Sunday, 27 February 2011
Events at St Vincent.
This is what happened one beautiful Saturday at St Vincent Parish Church.
Father Donald was away traveling and Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, had gone away to spend a few days with relatives.
Father Ignatius, the Parish priest, was not quite alone however, for on the Friday evening he welcomed a newly ordained priest, Father Clement, who had been sent un-announced to St Vincent by the Bishop to gain some experience before being posted to another Parish.
Father Ignatius intended to introduce the young priest to parishioners and to the nuns in the nearby Convent on the Saturday but unexpected events changed his plans.
At about eight on Saturday morning Father Ignatius received a phone call asking him to go to the hospital urgently as one of his parishioners had been admitted in a serious condition. He had no time to explain this to the young priest who had not yet come down for breakfast. So Father Ignatius left a quick note asking him to hear Confessions at 9:30 and left him a set of keys to the church and Parish House.
A few minutes later, Father Clement came down to the kitchen, helped himself to breakfast and set out to the church to prepare for Confessions.
St Vincent had one of those old fashioned wooden confessionals which consisted of a small stall with a seat for the priest to sit in, and two positions on either side where the people would kneel, and speak to him in turn through a small window.
Father Clement entered the confessional and shut the door behind him. He made a point of explaining to each person seeking Confession that he was a new priest and that he’d be at St Vincent for a few weeks.
He heard Confessions for about an hour or so until eventually everyone had left the church. He stayed in the confessional for a few minutes longer in case there was anyone else to confess, and then, as no one came, he tried to get out of the confessional. Somehow, the handle to the confessional door broke in his hand and the door would not open. He was trapped in a small wooden room with no means of escape. He called out for help but there was no one there to hear him.
The young priest kept his cool as best he could. He sat there praying and every so often, if he heard a noise, real or imagined, he would bang on the confessional door and call for help. But no help arrived for there was no one there to help him!
Eventually, at about eleven o’clock Stuart entered the church.
Stuart was an elderly gentleman of about seventy years of age. He had served in the military many years ago and was a strict no-nonsense man always wary of any wrong-doings and suspicious of anything that was not the norm. It was his turn to clean the church on Saturday and having called at the Parish House for the keys and received no response he then called at Mrs Davenport’s cottage and got no response either. He looked for the priest’s car and that was missing too. He called at the church and to his surprise found the door open. Courageously, he entered the church to find it totally deserted. His keen mind jumped to several wrong conclusions all at once and somersaulted over them time and again.
On hearing the church door closing Father Clement banged on the confessional door and called for help. Stuart was startled and his septuagenarian heart nearly had a cardiac arrest. His aching knees knocked together in rhythm with his heart and the butterflies in his stomach had their knees knocking too. Even his goose bumps had goose bumps of their own. He steadied himself against one of the nearby pews and took one or two deep breaths to recover from his fright.
Despite his courage, Stuart decided to walk out of the church slowly without making a noise and once out he rushed to the nearby Convent to call the police.
The police arrived in force moments later and let Father Clement out of the confessional. There was no one to confirm his story and the nuns had not been told of a new visiting priest. Having a bunch of keys in his possession did not help the young priest’s case who was taken away to the police station pending further enquiries.
At the police station Father Clement was put in a cell with a man who had spent the night there to recover from too much drink on Friday evening. He had been picked up sleeping on a park bench with no means of identification on him.
“Have you been drinking too Father?” asked the man in the cell.
Father Clement protested his innocence and explained what had happened to the incredulous cell-mate.
“That’s a good story Father. I must use it next time they bring me here!” he said.
“Next time?” asked Father Clement.
“Oh yes … I’m a frequent visitor of the constabulary … usually it’s the police station in town. This is my first time here. I normally sleep at the Mission House in town … got nowhere to live …”
The young priest spent the next hour or so getting to know his companion in the cell until eventually Father Ignatius came to verify his story and he was let out.
Over the next few weeks at St Vincent Church Father Clement visited the Mission many times to see his prison friend. With the help of Father Ignatius they encouraged him to seek professional help to stop drinking, and they helped him find a part-time job at a nearby farm.
And God looked down and smiled at the turn of events.