically, or slowly and peacefully. What never ceases to amaze me is the deep level of trust put in me by the loved ones of the deceased person.

Recently I had the special privilege of leading the Requiem Mass of a 100 year old nun, Sister Sophia Garcia, who exuded beauty, simplicity, gentleness, and always wore a beatific smile in her last years, when she was suffering from dementia. She was blessed to have around her a loving caring community of sisters and local friends, as well as devoted staff in a specialist care home.

Soon before she died I had the added privilege of celebrating the sacrament of the sick for the final time with her, and to be there for her viaticum – the last time she received Jesus in Holy Communion. After giving Sophia the last blessing, I asked her to give me her blessing. She took my hand, kissed it, and blessed me. It was one of the most memorable moments of my priesthood!

Fr Denis Blackledge SJ

St Patrick’s Day is in the offing. How do you usually mark the occasion? This year half a dozen of our men in the Diocese will spend that weekend at St John’s Seminary at Wonersh. They will probably be keeping their heads as clear as possible ... and more than many others manage to do on Paddy’s Night! They will be in the middle of the three day Selection Conference for the priesthood, alongside applicants from most of the Dioceses in the South of the country. They will be put through the mill of interviews and activities to see how well suited they could be to answering God’s call to be a priest. They vary considerably in age, background and country of birth and they are very different personalities. As Vocations Director I have enjoyed getting to know them over the past months and, with some of them, years. They also have a great deal in common. Not simply faith in Jesus and an urge to grow in love of Him; they also have that interesting mix of wanting to answer His call honestly and generously and a slight resistance to it. That reminds me so much of the centurion who both yearned for Jesus’ help for his servant and is intensely aware that he is not worthy that the Lord should enter under his roof.

It’s an extraordinary thought that Jesus could be calling you to priesthood: a sense of unworthiness seems an essential first response. But we all say together at mass that we know that we are not worthy, whatever we are called to do. So it takes a degree of humility and spiritual maturity to accept that we are called to priesthood in our unworthiness. That may help us remember how entirely we depend on God, rather than our own strengths. In turn, that may make us much better able to minister in God’s name.

If you ever wonder whether or not you might be called to the priesthood remember that there are people to whom you can speak in confidence just to see what it’s all about. If your immediate response is that you are not worthy please see that as a sign that you definitely should ask! Speak to your priest, contact Fr Mark Hogan about his ‘Come Follow Me’ group meetings and get in touch with me at or on 01983 752317.

Please pray for these men who are applying and please pray as well for those who will be interviewing and assessing them. It will be a very intense, exciting and life-changing weekend; maybe the most memorable St Patrick’s Day of all!

Fr Gerard Flynn

It is not surprising that frequently in these blogs the unpredictability of a priest’s day is mentioned a great deal. Monday 11th February 2013 was one of those days. We just had the anointing of the sick for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in which we prayed for all those who were not well, the elderly and the infirm. In truth we do not celebrate the Rite of Anointing often enough but when we do it draws out Faith and it heals those parts that other sacraments cannot reach.
When Mass was over I received a phone call from a reporter of the Portsmouth News who asked for my reaction to Pope Benedict’s resignation on February 28th. Jeff went on to ask lots of questions about the papacy, when the last pope resigned, what happens now. On occasions like this you have to think on your feet while at the same time aware that the press might well misquote you. As in this case you are also shocked or surprised by the news you are dealing with.
Fortunately with e-mail I was able to follow through facts that I was not sure of in the phone interview. Very few people, except keen histories, would know that the last Pope to resign did so nearly six hundred years ago or that another Pope called Benedict also resigned in 1045.
Being comfortable with the press, media and internet is essential part of one priestly work these days, and it is generally a rewarding experience.

Fr Tom Grufferty

Well, what a week! First the Pope decides to step down out of the blue. Best wishes for him have come pouring in from all sorts of directions. I think most people understand why he’s taken this brave and humble decision. The media spotlight on someone who is leader to 1.1 billion Catholics is bound to be intense and the modern pope is expected to travel and visit the universal flock as best he can. We’ll certainly be keeping him in our prayers.
Then, after the pancakes of Shrove Tuesday, came Ash Wednesday, one of the most powerful liturgies of the Church’s year. It’s very humbling as parishioners and school children gather to receive ashes on their forehead and mark the beginning of Lent, that wonderful season of grace as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of the lord with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. It’s also very humbling as I find myself receiving the ashes also. No one is exempt from the need to “repent and believe the good news”.

