Tuesday, 11 February 2014

'Go forth, swiftly, Christian Soul, to meet the Crowned Lord' - Caryll Houselander

Last week was a sad time on Stronsay, particularly for the congregation of Our Lady’s chapel, as we mourned the death of John Friel, our respected and much loved longest serving parishioner, at the relatively early age of 63 years.

                                                         John Friel - RIP

John and his wife Marilyn, both originally from the Liverpool area, moved to Stronsay in the 1980’s, when there was no Catholic chapel, and to hear Mass it was necessary to sail to Kirkwall on mainland Orkney, via the ferry, a major undertaking in those days, or for the parish priest from Kirkwall to visit Stronsay, which for various reasons was a rare occurrence.
When the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R), also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists, moved to Papa Stronsay from the Isle of Sheppey, in the late 1990’s, it was the answer to John’s prayer. He immediately put himself at the service of the monks, and as a skilled joiner and experienced general builder, it was not long before he became the virtual site manager on Papa Stronsay, under the direction of Fr Michael Mary and Fr Anthony Mary. 

                                         Approaching Papa Stronsay by boat

The development of Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, has progressed from an island  with one main house and various dilapidated outbuildings, to an island with two houses, three chapels, a large library, more than twenty individual monk’s cells with foundations for more, a large separate refectory with modern cooking facilities, a bell-tower equipped with heavy working bells, extensive concrete footways, strengthened and repaired  pier and sea walls, a very large greenhouse in which is grown a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, guest’s accommodation, three purpose built warehouses plus numerous modernised outbuildings for storage of farming equipment, materials, animal feed, etc, and for sheltering the cattle and other animals in the extreme winter months. 

                                         Repairing the sea wall on Papa Stronsay

Not content with immersing himself in the work on Papa Stronsay, John was also involved in the conversion work of Our Lady’s chapel, Stronsay, which when the monks first arrived was an  outbuilding at the end of the quay, used mainly for storage purposes. Today we have a beautiful Chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept, and in which daily Mass is offered.


     Our Lady's Chapel 2012          ---        prior to conversion 2002                        


   Our Lady's Chapel 2012          ---           prior to conversion 2002                                                                                           
  (photos courtesy of Transalpine Redemptorist's website)

John was first diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago and the prognosis was not good – he was given only weeks to live. He underwent chemotherapy and amazingly, some said miraculously, the cancer on his lung disappeared. Sadly his joy was to be short-lived, for the cancer returned, and in spite of treatment, spread throughout his body.

He died last Monday morning at about 1.20 a.m. fortified by the Rites of Holy Church, with his wife Marilyn and Fr Youssef  FSSR at his bedside. John was a devotee of Our Lady and wore the Brown Scapular in her honour, and I truly believe that she was taking special care of John in his last hours. The weather here has been really wild and stormy over several weeks, to such an extent that the monks on Papa Stronsay, which included Fr Michael,  have often found it impossible to bring their small boat across, and have been  stranded sometimes for days, waiting for the weather to improve.

Fr Youssef was scheduled to return from the Mission in New Zealand, at the end of January, and in fact arrived back in Stronsay last week, just two or three days before John died. He stayed in the monastery house (St Magnus) on Stronsay, about 100 yards from John’s home, and was immediately at hand in John’s last hours; truly a great blessing, I’m sure through the intercession of our Blessed Lady.

John’s funeral was held last Friday, 7 February, on Papa Stronsay, with a sung Requiem Mass celebrated by Fr Michael Mary FSSR, with  Marilyn and her two sisters, John’s two brothers, the FSSR community and Stronsay friends in attendance, followed by internment in the monastery cemetery. The weather was unusually and exceptionally kind, another great blessing.

John will be greatly missed by us all, not least by his friends from Our Lady’s chapel. He was a faithful and cheerful Catholic, courageous in his belief and not afraid to say so. He was absolutely loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, and was delighted to give his total and absolute support to Fr Michael when he  pledged his  loyalty and that of the FSSR community to Pope Benedict XVI after Summorum Pontificum (July 2007).  

‘Eternal rest give unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.’

Please remember John in your prayers, also his wife Marilyn, and his brothers - thank you.

I recently came across this rather lovely poem, written in the early 1940s by Caryll Houselander - Catholic writer, poet, mystic.

                                                                       Caryll Houselander

A Coffin in Church

By the Sanctuary
There is a small coffin,
It is draped with a violet pall,
And round it
Four candles burn,
Four flames of peace.

I cannot guess
The hidden features,
But I think that they are smiling,
Because they have passed
Through the valley
Of the shadow of Death.

And the Blessed,
With extended hands,
The soul that is crystal
Reflecting light
From the purifying fire.

The haloes of the Blessed
Are the lights
Across the water
From the shore,
That shelters
The last harbour
Like the crook
Of a lover’s curved arm,
Holding the Beloved
At rest.

The Angels
With their wings crowding,
Come like flocking birds
To guide a sparrow,
From its rifled nest
To the sun.

And Mary,
God’s Mother
With mild almond eyes
That laugh softly,
Sees but a child in a cradle,
For the morning
To wake it.

I, who am still
In the valley
Of the shadow of Death,
Fondly speed him.

“Go forth, swiftly,
Christian Soul !
To meet the Crowned Lord.
Who is crowned with the thorn
In flower.

“Go forth !
Like Lazarus,
Who was once poor.”

Ack. Caryll Houselander – written early 1940s.


 'Renew each day the resolution that you have taken of advancing in perfection.  Do not lose courage in whatever state of tepidity you may find yourself  '
(Thoughts from St Alphonsus)