The canonisation and the Irish Province
January 1963: there was a fine contingent of Irish Pallottines at the Canonisation ceremony in Rome, in total there were 34 present and over the years I have heard some of them speak of their experiences and memories, men like Brothers Tom Hynes, Matt Cleary and Dan Lynch and priests like Johnny Mannion, Flor Carroll and Bunny Quinn. Michael Kiely is another with clear memories of the event, he shared his memories with the community in Dublin at a concelebrated Mass on January 22 in Pallotti House, Dundrum. This is what he shared: “I am privileged as the only surviving member of our Irish Province Pilgrimage to Rome in 1963 for the canonization of our Founder. There were thirty four members of the Province present at the canonisation. 1963 was the year of the ‘big freeze’ and Rome was no exception, Rome had not experienced comparable weather in over 200 years.
I must reflect with a spirit of THANKFULNESS, I am aware of my class-mates who were with me then, Bunny Quinn and Flor Carroll, and many others who were contemporaneous and at least two who were younger and have all gone to their rest. I thought this morning that they might visit us with a letter, but no letter from heaven arrived today.
Fifty years have passed and I can still recall the indelible impression Pope John XXIII made on me as he passed on his chair, his sheer sanctity and angelic appearance, and later his profound words of praise on the sanctity of Vincent Pallotti whom he was to canonise. Many of those present were later to comment on the joy that Pope John displayed. It was not just another canonisation; rather he was so joyfully participating in the ceremony and was sharing our joy as Pallottines. I was, of course, depending on the translation for Pope John’s abundance of praise for the sanctity of Vincent, but his inspiring words on Vincent were clear, and there were also some lighter moments too when the Pope spoke of the Church and some historical musings on the difficulties and harsh treatment that Vincent experienced. I recall well his comment “Vincent did not resign as chaplain from the university, he was ‘sacked’”, this evoked much laughter as he apparently used the corresponding slang word in Italian. He also referred to the Church of the time and compared it to “horses with blinkers on”, in that it can only see in the one direction. Our Founder’s concept of the Lay Apostolate was of course unknown then and surpassing all was the ardour of faith that penetrated the whole atmosphere of the celebration.
The Jubilee banner with the line from St. Matthew’s Gospel ‘Let the sanctity of God shine through’ seemed to become a reality during the canonisation and the subsequent days of celebration. This was what he was convinced of and could not escape from living it out in his life. I certainly was deeply touched by the atmosphere of sheer belief and devotion, no doubt due partially to it being my first Roman visit and my first trip home from Tanzania after five years there. I have no particular memory of our celebration that afternoon but many more celebrations were to come. Being a pioneer still and a willing one, I was not to share in the vino, but Ned Grogan assured me that it was way ahead of Babati Stores!!! That afternoon Fr. Anthony Mura, a Diocesan priest who was over on behalf of the Diocese of Mbulu, and I were invited to the Vatican Radio to speak in Swahili to Tanzania. We never heard of any reception of the broadcast or of anybody who heard it!!! Later we were to learn that most broadcasts of the time to Africa were just like broadcasting to the seagulls!
Throughout that week we visited many places associated with St. Vincent and met up with other pilgrims who were from all over the world. I recall in particular our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and Fr. John Gaynor’s reflections on the Pieta and his interpretation of Our Lady’s expression “is this the end?” as she holds the Body of Jesus. It always comes back to me any time that I look at a replica.
Bunny Quinn, Nicholas Gorman, John Gaynor and I remained on for about six weeks until mid-March with participants from all the Provinces and we attended some lectures in missiology and other subjects. Bunny Quinn entertained us with his mimicry of some of the more serious delegates among our fellow Pallottines.
St. Vincent was very open to ideas and to debate and it was very welcome to hear this and it was a delight to listen to John Gaynor’s stories on Vincent Pallotti in the evenings when we would gather in San Silvestro. These included Vincent’s reaching out to people on the margins of society and how very often there were bizarre responses to his generous giving. Nicholas Gorman did us proud as a translator from Latin into English and for translations from English into Latin, which were more challenging, we had an American psychologist for one session. This was all a very new experience for some nationalities present, that God’s grace worked through the human and that there was no clash between sanctity and emotional health problems (depression of today). St. John of the Cross was quoted a lot.
Personally I was very surprised to learn while in Rome that there were so many Pallottines in the world, my own experience being limited to Ireland and Tanzania, at that point. It was a time in which I felt really proud to belong to such a community of Pallottines.” Thanks to Mike Kiely for that personal reflection on the canonization.