Fr Mark Hogan

I seem to have been most unfortunate as on arrival at each of the three parishes I have served I have had to address major renovation work in the church. At St Colman’s Church, Cosham I had to address serious deterioration in the Church Tower and major problems with the electrical wiring. I was then transferred to the City Centre parish of St Joseph and St Edmunds, Southampton. My predecessor, Canon Nicholas France had renovated the Presbytery and begun the paperwork for the renovation of St Edmunds Church. He kindly passed on the plans to me with the words – ‘I suggest you wait a year before starting with the renovation work in St Edmunds Church’. When I was appointed to the parish of St James and St Williams in Reading, Fr Dominic Golding, my predecessor passed on the Quinquennial Inspection Report on St James Church with the words ‘This will give you a good start to do up the church for the 175th Anniversary in 2012.’
Renovation of a church can be a joy and delight but in my experience it is nearer to a nightmare. This past year much of my time has been devoted to meetings, emails, telephone calls with architects, builders, electricians, painters on two major projects in the parish. In the winter of 2009 the boundary wall between St James Church and Forbury Gardens had collapsed. Reading Borough Council agreed to go ’50-50’ with the cost then they withdrew from the table saying it was not their responsibility. Two years later they returned and agreed to go ’50-50’. Everybody almost from the Queen downwards had to be consulted before we could touch a stone on this ancient wall. I am pleased to say the work has been done and the wall looks better than ever. We are now in the final stages of the renovation of St James Church. Our final task is to erect the new artwork on St James, our Patron Saint. This has been digitally designed with very modern figures by an artist in Brazil. The artwork is on laminate panels. It has been a major challenge for us to find a suitable expert to place these panels in the Chapel of St James. In addition to this we have had problems with the Nave lighting which has required the installation of new light fittings. Once these two tasks are finished the 175th Anniversary has been celebrated and the renovation work in St James Church has been completed.
One of the tasks that all of us priests working in parishes will have to do at some time or other is overseeing major renovation work of church property. Most of us are blessed to have some good people in our parishes who have some experience and knowledge about buildings who are more than willing to help and advise with the renovation work in church properties.
Every blessing for the season of Lent.

Fr John O'Shea

The last two funerals that I have conducted were uniquely memorable. The first was of a stalwart of our congregation. He was married to a Zimbabwean, his first wife having died some years ago. He was an extraordinarily humble and generous man.
The church was full showing how both the people of the parish and his family loved and appreciated him. His entry and departure from the church was marked by some wonderful African drumming and singing.

One of the Zimbabwean members of his family is reading theology at a northern university, with a view to becoming a pastor. He told me how much he appreciated the Funeral Mass. It was first Catholic Mass that he had attended. Apparently, his biblical tutor at university is a Catholic priest. I was amazed when he said that his own evangelical community church owed everything to the Catholic Church, the Church of the apostles. I pray that a seed may have been sown.

The other funeral was for a non Catholic, married to a Catholic. I was called to pray with the family at the time of his death. They then asked if I would celebrate a Funeral Mass for him. His funeral though a celebration of his life was more conventional, that is until we arrived at the graveside. To my surprise, we were greeted by a jazz quartet, who accompanied us to and from the grave. On the way they played rather sombre New Orleans jazz, but after the interment we were roused with "When the saints came marching home". It certainly helped us all in the cold and sleet!

I thank God for the wonderfully varied ministry that God has called me to share.

Fr John Humphreys

January seems to be the month of funerals. So far this month I have had eight funerals and, at the time of writing, have two more planned for next week. Perhaps being a hospice chaplain means I am more likely than most to be asked to conduct funerals! Ideally all Catholic funerals should be Requiem Masses. My experience to date tells me that often it is better not to have a funeral Mass and give the family the option for a Mass or Masses to be said for the deceased on a later occasion. The first funeral I conducted this month was a Mass. None of the deceased family were Catholic. The (non Catholic) organist ended up having to shout out the people’s responses while from the congregation of some 150 people there was a deafening silence. I suppose the organist (from the choir loft) was performing the role at one time reserved to the server in what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite! Plus ca change....

Shortly after I arrived in the parish, the PP asked me to be the Catholic chaplain to Jersey Hospice. I must confess that I had never set foot in a hospice before and, quite frankly, did not want to. But obedience (even if it is to the PP!) has given me the privilege of being able to accompany people in the last stage of their natural life. There’s not much space for the model of priest as social worker when helping people prepare for a “happy death”, as Catholics used to call it. Recently our bishop has written on the subject of The Care of the Dying and I commend his Pastoral Teaching Message to you (it can be found at

Fr James McAuley


They’re strange days, the ones which follow on from Christmas Day. Partly trying to work out which day of the week it is (“I’m sure it was Wednesday tomorrow!”, for example, as the normal routines get muddled); partly celebrating the Christmas octave and season; partly aware that many around us have moved on and that Christmas is for them already a semi-distant memory.
Early Christmas Eve brought the joy and energy of the Children’s Mass, followed by the calm, reflective nature of our night mass. I love both in their different ways. Christmas Day gave us two masses, 9am and 11am, before a trip down the M3 and M27 to join with mum and one of my sisters and her family for roast turkey, crackers, Pictionary and Strictly Come Dancing. On Boxing Day, I took my mum to my other sister’s house to be with her family before getting slightly down when Pompey lost at home to Crawley. A visit to friends for dinner and charades in Berkshire cheered me up, though. Thursday was relatively quiet, with appointments to meet with families about some of the five funerals which came in over Christmas, interspersed with a catch up on emails, post and thank yous. Friday took me to Ireland for a friend’s wedding the following day. Back Sunday evening after concelebrating the early mass, ready for more funeral preparations and wedding plans. There was an early start Monday morning to take my housemate and fellow priest to Heathrow so he could visit his family in Africa for the first time in 12 months. Then off to another friend’s wedding in London, followed by fireworks for New Year’s Eve. 1st Jan brought mass for the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, roast beef with my family, Skyfall and the end of the Octave and the strange days…

Fr. Mark Hogan


Well this is my second Christmas spent as a priest and what a truly blessed time it has been.

There has been a real sense of everyone pulling together and preparing well for the coming of Christ. This year our Polish community built our Crib and what an amazing job they've done! The whole of the Lady Chapel here in St. Edmund's has been completely transformed.

It's really good to see our 'regular parishioners' coming to Mass with their extended family from all over the world; grandchildren and nieces and nephews from the USA, Australia, Canada, France, Latvia...... a truly catholic gathering!

