Five Carmelite friars celebrate jubilees

Fr Alphonsus Brennan

Fr Alphonsus Brennan

The British Province of Carmelites is celebrating the jubilees of religious profession of five friars who between them have given 260 years of service to the Church in the Carmelite Order.

Fathers Cyril Baxter, Edward Okon, Pat O’Keeffe and Piet Wijngaard all made profession of simple vows fifty years ago, on or around the feast of Our Lady’s Birthday, 8 September 1960. Father Alphonsus Brennan was professed a decade earlier and is thus celebrating his diamond jubilee.

Fr Alphonsus – known among his brothers as Alphie – was one of the re-founding figures of the Province when the Carmelite friars returned to their ancient home at Aylesford Priory in Kent 60 years ago. Having joined the Order in his native Ireland, Alphie volunteered to be a part of what was then known as The English Mission. Over the years he worked in education, retreat and parish ministry, as well as serving as Prior Provincial and as Bursar General of the Order in Rome. Convalescing from recent surgery, Fr Alphie is looked up to by many of the young friars in the Province with whom he is always happy to share his wisdom and experience.

Fr Alphonsus Brennan, O.Carm.

As a young man in Bradford Fr. Cyril Baxter was an active figure in the Communist Party. Following his National Service he was received into the Catholic Church and joined the Carmelite Order. Over the years he has served in a variety of communities but most especially at Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster, in York and in Aylesford, where he was much in demand as a confessor. Even though his health hasn’t been of the best in recent years, Cyril is still very much a part of his community.

Fr Cyril Baxter, O.Carm.

Fr Edward Okon joined the Order in his native Poland, and following studies in Rome he moved to England in the 1970s. Edward has served at Aylesford Priory and as parish priest in nearby Faversham before moving to take up chaplaincy at the then Carmelite school in Cheltenham. Today he works as a chaplain in HMP Belmarsh where he has a particular outreach to inmates of other faiths.

Fr Edward Okon, O.Carm.

Fr Piet Wijngaard was one of three candidates for the Order in The Netherlands who opted to come to Britain to help with the re-founding of the Carmelite presence here. He began his active ministry teaching in Cheltenham and then was transferred to Aylesford where he became Novice Director; many of the current members of the Province were his novices. He continues to make a contribution in the area of formation and recently attended an international meeting of Carmelite formators in Brazil. Three times Piet has been elected to serve as Prior Provincial and has made a great contribution also to the Order at an international level. His first love is parish ministry and today he is Prior and Parish Priest at Faversham in Kent, where he also oversees the work of the National Shrine of Saint Jude.

Fr Piet Wijngaard, O.Carm.

Fr Pat O’Keeffe entered the Carmelite Order at Aylesford Priory, and following studies in Ireland was assigned to the school at Whitefriars, Cheltenham. A gifted sportsman in his own right, Pat threw his energies into developing the sports teams (especially rugby) into a force to be reckoned with locally, nationally and internationally. Alongside his work at Whitefriars Pat was very committed in working with CMAC (now Marriage Care). Following the withdrawal of the Order from the day-to-day running of the school Pat spent some years working with the Carmelites in Australia. On his return he served for over 12 years as Parish Priest in Walworth (South London) and for six of these he was First Councillor of the British Province. Today he is Catholic Chaplain at York District Hospital, and brings fifty years of experience to the role of Vocations Promoter. A keen gardener, he continues to serve as a Trustee of St Edward’s School in Cheltenham.

Fr Pat O’Keeffe, O.Carm., with a Walworth Parishioner

The British Province of Carmelites celebrated the jubilees of the five men during its annual gathering earlier this year, and further festivitiess will take place in local communities around 8th September and beyond. A special celebration will be held for Fr. Alphie at St. Vincent’s Nursing Home in Pinner on the actual day of his jubilee, 24th September.

Reflecting on the contribution of his confreres, the Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites, Fr. Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm., said: “It is right that we thank God – and these brothers – for their amazing contribution to Carmel and to the Church. In very real and practical ways they have each helped to build up the Kingdom of God on earth, not only by what they have done – which has been considerable – but also by the type of men they have been: dedicated, generous and compassionate. In a few days time the Province will celebrate the first profession of Brother Andy Joyce; he and his fellow friars in initial formation are following a trail blazed by Alphie, Cyril, Piet, Pat and Edward.”

Ad multos annos!

Johan Bergström-Allen, TOC

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