Last Saturday evening I had the chance to sit for a while before Evening Mass in Glann Church.
It's something I don't do often enough - not always because I don't have the time but that's often the reason.
In any case, I had the time on Saturday and sat for a while in the church.
I said Evening Prayer, finished that and just stayed in the seat. I have to say I felt a great sense of peace and had a real awareness of being in a good place.
I felt very comfortable, was close enough to a radiator to feel the benefits of its warmth and am convinced that I could have easily enough fallen asleep. That led me to thoughts of another man, sitting in a church, waiting to celebrate Evening Mass - nearly twenty-eight years ago ...
When I went to Maynooth in 1981, I noticed a man there who seemed very old to my eighteen year old self. He was dressed in black suit, white shirt and black tie. I thought at first he was a priest. Within a short number of weeks, if not days, I realised he was not a priest but a man called Paddy Mullaney. He had a small office near St Mary's Oratory (on the corridor to Loftus Halls) where he photocopied sheets, articles and the bits and pieces we might need for class and study. We called him "Professor Xerox" but spoke to him as Paddy and, I have to say, I liked him. He knew I was from Co. Sligo and there was a sort of connection around that.
I was ordained in 1987 and some three years later Paddy too was ordained. I went to Maynooth, as mentioned above in 1981, Paddy went in 1966!
My understanding is that Paddy felt called to the priesthood in his youth but had not received a formal education. I believe he made an attempt to join in secondary school (as a mature student) but found it difficult. It's likely things were not as well in place at that stage. In any case, he came to Maynooth in 1966 and worked on the staff there - various jobs, I'd imagine, until he found his niche at the photocopier. The call to priesthood, it seems, never left him.
I don't know when the decision was taken but I think it might have been by Bishop Thomas Finnegan (R.I.P.) then bishop of Killala, most likely at the promptings of some of those who knew the sincerity of Paddy's calling, but he was accepted as a student for the priesthood. Those articles that he'd copied for others throughout the years, became his own tools and with special help and tuition he advanced to ordination. I'm not sure when his date of ordination was but I think it was in 1990.
I remember meeting him on the street in Enniscrone one day. He was walking towards me, dressed in black suit and clerical collar. I congratulated him. I knelt on the street and he gave me his blessing. I was so happy for him and so pleased to receive his blessing. His happiness too, was evident, and his blessing sincere.
I have thought of him from time to time but never as intensely as I encountered his memory on Saturday last. I imagined myself having fallen asleep in Glann Church and someone coming to put his or her hand on my shoulder to tell me it was 8.00pm and time for Mass. No doubt I'd have woken quickly and, still a bit embarrassed, gone to the sacristy to get ready.
Fr Paddy Mullaney sat one evening in the church in Enniscrone. He was due to celebrate Evening Mass. As I recall he had, earlier that day, gone to visit the bishop who had given him an appointment to be a chaplain in a district hospital. That evening Paddy sat in the seat, prayed Evening Prayer and when time came for Mass, people noticed he had not moved. Assuming him to be asleep, someone went forward to waken him - sadly Paddy had died. May he rest in peace.
That's the connection! I had a real sense that Paddy Mullaney died a happy man. He had a dream in life, followed it through and never lost the sense of being called. He knew what it was to become a priest, to celebrate Mass, to bless, heal and forgive. He experienced joy in those months that had been his dream for decades. I believe he'd have died a happy man, knowing that he had tried his best, given his all and responded in full to God's invitation to "come and see".
I wondered, in my imaginings, about someone in Glann coming forward to put a hand on my shoulder and waken me. I wondered if, like Paddy Mullaney, they found me wakened to a different reality, would I have died a happy man? Would I have been able to say I did all that was asked of me or, was there unfinished work?
A sobering question! I hadn't fallen asleep and went to the sacristy in plenty time for Evening Mass but Paddy Mullaney, you placed the original on the glass plate of the photocopier and I need to press the green button and make a copy!
Paddy's office is long since gone. The corridor is now an open walk way and recently I passed along that little corridor. I met young students, men and women, preparing for exams in Loftus Hall and wondered did they know they were walking through Paddy's workplace - where he pushed the button, made the copies and waited ....
Time moves on. Memories remain.