Christmas is a family time and the Parish Family here in Southampton really were one this Christmas, and my prayer is that the love and support we all experienced this Christmas will continue throughout the year ahead.

I wish you every blessing for the New Year,

with all good wishes,
Fr. John Chandler


Christmas Rush.
At this time of year, as we approach Christmas, parishioners often say to me, “This is your busy time.” I sometimes wonder if they are saying more about themselves than about me. There is no doubt that there is a frenetic feel to the run-up to Christmas with people trying to get everything done that needs to be done.
As a priest, I am conscious of not being drawn in to the busyness, but rather trying to keep the focus on what’s really important and helping parishioners to do likewise. What’s really important is the coming of Christ. Next week , as Advent draws to a close , the Sacrament of Reconciliation will have a prominent place. Each evening there will either be individual celebrations of the Sacrament or penitential liturgies.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is central to keeping the emphasis on what’s really important. I find people’s desire for the Sacrament very encouraging, especially in Lent and Advent. The celebration of the Sacrament is so important in the life of a priest, as confessor and as penitent. My Spiritual Director in the seminary used to say, “You will never become a good confessor unless you first become a good penitent.”
Perhaps these last days of Advent are about being busy with the right things, one of which must be the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Fr Michael Dennehy


All in a day’s work!…
Up early, some prayer, off for a 1km swim, home, opened up church for the day, banana and a cuppa for breakfast, more prayer, sorting emails. An urgent phone call comes through from a youngish chap clearly in deep distress over his marriage – fix up to see him later in the day for a coffee. Mother and youngest daughter of a fit husband and father who died within an hour with an aneurism come along to sort out the funeral: bless them, they’ve got it all sorted between the family and the neighbours, and have produced an order of service. We chat over a cuppa – daughter was due for her wedding before long, but that’s on pause for now. Off to church for yet another baptism – we’re blessed with plenty of those! A chirpy two-year old and a lively set of family and friends enjoy the service – good moment for simple catechesis for all there! Off for a bit of lunch, then to celebrate my own sacrament of reconciliation. I’m blessed with a good confessor, and always celebrate at least once a month. After all, I need it! [Acceptance of our Loving Lord’s total loving compassion and forgiveness for my own self is key to how I handle others in whatever is their need.] Check with the team preparing for a double set of meetings with first communion children, then toddle off to put my feet up, read the paper, and catch a bit of football on TV. Time then for an hour with the chap with marriage problems, then back to check on second first communion session. Over to church for a few confessions before celebrating Vigil Mass with a packed church, including best part of 100 children.
Children eager to help me with the homily, and provided key words so beautifully to describe Jesus. As I lock up church after 7pm, I’m full of gratitude to our Loving Lord for such a varied day, and for gracing me with presence and words to be alongside a variety of folk. Another quick meal, feet up to watch a bit of footie, a bit more prayer, readings, shower and bed!

Fr Denis Blackledge


I have been having a few sleepless nights of late. I am battling on the front-line with a scenario that is familiar to many Catholic Priests; in fact, it is an issue that will be familiar to many who are concerned with the present and future vibrancy of our faith communities: namely, how to draw those nominal Catholics who come out of the woodwork to ask for the Sacraments on behalf of their little ones – baptism, 1st Holy Communion – into a deeper commitment of faith.
First things first – I don’t want people thinking that they have to jump through hoops to get their children into sacramental programs, not at all. I genuinely want them to experience something of the treasure that is their faith. Therefore, for those first Holy Communion parents, I am not apologetic in asking them to make a regular commitment to their faith community by attending Sunday Mass regularly. If I, and the team of catechists, are going to give of our time and energy in catechizing their kids, then I also expect them to give something of their time and energy in coming to Sunday Mass – after all, 1 hour out of 168 hours in a week isn’t asking too much.
One change I have made in the year I have been in the parish is to introduce parents catechesis sessions that run along-side the children’s sessions; so far, this is working well, with the parents taking an active part, feeling free to ask questions, however seemingly silly or trivial, and getting back in touch with the faith of their earlier years. However, Sunday Mass attendance is still a mixed bag. Not one of my first Holy Communion families comes to church every week; for some it is every other week and for others, their definition of regular attendance is once a month. What  to do? Maybe I can do no more than what a wise old priest told me recently, ‘meet them where they are and draw them gently to where you want them to be’. That approach sounds more carrot than stick, akin, I think, to the example and approach of the One in the Gospel whom we profess to follow. Soon, I will have to turn my attention to baptism preparation. One step at a time.

Fr Paul Leonard


By and large every priest in the diocese is involved in running a parish. That’s where the daily life of the Church is most evident and, often, most active, the bread and butter of priestly ministry, so to speak. There really need never be a dull moment; some of it is pure joy. The weekend that has just passed, for instance, included in one of my churches the wedding of a young couple. Only the groom is Catholic. So it’s important to make their many guests feel welcome at the Mass and remember how this might be their first ever such experience. It’s useful to try to see through their eyes, to see it all anew, and to ‘open’ as much of it to them as time allows. It’s also great for me to see the Mass as if I have never encountered it before. The gift of jamais vu can be a real eye opener.  

Then we had eighteen First Holy Communion candidates at Sunday Mass and we made much of them, with a holy gift for them all and a moment for them to sing.  This, I hope, made their families feel welcome as well. It matters; some of them have been away from the Church for a while and, sadly, it can need a certain sort of courage for them to return.  

