AN ARMY CHAPLAIN
III has been suggested that the Profiles are unrepresentative of the Catholic community because they only feature people with names." To offset this we intend to publish from time to time Profiles of Catholics whose names may be quite unknown and who would be most etnbarrassed to see them attached to the sketches of their personality, yet whose example are an inspiration to us all.—ED110R.
OUR padre has gone back to his parish, somewhere in Great Britain : we hope his flock appreciates him.
He came to Aldershot in the summer. He did not know and does not know just how difficult a task he had in following his predecessor, who was the sort of priest ,soldiers describe as a man " after their own hearts.' In the evenings, as the springs and small parts in our tortured bodies were slowly readjusting themselves, in exquisite agony to their normal positions, we would make our way to his hat. We would read his papers, eat his chocolate, borrow his books, smoke his cigarettes, and generally exploit his generosity, inflicting our tedious conversation upon him and wallowing in his hest chairs. He would talk cheerfully and we would feel at home, aware that if our earthly mothers were far away, our Holy Mother was here and had branches everywhere. We were happy, We were rather keen on this chaplain. Then one morning his pack was callously tossed upon a lorry and he was whisked away. We mourned and would not be comforted. We wept inwardly. In a word, we sulked.
Fortunately the departing chaplain, with the wisdom of his office, had ordered us to welcome his successor. We obeyed.
I,VE found a quick-voiced, unassuming, business-like. little priest, with " a warm stride and a disposition to friendliness that made us feel rather childish, which we were. His well-brushed cap was shabby; his Sam Brown was bright and worn thin. We were somewhat taken aback by his physical resemblance to the Pope. Later when we saw the picture, taken In Khartoum, wearing a white cassock, we found the likeness
startling. He was, I think, just a little vain about it, despite the fact that he would say—" Tut I Tut You've been drinking, boy "—when it was brought to his attention. He had a slight Welsh accent.
Soldiering was not a new experience for him: he served in the first war as a gunner. It was at this time he decided that he wanted to become a priest. He would tell us of the great worries he had known in those days and how these had taught him a little about the horrible distress of spiritual " dryness "; he had learned that nothing, " absolutely nothing," mattered if one kept facing the direction where God stood. After his ordination he became a territorial chaplain; it seems he must have sensed he bad a gift for this mission. In 1939 he was called up. He was first posted in Ireland; he served in France; he saw the worst of it. in the desert. Sometimes he would tell us a little of this time in Africa and we sensed his admiration for the Desert Rats and for Gott their leader. He would dwell on the lull after battle and tell its how once, bringing the sacramente to dying Italian soldiers, he found a boy whose parish priest had been kind to him when as a young priest he had visited Italy. He sat with the young soldier after he gave him the sacraments.
All his life was directed to this end; one sensed his wonder and gratitude that he should have been singled out for his high calling. Listening to him preach. watching him at Mass, observing him give Holy Communion one felt his pleasure in his vocation. Yet he was still a soldier.
HIS first act on joining us was to inspect our wooden church. He then arranged that a special detail be ordered. under a Catholic soldier,
to keep it shipshape. He went searching for the garrison children to start a Sunday school. I think he probah'y ran a Sunday school for little Arabs in the desert—and if they were Muslims, so much the better; his mission loved the thrill of expansion.
His gift was such that wherever he went he started a parish; he created a Catholic community. His sermons were a crafty blend of learning, in scripture, English literature and army lore. He guided his message straight to the heart of man because he was a man and he had learned of his fellows in the ways of laughter and of suffering. He had no illusions about our strength, without the sacraments. He reminded me of another padre who was heard to say in the streets of London " There goes one of my lads—drunk again—God Bless him."
He was unsentimental and quick to reprimand, yet his sense of justice was so keen that even his sharpest word did no more than draw attention to the sin. I have known him silence, in shame, a whole tine of toughs by snapping at one blasphemer. He knew the essential innocence of the man who spoke; but he taught him that innocence is too often confused with culpable ignorance. He was always the soldier.
I recall with pleasure one sermon during which he ranged over Everyman, Boswell, and St. Paul, took a savage lunge at a certain daily newspaper, and its silly readers in the congregation, solemnly reprimanded the higher ranks, and then drifted on to observations about the evils that led to the brutalities of the Spanish Civil War—which was to him the ultimate outrage. St. John of the Cross was his fevourite saint. He referred drily to the reports that there had been machine gun posts in the churches burned by the Communists.
" I don't know if there is any truth in these stories," he said, but believe me if anyone, Communist or otherwise, ever attempts to burn my church he will find a machine gun post outside it—and the parish priest behind it, praying for him. Have you ever tried to build a church? Ii is a very difficult task."
He said what was upon his mind and his mind was the mind of one good man, and a Catholic priest. He was a good soldier and he was a good priest and we will not forget him,