Family have always to remind me when someone’s birthday is fast approaching, but the strange thing is, I am much better at remembering death dates than birth days! August brings back memories of two Franciscans I count as truly inspirational icons in my life, and both died during the month of August.
The one is Fr Peter Daley, OFM. Peter had skin cancer on his face, his cheek. I visited him not long before he died, and he had had some of his glutimeus maximus, his butt cheek, removed and placed on his face. With an impish smirk, he said that nothing gave him greater joy than, when people he had never really liked in life went to kiss him on the cheek, he would offer his ‘poorly’ side and think to him self “I’ve longed to tell you to ‘Kiss …..'” 🙂
Peter is the tall one, directly behind me, at my ordination 9 May 1987
Peter was one of those people in life who was always ‘there’ for everyone, an amazing friend and support. After I’d left the Franciscans, and carried on my undergrad studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, he came over to my room in Darwin College one afternoon. He said he was just emotionally drained from having supported so many people, and he just needed – as we say in Welsh – a “cwtch”, a cuddle.
We lay on top of the bed together and I held him in my arms … he fell off to sleep in seconds!
A few years earlier, a few of us Franciscan friars went to Lourdes to work in the Cité Sant-Pierre. Peter took John Dougan and me to his former places of work: the Lido de Paris and the Moulin Rouge.
He had been a lead dancer in Paris, before dancing his way through Beirut (before the war) and prior to joining a religious Order. I remember to this day the crowds of people queuing up to buy tickets for a show at the Moulin Rouge, when Peter, John and I – all in Franciscan habits – just waltzed up and were ushered through the fast lane, to see his dear old friend, the director of dance. The people standing in the que were simply gob-smacked, especially when Peter smiled and waved at them all, and proclaimed: “I used to dance here!”
Brs David, Peter & John, OFM
Soon after, we were on the over night train from Paris to Lourdes. It was a hot evening as we boarded, and so the three of us were simply wearing shorts, t-shirts and bearing lovely sun-tans. We entered the 4-bedded couchette and found a little old lady, clutching her sheets like pearls around her neck, as we three burley blokes walked in! I think her teeth were in a glass – or maybe I am just embellishing here. But her face the next morning was plum! The three of us men got out of our beds – she was still clutching her sheets – and as we greeted her with bonjour Madame! we pulled Franciscan habits over our t-shirts and shorts! … and all four of us simply burst out laughing.
Peter and I outside the Bascilica of Sacra Coeur: incognito Franciscans
A final story about fra Peter … The day he died, in the afternoon of 10th August, my partner John and I arrived in Assisi, driving and camping across Italy for a month. We headed to the main shrine for the OFMs, Santa Maria degli Angeli, and I went straight to the little chapel where St Francis of Assisi had died, the Chapel of the Transitus. I knew Peter was not long for his life on earth, and I later found out he died just a few hours before we were there, lighting a candle and saying a prayer for him. I imagine him now, smiling and waving to us through his trannsitus over Assisi.
But today is the 25th August, 2016, 32nd anniversary of one of the most inspiring teachers I have had in my whole life: Fr (Dr) Eric Doyle, OFM. I wanted to see if anything existed on the web about Eric, so this morning I asked Google “When did Fr Eric Doyle die?” The first site to be returned, so appropriately for Eric, was a page entitled “Women Priests: Book of Honour“. The cite is truely well worth a read, and a great tribute to Eric Doyle.
Two stories I want to share with you about this amazing man. The first starts with this reference to women priests. During those days of the early ’80s, with the growing conservatism of the reign of Pope John Paul II, and the even stronger conservatism of, the then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), Eric was a relatively scarce – but significant – voice in Roman Catholicism, advocating for women’s equality and rights in the Church, especially in relation to ordination. I remember him saying that it was a matter of Church policy [politics], not Theology, that prevented women from being ordained. And when so many Anglicans, disgruntled at the ordination of women as deacons in their own church, became Roman Catholics, Eric had no sympathy for them at all.
Eric was ‘spot on’ with his Sacramental Theology. Anglicans – and Catholics – should take note of his wisdom! He taught us that there was only one “Sacrament of Order” (Ordination) not three different Sacraments. The Sacrament of Order starts with the entry point of deacon, through priest (presbyter), and to the “fullness of Order”, in the episcopacy: the bishop.
Sacramental Theology, for all 7 Sacraments of the Catholic Church, requires two key elements: “matter and form”. The “matter” is the object for sacramental transformation; the “form” is the correct ordering of the words. I remember reading a book called “Nuns”, which described the ever-so-American, and ever-not-so-British liturgical excesses of the 1960s and 70s, when some priests would use a packet of crisps and a bottle of Coke (the drinkable sort, not sniffable!) instead of bread and wine, for Communion. Likewise, the book told stories of priests who would ‘jazz’ up the wording of the Mass, and instead of the usual words of consecration, would substitute them with “come on Jesus, do your stuff!”
So, Eric would say, the Sacraments are not magic! Matter and form were important. But, he argued, that if a Church (Ecclesia), such as the governing body of the Anglican Communion, decided as Church, qua ecclesia, that the correct matter for ordination was human (homo), as opposed to simply male (vir), then the moment a woman is ordained to the diaconate, there’s no reason why she can’t become the Archbishop of Canterbury (and ergo, if the Latin Church went down the same route: then Bishop of Rome)!
Eric was truely erudite, a gifted scholar, an inspirational person and an amazing teacher. My final reminiscence of him here concerns the new classrooms built whilst I studied with the Ordinis Fratrum Minorum in Canterbury. The classrooms had large, in-built, cupboard spaces. We students would turn up, excited at the thought of being taught by Eric, but knowing he was frequently late. He was always just dashing back from some TV studio, or a radio broadcast, counselling someone’s woes, or book-writing session. We had a lovely little custom for students whereby if a lecturer was 10 minutes late or more, after waiting the regulatory 10 minutes, we could sign a register and leave the class – have an hour or two off 🙂
We would be twitching, ready to sign the register, hoping to have some free time and a coffee, when all of a sudden, without any warning, Fr Eric would barge out of one of the in-build cupboards, doors bursting forth, with him in full habit, as he would climb over someone’s chair, and onto a row of desks in front of us all, singing “Hello Dolly!”
Two of my life’s inspirational greats: requiesant in pace, fratres