Evening Mass on Sunday was a particular delight. We had three baptisms, which are great in themselves, but these were of youngsters aged seven, nine and nine. They are from our Catholic School. They, with God, are drawing their families to faith. I can see it happening. In preparation for this, by the way, I had had more enthusiastic ‘theological’ discussions with the youngsters than I have had with one or two of my priestly brethren. But then we all shine in different ways!            

All of this came as I returned from a week away on a conference; many priests have another responsibility besides the Parish. Vocations Directors (one of my extra tasks) and Promoters from across the country get together annually to talk business and to support each other in what our Chairman invariably reminds us is ‘the best job in the Diocese!’ As we were at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh for the week I could also catch up with some of our students. The business was important; what was moreso was being with people, priests, seminary staff and students, who are so keenly focussed on discerning what God wants each of us to do each day of our lives. Again it gave me a moment or two of jamais vu and a new impetus for the next stage. And, very helpfully, Fr Mark, our Vocations Promoter, gave me the story which then formed the foundation of my Sunday homily. Let me give him the credit (some of it anyway!) for keeping four congregations spell bound and powerfully moved. True priestly fraternity! Deo gratias!

Fr Gerard Flynn


Ross Bullock who is at St. John’s Seminary Wonersh came to St. Joseph’s Parish Havant in an extended Pastoral Placement for nine months. When Ross introduced himself at Mass the first thing that struck me was the curiosity parishioners had about the six years of formation. Again and again people asked, ‘but what do they do?’ and ‘Why does it take so long?’ That curiosity enticed me to dig deeper about the formation of today’s Seminarian. There are four major areas of formation which are fairly clearly defined. Human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. While all four overlap and interact with each other, the latter is what our Parish is involved in. We became very aware that Ross must interact with all the people of the community from day one. It is not easy to engage with 300 people who are well bedded into their way of life but that is precisely what he will have to do if he were appointed their Parish Priest.  I have firm conviction that the Priest in the Parish must marry the theory of the Seminary with the practice of the Parish. In many ways these days the priest’s powerhouse of prayer is the community he serves and vice versa. Ross is becoming aware of the strengths of the Parishioners and they are alerted to his talents. It is very gratifying to observe the talents of everybody involved being reciprocated across the whole community. It makes the exercise worthwhile if not exciting. Fortunately we are a Stewardship community in which we have ITUNED most people’s time, talent and treasure.

Fr Tom Grufferty


One of the joys of priesthood is the sheer variety of opportunities, challenges and blessings. Last Saturday would be a fine example. We began the day with a beautiful mass of healing, led by the Sion community, who had been offering our parish a “mission” for the previous two weeks, to re-invigorate us in our faith lives.

Then I scooted off to St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh to join up with the “Discovering Priesthood Day” taking place there, and a chance to meet, chat and celebrate mass with men discerning whether or not the Lord is calling them to give their lives to him in the priesthood.

Back for confessions, followed by an “International Mass”, with prayers in various languages and music led by a community of a Catholic International Choir from Southampton. Then, over to the Bishop Challoner School Hall for an International Party, with Irish and Cameroonian Dancing alongside other entertainment and food from the various continents…

Then to bed, ready for the Sunday celebrations…

Fr Mark Hogan


This week has been one of those when I hardly seem to have been in the parish at all. Monday was my day off, spent in Portsmouth with one of my sisters and my two nieces before heading off to Watford and a chance to catch up with friends as well as pay my respects to the wonderful Fr Danny Burns RIP; Tuesday and Wednesday were spent at the zoo (well, next to the zoo, at the Marwell Conference Centre, listening to the excellent Fr Gerry O’Collins speaking about Vatican II, where we were joined with recently ordained Bishop Philip); Thursday took me to Park Place, where CJM were leading a session on music and the liturgy for those involved in schools across the diocese; Friday I was closer to home, but spent much of my “Vocations Day” trying to sort out email problems, although I did manage a trip to one of our schools in Farnham in anticipation of a visit there next term. Friday evening finished off well with our diocesan discernment group and then bed in anticipation of the weekend…

Fr Mark Hogan


On Monday of last week I joined most priests of our diocese and most bishops in England & Wales in the cathedral in Portsmouth for the episcopal ordination of our new bishop, Philip Egan. Having been asked to assist the assistant MC in directing the approximately 200 priests in attendance to their seats, I managed to negotiate the reservation for me of a seat with a good view, and so I ended up sitting right behind our new bishop. What an impressive liturgy! I was also impressed by the bishop’s words at the end of the Mass. A bishop is the chief teacher of the faith in a diocese and in Portsmouth we seem to have been blessed with a bishop who thirsts to bring the fullness of the Good News, which is the Gospel, to others.

Just over two years ago at my priestly ordination, I placed my hands in those of Bishop Crispian and promised obedience to him and to his successors. That promise has so far taken me to the island of Jersey. When I began my journey as a seminarian for the diocese, I did not even know that Portsmouth diocese included Jersey! The promise of obedience made by a diocesan priest does not involve blind obedience. However obedience to one’s bishop is essential in enabling him to fulfil his vocation to holiness through the service of God’s people as a priest. We can often be blind to what God’s will is for us. This will can often be found in ways which we may never have anticipated. So far at least, the promise of obedience for me has been liberating rather than restricting. I don’t need to concern myself about which parish I will go to next or when I will go there. I can focus instead on trying my best to be a humble and faithful worker today in whatever part of Our Lord’s vineyard He has seen fit to place me.

Fr James McAuley


I have a new boss!  I could not even begin to write a blog this week without the excitement of Mondays’ wonderful celebration at our Cathedral - the Ordination of our new Bishop, Philip Egan.  It made me smile that, for once, it was the Clergy who didn’t have the best view or seating space.  We were blessed with the fact that because there were so many of us (251) we had to sit behind the Bishop’s chair in the St john’s Chapel.  The hospitality and organisation for the service was superb. 

