Diamond Jubilee of Canon Dermot McDermot-Roe (Curate of St. Mary’s, Ryde, 1951-64)

St. Mary’s Parish was delighted that Canon McDermot-Roe came back to Ryde to concelebrate Mass with Fr. Glaysher and Fr. Gregory from Quarr Abbey on 8th July 2011, on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of his Ordination to the Holy Priesthood. (Photographs of the Mass and reception can be seen on St. Mary’s web site here.)

We are pleased to be able to include below, the sermon that the Canon preached at the Mass.

Dear Fr. Anthony and dear friends, I am most grateful for this kind and gracious invitation to me to come to Ryde to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving for the 60th anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood in 1951. In thinking about it, I have in the foremost of my mind, something which our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict said way back in 1969 when he was a young and distinquished theologian at a Summer school for priests in Maynooth in Ireland. He addressed them with these words, and I quote: “the priest misunderstands his task when he ceases to be a servant; when he no longer realizes that what he has received is the significant thing – not what he is”. I am here this evening, dear friends, to thank God for this wonderful parish of St. Mary’s and for the part it played in my early formation as a priest, and for all that I received from its priests, religious and its lay people during my time here from August 1951 to June 1964, – a very long time in terms of a young priest to stay in his first parish.

I was ordained in All Hallows College, Dublin, which trained priests for Ministry in the English speaking countries. We were for “export only”. So when my fellow ordinands set out for Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and South Africa; I set sail to the Isle of Wight, which to me, in 1951, seemed the longest journey of all.

I remember getting an ancient taxi down at the Esplanade to carry my suitcase containing all my worldly possessions up George Street. It couldn’t accommodate my bicycle so I had to push it up the hill. In retrospect I could have felt a bit like Moses climbing the mountain and wondering what, in heaven’s name, I would find at the top.

In fact when I arrived at the presbytery, I was warmly received by the housekeeper, Brenda Thompson, always the perfect lady, who, incidentally, died in June this year, just a few months short of her 100th birthday. R.I.P. She said to me “you are very welcome, but you have come to the back door. Would you like to come around to the front?” (The present front door was the back door in the 1950s). Naturally I said no. I was very happy to make my grand entrance here at the back door. I have no idea what the impression of the parishioners was to this new curate coming up to the age of 24 was, apart from one lady remarking, “I am not going to Confession to a youngster like that”! What were my own impressions? Firstly, a kindly welcome from the parish priest, Fr. Joe Troy; and secondly, the discovery of a beautiful church with everything in it that was necessary. It was warm and devotional, inviting prayer; in contrast, perhaps, to the presbytery, which, at the time, was rather “basic”. I was gratified to be supported by three religious communities in the parish, – the Presentation Sisters next door, and the two flourishing Benedictine communities of Quarr and St. Cecilia’s Abbey. The week I arrived, there was a young Francis can giving a retreat to the Sisters next door, and one evening we went for a walk together along the Esplanade.

Fr. Joseph Troy, my first parish priest, had a great love for the Liturgy. I think he would clearly have been dear to the heart of your own parish priest, as he never missed the opportunity to have a Solemn High Mass on Sunday if there was a visiting priest in the parish. It meant that often on a Sunday, after an 8-00am Mass at Seaview and a 9-15am Mass at Bembridge, I would have to dash back to Ryde for the 11-00am Mass where there would have to be a Deacon and Sub Deacon, leading the celebrant out for Mass, topped by a biretta.

I mentioned the Presentation Sisters in the convent. I was always grateful for the kindness shown to me by the Rev. Mother and all the nuns, in my youth, and, occasionally my home sickness. I remember Mother Teresa and I often thought of comparing her to Mother Abbess in the “Sound of Music” and her wonderful song, “climb every mountain”. Mother Teresa was very kind hearted, and a reassuring presence in my life.

The Benedictine monks at Quarr Abbey took care of my sins and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and sent me home to the presbytery with peace and pardon in my soul. Wonderful men like Fr. Joe Warrilow and Fr Paul Ziegler come gratefully before my mind this evening – God rest them. Their place now taken by Fr. Finbar, unable to be with us tonight, and also Fr. Gregory, whom I am honoured to have as a concelebrant.

After Fr. Troy came Fr (later Canon) Daniel Cogan in 1956. Without doubt he was one of the most formative influences in my life here at St. Mary’s. He was a truly humble and a holy man, a wise one too – and a very dear friend. In our eight years together we never had a cross word. Canon Cogan was a man of deeply cultivated tastes. When the little church of the Holy Cross was built at Seaview, Canon Cogan asked me to call on a Fr. Jack Hanlon in Dublin, whose paintings were just beginning to be widely admired. My errand was to ask Fr. Hanlon if we could commission him to paint a set of 14 Stations of the Cross for the church and a much larger one of the Resurrection. Fr. Hanlon agreed and then sent his commissioned works to us for a very modest fee. They still adorn the walls of the Holy Cross Church. I have a niece,Valerie, working in the National Gallery in Dublin and she tells me that Fr. Jack Hanlon’s paintings have become well worthy of note, – an example of dear Canon Cogan’s good taste, well ahead of his time. The Canon also had a wonderful sense of humour. He gave me leave to do “my own thing” in the parish, and it was one of my great joys to found a Praesidium of the Legion of Mary, and I am so happy to see some of my fellow founder members here in church tonight, particularly Sheila Ferris and Mary Rigby. I remember instructing Mary if the Faith, long before the days of the R.C.I.A. when priests would instruct potential converts individually. Mary came to the presbytery one day, and I remember Agnes, Fr. Cogan’s small, stocky housekeeper shouting up the stairs at me, “Father, your convert is here”. I remember coming to Mary, so embarrassed, as if I was greeting a prisoner returning from parole, instead of a young lady, then an Anglican, but already so devout in the Faith. Fortunately, Mary has such a wonderful sense of humour and banished my embarrassment with her happy laughter. I remember also, in the convent school was dear Yvonne Rampton, yearning to be a Catholic since her school days, and her parents, wisely saying, “we will allow you to become a Catholic when you are 21. Sure enough, on her 21st birthday, I remember her coming to me and saying, “Father, now that I am 21, will you please receive me into the Catholic Church”. I was pleased to do so. I have benefitted greatly from people like Mary and Yvonne, and many others, who have told me that they always remember me in their prayers.

I must not end without a word about the good nuns of St. Cecilia’s Abbey. At present it must be one of the largest women’s religious communities in England. I have a dear friend there, – Sr. Marie Brigid, who celebrated her own diamond jubilee there last year. In a recent letter, she told me, “Mother Abbess and the nuns will pray for you on your Diamond Jubilee”. They always remember anniversaries and their prayers have been a constant source of strength to me.

Dear friends here in St. Mary’s; you have been very patient listening to this old man taking you down memory lane of bygone years. Thank you so much, – and especially, thank you to Fr. Anthony Glaysher, – my fellow concelebrants, and you my dear parishioners of Ryde, for joining me in this Mass and in thanking God for all the graces and blessings that have flowed to me in all the long years of my priesthood, that seem to have gone in a flash since I first pushed that bicycle up St. George’s Street in August 1951. Deo Gratias