Celebration: Fr Pius with family members and friars on the happy day.
When Fr Pius was ordained here in front of this altar 50 years ago, he was the first Franciscan priest since the Reformation to be ordained in Donegal. That is staggering. How many, many generations passed before the good news of his elevation that day. Actually around 350 years!! Incredible!
Of course our Pius was born Seamus McLaughlin in Feeny Co. Derry 1942 – eldest of six children, five girls and himself. After a parish mission in 1959, having read an advertisement for vocations in St Anthony’s Brief magazine he applied and was accepted into the Franciscan Order. He was told to go to the Killarney
Friary and so he travelled south in September 1959 – even though he had never seen a Franciscan in his life. Now that is blind faith!!
Three years later he made his First Profession, taking the religious name Pius. He was assigned to St Isidore’s College, the Irish Franciscan college in Rome, where he was tailor to the community for the next four years. This was an exciting time in the Church. Pius arrived in Rome on 11 October 1962, the opening day of the Second Vatican Council. In 1965 he made his Solemn Profession in front of this altar in Rossnowlagh Friary. In 1966 he was assigned to the International Franciscan College outside Florence and was involved in their printing presses there.
In 1967 Pius went with some Franciscan Provincials to San Giovanni Rotondo to meet Padre Pio. They stayed in the Friary there and attended his Mass on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon Pius had the opportunity to go to confession to the holy man, an experience that changed his life forever. He was
reluctant to go, almost embarrassed into going with the Provincials who lined up. Finally he got in and rattled off his confession… great silence!
Then Padre Pio told him he was a Franciscan lay Brother and would he like to talk to him about his problem. Pius tells me he got really scared and could feel himself breaking out in a sweat. He said he didn’t have a problem, but Padre Pio said he had. It finally dawned on Pius what he was talking about. He advised Pius to (1) pray fervently, (2) then speak to his Provincial, (3) trust in God and leave the rest to him. That’s what Pius did when he got back to Assisi.
What was his problem? Well, Pius always had a desire to be a priest, but had no secondary education which would be needed before studies for the priesthood. And also, he was 27 years old, an aul fella back then!! It had never been done before that a Franciscan Brother had gone on for the priesthood. Yet, in the end, Pius was sent to America where he did all his studies and he was ordained on these altar steps in March 1973, 50 years ago.
Since then Pius have been involved in all kinds of ministries: teaching, chaplaincy, vocation promotion and video production, retreats, parish-missions, and in recent years back here in ministry in Rossnowlagh. Pius appears at times as an American on mission. The American Church certainly influenced his theology, his style and his outlook, and it is still a spiritual home for him today, I believe.
We gather to give thanks for 50 years of faithful service through the ordained priesthood of Fr Pius.
Gratitude is our overwhelming feeling; gratitude for God’s call and for Pius’ generous response, and a continuous response at that!
As we look back on Pius’ fifty years in ordained ministry, as we celebrate the service given by one priest of this community, we also pay tribute to the exceptional service given at this time by all the Franciscan priests and brothers of this community, now and down through the generations. And while we thank Fr Pius for his work, we also thank all the priests and brothers for their generosity, faithfulness and service.
Against the background of the clouds which have darkened recent years in the Irish Church, it is well for us to remember and put in perspective the faithfulness and dedication of the vast majority of priests everywhere, at present, and over so many years.
Pope Francis said that the priesthood rests on seven pillars: 1. The strength of a priest depends on his relationship with Christ. 2. The priest must be close to the people he serves. 3. A priest’s authority must be linked to service, especially to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important and most easily forgotten. 4. The priest must be a minister of mercy. 5. The priest is called to simplicity of life.
6) The priest must be a model of integrity. 7. The priest is to be a source of blessing for his people.
Pius, thank God, your priesthood rests securely on all seven pillars for you are, in particular, a priest who is close to the people you serve, and you also are a source of blessing for them and for us. May the Lord bless you as you journey to the future.
Eucharist is at the heart of priesthood. When the Eucharist is celebrated, God walks among his people. He invites us to open the door of our heart and welcome him in. But Eucharist is also a challenge; a challenge to live life for others like Jesus Christ did; to be a kind and caring neighbour to all.
So Pius, we gather to say thanks for your years of service. We are blessed by your wisdom, your ability to listen, your sense of humour and your spirit of compassion and of your incredible memory. I am always staggered at how you can recall the minute details in the retelling of something that happened 50 years ago, when I can barely remember what I had for dinner yesterday!!
Watching the video of your Silver anniversary earlier this week, I was conscious of those who were in the video, who are no longer with us. Important family and friends who celebrated with you then, and sadly for us, who are celebrating in the heavenly realm today.
Those who supported you down through the years are part of your continuous yes. Yes to God, yes to service, yes to the sacraments, yes when so many of your confreres down through the years walked away in search of something other. We often say in the friars, ‘The reason why you join is a different reason than why you stay.’
St Padre Pio was in part the reason why Pius became a priest, or certainly had a huge hand in it. Let me end my words of gratitude to you Pius with some words that no doubt you have read and prayed often, part of Padre Pio’s prayer about the priest’s great love for the Lord.
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. Stay with me Lord, because I am weak, and I need Your strength, so that I may not fall so often. Stay with me Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervour. Stay with me Lord, for You are my light, and without you, I am in darkness.
Stay with me Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You. Stay with me Lord, for I desire to love you very much, and always be in Your company. Let me recognise You as Your disciples did at the breaking of bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion be the light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.
Stay with me Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more. With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity. Amen