As we all know, these things don’t just happen.  Lots of hard work and planning go on behind the scenes.  Congratulations to all involved.  The service may have been ‘swan like’ but I know there was a lot of frantic paddling under the water!  The list of all those people who had ‘tuned in’ on the internet for the Mass was staggering – a real sense of the Universal Church. 

There is a very natural sense of nervousness for us all with the appointment of our new shepherd; but at the same time, excitement too as we journey together with our new leader.  But, I guess none of us feels as nervous as +Philip did on Monday!   

The Year of Faith that begins shortly, combined with this new appointment, I am sure will prove a busy but fruitful time for us all.  Bp. Philip said, during a radio interview that I heard on Monday morning , that he enjoys cycling, cinema trips and the occasional pint of real ale ... so I hope to enjoy a welcoming pint with him in due course!  

Fr John Cooke


Last Sunday we celebrated our "Living Stones". Like most good ideas in our parish it wasn't mine but came from one of my predecessors. It is simply a gathering for all those involved in parish ministry, regardless of how small or great their contribution has been, for some food and drink and a chance to relax with each other. It's really just a way of saying "thank you", those two vital but easily forgotten words, to those who give of their time and talents in serving the was great to see so many people there, enjoying the food, drink and company and, as a priest, it's really lovely to see so many of those stones of the Church alive and flourishing.

Fr Mark Hogan


Back to School

Today, September 4th, is the day when many of our schools reopen after the summer holidays. I made a point of visiting our parish primary school in the afternoon. Everything seemed remarkably calm though the head teacher said that, beneath the calm, there was the anxiety of children and staff adjusting to new circumstances. I stood at the school gate as parents took their children home. It is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with parents who don’t attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis. The presence of a priest in a school is really important and those moments at the end of the school day are a wonderful opportunity to meet people and for them to meet a priest.   

Fr Michael Dennehy


Now that the Olympics are over, it’s time to reflect on the amazing guts and stickability of all those young athletes who gave their all to be part of this awesome adventure.  Not just the ones who won medals, but all who took part, with all the hours, days, weeks, months and years of training behind them. All those days getting out of bed very early in the morning, come rain, come shine.  All the energy that went into the daily grind of becoming just that little bit better.

And now translate that into becoming an ever better friend and lover of Jesus. Just reflect on how much effort you’re putting into this, the most important thing in your life.

I’ll never forget a simple prayer that a priest gave me when I was in my first couple of years of training for the priesthood.  Here it is:

Christ, nailed to the cross,
nailed there by your own will,
for us and with us,
nail us to the cross
for you and with you.
Make the ardour
and ardent promises of youth
sincere enough to nail us
and hold us
and keep us faithful to you.


Fr Denis Blackledge


A group of travellers moved into some ground opposite our church recently. They caused quite a stir, what with their dogs, caravans and trailers. The police arrived soon afterwards, making the first of several visits. The morning after their arrival, one of the wives of the travellers came to Mass. She was easily distinguishable from the regular daily Mass goers, such was the rather immodest way she dressed. However, this was a young woman full of faith, as I quickly came to realise chatting with her after Mass. I said I would pop over and visit them. I did that day and subsequent days, so much so that I paid them even more visits than the police!

Sunday came and the whole clan came to Mass, a riot of noise, low cut dresses and kids running all over the place. While they aroused looks (mostly disapproving) from some of the congregation, I noticed that they all, without exception, blessed themselves with holy water and genuflected as they entered the church, ensuring the kids did the same. One of the dads sought me out for confession and then remarked to me after the Mass that he felt so good being able to receive the ‘holy Sacrament’ again after so long of not being able to receive Communion. It’s not often we have a £50 note put in the collection plate, but that too was due to the generosity of the travellers, who knew that they were only giving back to God something of the treasure and blessings they had received.

A few days later, the court order to evict the travellers, who by this time had become my friends, had come through and once again the police were there to serve it. They escorted them off the land, I waved them goodbye and within a few hours great boulders were put across the entrance to that waste land, so that no more travellers could set up camp.

I miss my friends now that they have been moved on. I miss the refreshing way they spoke about faith, I miss their spontaneity and the parish finances will miss their generosity. Some parishioners thought we would miss our gates, as it was alleged that previous travellers had stolen them! Their short visit has caused me to reflect on many things about the nature of the parish and its make-up. Yes, we need the faithful daily Mass goers; yes, we need those who give of their time and energy to ensure the wheels of the parish are kept turning smoothly. And, yes, we need to be reminded that a truly welcoming parish is one which can reach out to those on the margins, those to whom the rest of society look down on and those to whom Jesus told us to have a special and preferential love for.

Fr Paul Leonard


The pace changes entirely during the long summer holidays. With my three schools all ‘out’ there are beautiful, clear spaces in the diary where school masses, worships and governors’ meetings usually appear. One of my two churches has a large car park; it remains empty most of every day, except for Sunday, as the school staff and parents are away on their holidays. All is relatively quiet and peaceful. I remember Blessed John Paul II’s constant reminders to priests that, as well as doing the work of the Lord,  we need to spend time with the Lord of the work. Somehow it can seem much easier to get the balance right in the summer!

Regular parishioners go missing for weeks at a time and are replaced by holiday makers from so many other places. They all tell proudly of their own home towns and the priests who serve them there. When our regulars return home they bring parish newsletters from far and wide as souvenirs, little reminders of the family nature of the Church.

Many people in the summer store up their experiences, encounters and memories to give them a sense of renewal, helping them through the autumn and winter to come. For me it has been a visit to an exuberant Olympic London to see Richard III at the Globe, to listen to a Prom, to take the tree-top walk at Kew Gardens and to wonder at an exhibition of the cauldron-designing Thomas Heatherwick Studio. That has all given me the first such burst of renewal. Coming back to my much quieter Isle of Wight I find these memories resonating with the Island’s old motto: All this beauty is of God.

Priesthood involves many careful balancing acts; these summer weeks can help me to get it back in a steadier balance all round.

Fr Gerard Flynn


There are two things I did this summer that I would not have done if I were not a priest. As preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin I attended the Theological Symposium in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. I was captivated by the interior beauty of the College Chapel which is called ‘The Irish Pugin’. While the great Catholic architect was directly involved in the design of many surrounding buildings his influence is deeply embedded in the chapel as well.

The spectacular beauty of the building came alive during Choral Evensong sung by the Trinity College Choir and presided over by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan for Western Europe. It was a memorial evening with a great blending of prayer, sound and colour, against the backdrop of perfectly carved stone arches and wooden panels. The second thing I did was visit the Holy Land on my own. Jerusalem with all its history is an incredible place for noise and prayer at one and the same time. I stayed within the walled city and instantly you feel that the whole place is in one constant struggle to give praise to God from the moment the minarets call you to prayer at 4 am to the last sound of the bells of the Holy Sepulchre, while our Jewish friends wander quietly through the narrow streets to and from the Western Wall. What an amazing mixture of prayer and worship there is within the confines of a small space.

I also found there is Gospel Trail from Nazareth to Galilee. While I did some of this walk, I now have the incentive to return in the coolness of the year. 

I would suggest that everybody training for ministry should spend a substantial period of time looking at architecture and at leave three months walking the Way of Jesus in the Holy Land. Only too late in life have I discovered these two rare beauties!  

Fr Tom Grufferty


This week has been “Bosco week” for me; my annual pilgrimage to St. Cassian’s, Kintbury, where the diocesan boys’ camp has been held since 1998. I’ve been involved in the camps since I was 12, only missing a few years since then and I love the combination of faith, fun and friendship that is always present. This year has been as good as any other, with an Olympic theme to help us reflect on values of trust, peace, forgiveness and perseverance amongst others. With plenty of time for games, sports and other activities. The week has flown by as always and it’s a real privilege as a priest to be part of a week where leaders and boys create such a wonderful caring atmosphere in such a short amount of time. I think we’ve hit gold again!

Fr Mark Hogan


Greetings from Reading. At last we have the sunshine, it makes such a difference, smiles all round. Some weeks ago I invited the local clergy to come to St James for a social evening. To my delight we had lots of sunshine last Sunday evening when the local clergy gathered in the Presbytery garden to have a bite to eat and a drink. You may be interested to know we had 5 priests from Africa, 4 from Ireland and 3 from England – it tells a story! The conversation went from the London Olympics, the sunshine, holidays, the new Bishop and the terrible  killings in Nigeria where the Muslim extremists are hell bent on killing the Christian communities.

For us diocesan priests, our bishop, is very central to our life. It is obvious that the priests are apprehensive about the appointment. All of us priests need to be on good terms with our ‘Father-in-God’, our Bishop. I am confident we will get on with this new man, it will take time to build trust and a relationship with this new bishop. All were pleased that the long wait is over, we are ready to work with the new bishop and start a new chapter in the history of the diocese. So onwards and upwards with the Lord’s help as we welcome the new bishop to the diocesan family.

Fr John O’Shea


Since Christmas I have been taking Communion to an elderly parishioner, “Teresa”, every Sunday after the tea and coffee that followed the last Mass of the morning.  20 years ago she had been operated on for cancer.  Sadly, it had returned.  She had been a stalwart of the Church and was a wonderful example of one who put the Gospel to practical effect.

She had helped countless people and had been described by a predecessor of mine as better than any curate! Her husband, “Jamie”, was also very infirm and a week or so ago had been admitted to a home. It was the first time that they had been separated in over 60 years of marriage, but they were able to speak several times each day on the telephone.  A few days later Teresa said to me that Jamie wanted to become a Catholic.  I must admit to being a bit sceptical, but Teresa went on to say that Jamie said his prayers every night and that he wanted to join her in the Church.  Teresa asked if it would be possible.  Teresa was visibly failing, so I told her that it would involve Jamie expressing his desire to me and that I would make it as simple as possible.

I took everything that I needed, Chrism, the Blessed Sacrament, RCIA book, miniature cross and candles etc.  I also took an Extraordinary Minister who knew Jamie.  Jamie was incredibly recollected.  He definitely wished to join his wife as a Catholic.  He renewed his Baptismal promises and made a Profession of Faith.  Having been Confirmed, he received Holy Communion for the first time.  It was an incredibly moving experience; only marred by the fire alarm going off due to the candles!  Afterwards, we were able to help Jamie to telephone Teresa to tell her what had happened.

I took Holy Communion to Teresa the following Sunday, she was overjoyed that Jamie had become a Catholic, but she was obviously very unwell.  The following Tuesday evening I was told that Teresa had just been taken into hospital as an emergency.  The chaplaincy was informed and the Catholic Chaplain called.  He gave her Viaticum and told me that she responded strongly to the Creed.  I strongly feel that Teresa was able to let go because she was sure that her husband was now safely home in the Church.

A few weeks earlier I was called to give the last rites to “Patrick”, he was in a home having suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years.  He no longer knew me so I took a minister who had been giving him Communion.  Sadly, his wife, who had called me, was abroad on holiday, but some friends were with him.  They asked if they should leave, but I urged them to stay.  As Patrick was unable to respond to the Creed but I suggested that we should all make the responses.  I anointed Patrick and the Minister was able to give him a small fragment of the host.  I then said the prayers of commendation. Apparently, he had been quite agitated, but after I arrived became calm and remained so until he died.  Fortunately, his wife arrived back before he died a day later.  Later, I learned that the friends were not Catholics but they were very impressed and said that they wanted the same when they were dying!

It is a huge privilege to be a Catholic priest and to have the opportunity to minister to people in their need; in a small way to be following our Lord Jesus Christ and continuing the work of the apostles among the people of today.  I thank God every day for giving me these wonderful opportunities.

Fr John Humphreys


The longer I am ordained – the more I become a creature of routine! Yes, I wind up the grandfather clock the same time every Sunday morning and yes, water the few plants that grow in the house! But more especially has my routine of prayer developed early every morning – for prayer has to be early morning otherwise not only would it never get done- it would never allow the greatest excitement of the priesthood to take place in the day! The unexpected!

I may well have appointments in the diary, visiting to maybe the sick or a baptism call, schools to call into, and homilies to prepare. But the unexpected that comes via the phone, or the internet, the front door or as often happens, when I am trying to do something quickly into the Cathedral, I bump into somebody! The unexpected, I believe, is often the opportunity for grace! For some people, to book an appointment to see a priest is almost too much. But if they have the opportunity to bump into you in the Church or in the road or at the playground after school, they will seize that opportunity and ask for something perhaps they would otherwise not ask! It is these occasions that I believe we can really be ministers of the gospel and make that gospel more accessible in the lives of other people.

When we preach, it is often to the converted. Whereas the unexpected allows the grace of God to take root and grow as we never thought possible! The difficulty is of course, making sure that you have time for the unexpected – That is why a routine is so important!

Canon David Hopgood


The Church has been all over the place recently for me – both geographically and demographically too! 

Last week, a parishioner sadly lost her son.  He was only 54 and lived in Australia.  She’s quite frail, and could not make the journey for the funeral.  Pain!  With about 24 hrs notice, we put together something , an evening prayer of sorts.  We combined it with some of the funeral rites, to offer her some comfort.  A kind of universal link with her son’s Requiem in Australia that day.  Using the same psalms (despite the time difference) she was joining her prayers with those in his parish family in Australia.

The Parish community here came up trumps.  With the short notice, we thought we’d have half a dozen parishioners join her.  But word got round and 25 or so of her fellow parishioners came to the Church to be with her.  How comforting ... how Catholic!  It was all we could do from a distance.

The next morning, at the crack of dawn, I was driving a rather rusty (but safe!) minibus up the A3, filled with a group of anxious and excited teenagers.  Why?  They are first time volunteers for our Young Helpers’ Group on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.  We go at the end of August.  The training day was in a (soon to be demolished!) Church hall in Walworth, London.  We only got lost once!  But once there, our attention was transported to the magic experience of helping in Lourdes.  100+ youngsters joined together from all across England; with the same nerves and the same willing and open heart.  We discussed all we endeavour to do caring for our sick and assisted pilgrims. 

Then we mini-bused it back home late Saturday afternoon, for my weekly Sunday prep of sorting out a homily, the bidding prayers and setting up the Church ready for our 3 Masses on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon was a long session of prepping the material we have sourced for the actual Pilgrimage.  So, after the 6.30pm Mass (short homily!) I managed to enjoy a beer watching the England vs. Italy match ... but we lost!

Monday had me doing some School prep with the Head & Deputy.  We were planning next year’s diary of celebrations, and next week’s Yr 6 Day of Reflection away.  That evening I went to see a baptism family (a pre celebration home visit.)  The couple had been told they could not conceive, and yet have been blessed with a beautiful girl.  When I asked them what it will mean to them  when I pour the water, baptising their girl, they said they will be thanking God for this gift.  Hearing them talk about how they enjoyed their baptism prep made me very proud of our team of catechists.  They had obviously broken the ice for me and encouraged them to share their faith story and experience with the others in the group.

It was then back on the roller coaster of a Priest’s life.  A sick call meant I was on my way to the hospice to anoint a parishioner who is close to God.  Hearing him say those words ‘thy kingdom come’ knowing that, for him, that time is close at hand was incredibly moving. 

From cradle to grave, from home to away; I am privileged that the unity and powerhouse of prayer that is the Lord’s work through His Church, has been behind me every step of the way.

Fr John Cooke


The last week or so has been a strange one in many ways; strange but fascinating. We’ve had a student for the priesthood, Colm, with us on placement and this has been a real blessing for us. It’s also helped to remind me what I love about the priesthood as Colm has accompanied me on various visits and I’ve tried to “think out loud” about the events and interactions we’re experiencing. Lots of visits to First Holy Communion families; weddings and baptisms; masses and vocations talks in school; cakes and curries. We managed to fit in a trip to see Coldplay too! And the Jubilee Weekend was also Big Walk weekend, as I prayed my way through 40 miles of glorious Lake District sunshine whilst Basingstoke remained soggy.

Fr Mark Hogan


"I am fast approaching my first anniversary of Ordination, and what a year it has been!

I love being a priest. It feels so natural. Although it has only been (nearly) a year, in some ways it’s hard for me to remember a time when I was not a priest.

Not only do I love being a priest, but I love the Priesthood and this love was sensitively fostered during my time in Seminary.

We were surrounded by devoted priests in the Seminary who shared the gift of Priesthood with us Seminarians. Their love of Christ and His Church really did rub off on us, and there is an important lesson for me. As a priest I am called to share the Priesthood of Christ with others, to inspire them to love Him and His Church and this is something I strive to do each and every day.

So, on 2nd July please do remember me in your prayers, as I give thanks to God for my first year as a priest"

Fr John Chandler


A typical day for me begins with prayer. There is a very practical reason for this. Life for a priest is unpredictable and you never quite know what is going to happen next. A telephone call or a caller at the door can change the day completely. When I look back on the day I can find that I did things and went to places that I hadn’t planned. By praying first thing in the morning I make sure that I have precious time with the Lord and no matter what happens during the day I am more conscious that what I am about is His will, not mine. 

Fr Michael Dennehy



First things first. I start my day with a good chunk of time positively wasted out of love for Jesus.  Praying, in other words, or playing if you prefer.  Just being a human sponge, soaking up the love and generosity, compassion and forgivingness of our prodigal Loving Lord.  Letting go and letting the Lord take me, bless me, break me and give me.  It’s all Eucharist in the end. Without this core experience I’m nothing.  If I’m to be Jesus to others whose lives I’m privileged to reach out to today, first I need to let Him reach out to, and in to, me. Then presence becomes real, both at the Eucharist and in meeting and greeting Jesus in others. His touch comes alive in me, and brings balm and calm, peace and healing, to others around me.  I’ll be able to face whatever else the day brings along, as long as I’m centred on Jesus. His trust in me will carry me, his strength will cope with my weakness. I’ll be graced enough to find God in all, not in spite of all. It’s a great life, this ordained priesthood, and such a wondrous privilege!

© Denis Blackledge SJ


Recent days have exposed me to a rather different but very important side of my priestly vocation, not least because work has now begun on the full redecoration of St Mary’s Church in Gosport. 

St Mary’s Church is one of the oldest in our diocese.  In its present form it has stood since the mid-nineteenth century. By the grace of God it survived the bombings of World War II although it was not left unscathed.  We have embarked upon this process of redecoration in order to return St Mary’s to its former glory in honour of God, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.   

With the church having to close for over three months we have relocated to St Joseph’s church for all the Masses and devotions that would normally occur in St Mary’s.  This has proved quite demanding and has required a considerable reordering of my normal routine. 

It is good to see that after many months of planning the preparation stage is going well, and as we anticipate the arrival of the painters we look forward to seeing a newly decorated St Mary’s in a short while.

Fr Peter Glas


I recently had to phone a priest in a fairly tough part of Outer London: I know it well. I went to school there. Last summer I watched with horror as television news showed the riots that flamed through it. When I introduced myself as a priest on the Isle of Wight my London brother quite understandably said, ‘O lucky you!’ And of course I know what he meant. But people are people wherever they are; life’s jagged edges sometimes look sharper still when set against a beautiful background. On the same day as I made that call I spent time, as priest, with the family of a stillborn baby.  Then my time was with the desolate partner of a man who had died of a heroin overdose. I celebrated mass in the local joint Catholic and Church of England High School. Mass attracted youngsters who were Catholic and Anglican and some who really had little idea which they were, but knew they wanted to be there. Some of the rest of the day I spent preparing two other funerals. All of this made particularly ironic the story of a visitor at the door who told me of the sudden death the previous day of his father in South London. Time and experience alerted me to some strange inconsistencies in his tale. Before giving him the £40 for the fare, which he promised to pay back three times over, I phoned the priest in Outer London who my visitor claimed had dealt with the final moments of his ‘dad’. It was not saving the 40 which mattered to me so much as not wanting to be the gullible mug who makes thieving an attractive way of life for a guy who could clearly do a great deal better. But he did not want to discuss this with me at any length. The Island may be idyllic; priesthood here, just as anywhere else, is real and human and utterly incarnate!

Fr Gerard Flynn


When the Speaker of the House of Commons used the word ‘Kaleidoscope’ recently it occurred to me that this word describes perfectly the Priest in today’s world. To be aware that anything can happen in my job is a great blessing. No two days are the same. The mood, the liturgy and indeed life itself can dramatically change in a matter of seconds. I sometimes get up in the morning saying to myself there is little to be done today, and then the Lord suddenly causes a whirlwind and I find myself in the eye of the storm. Even a single phone call can set in motion a completely new chain of events never imagined or anticipated. Parish life is a Kaleidoscope of wonderful events. One has no choice but to be a Kaleidoscope Priest.

That makes Priesthood both exciting and rewarding.  

Fr. Tom Grufferty


The intensity of the liturgy over this grace-filled period works right to the core of my being – the humility of the foot-washing of Christ and the sudden shift in tempo as we process to the altar of repose; the starkness of Good Friday and the haunting accusations of the reproaches (“What have I done to you?”); the waiting and the longing of Holy Saturday, mixed in with the excited anticipation of the Polish blessing of food, the altar servers’ practice and the loving and attentive preparations of the flower arrangers and sacristans and artists and others; the joy of Easter night and the candle-lit exultet (beautifully proclaimed this year by our guest priest from our Cameroonian twin diocese of Bamenda, Fr Thom) and the baptisms and even the chocolate eggs!

How as a priest to hold this all together for Christ’s people..? How else but by the grace of God..?