A celebration took place at Our Lady Help of Christians in Kentish Town, north London on Saturday, to mark the 40th anniversary of the ordination of parish priest Fr Tom Forde. The Archbishop of Cardiff, Most Rev George Stack, who was parish priest in the 1980s, was chief celebrant at a special Mass of Thanksgiving. Several other priests who have served in the parish, together with many past and present parishioners and friends attended. After Mass there was a gift from the parish, and a presentation of pictures by the children from St Patrick’s School, before a buffet and social took place in the halls and garden.
During his homily Archbishop George said: “I was told not to speak of Fr Tom, who celebrates the 40th anniversary of his ordination today, but to reflect on Our Lady who is the mother of all priests. But don’t those words of St Paul describe not only the prayerful attentiveness of Mary, but also the life and work and dedication of a priest..”
There will be more pictures on ICN’s Facebook page.
Read the full text of Archbishop Stack’s homily here:
One of my big projects in Cardiff is to try and re-order and restore the Cathedral which was bombed in 1941 and has never really recovered! Five architects were invited to apply and I let the committee decide who would be chosen. When I eventually met the winner, I asked him: “Where do you practice?” “London“ he replied.
“Where in London” I went on. “Camden Town “ was the answer. :Where in Camden Town?” came next. “Well actually not in Camden Town but in Kentish Town.” Where do you live was the next question. You guessed the answer. “Lady Margaret Road. “ And he told me his son had been into the Catholic church in Lady Margaret Road ands done a project on the window of Our Lady Help of Christians! Six degrees of separation!
Whenever you go into a Catholic church you are surrounded by signs and symbols and sacraments. The window of Our Lady Help of Christians can’t really be understood from the outside . You have to come in and let the light shine through in order to get the meaning of the glass pieces. And so it is with all the titles and hymns and prayers and devotions we have to Mary. They are like a mosaic or a tapestry which can only be understood when you turn it round and see the full picture - Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Knock. All speaking in different ways and at different times in history of the one truth that she personified: Be it done unto me according to thy word. Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived him in her womb. Our Lady Help of Christians revealed herself to St John Bosco at a particular turbulent time in the history of the Church. Who can forget this pilgrimage this parish made to her shrine in Turin in 1983?
The immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Eve, is a reminder of all that the human race could and should have been before the sin of pride and disobedience separated us from God and from our true selves in what we call Original Sin, as descried in the Book of Genesis. In Mary, God foresaw one who would be totally obedient to his will, let nothing come between her and what was being asked of her. “Be it done unto me according to your word.” The Annunciation.
She is a sign and symbol of all, that we are on our pilgrim journey through lif . She can speak to the refugee through her flight into Egypt. She can speak to mothers of wayward teenagers , “My son, why did you do this to us. Did you not know that your father and I would be looking for you? (Luke 2:4-8). She can speak to mothers of innocent victims of violence as she saw her son dying on the cross.
She is a sign and symbol of all that we one day hope to be - united with God, experiencing the vision of God., knowing unconditional love. How much does God love me? This much, says Jesus with arms outstretched on the cross. No wonder Jesus says in the Gospel: ‘Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’ She too, is the model of one who prayerfully waits on God, reflecting the words of Paul to the Christians of Ephesus: “This is what I pray. kneeling before the Father, from who every family , whether spiritual or natural takes its name.”
I love the answer of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who once came to this church, when she was asked what did she do when she prayed. “I listen to God” she said. “And what died God do?” was the next question. “He listens to me.”
I was told not to speak of Fr Tom, who celebrates the 40th anniversary of his ordination today, but to reflect on Our Lady who is the mother of all priests. But don’t those words of St Paul describe not only the prayerful attentiveness of Mary, but also the life and work and dedication of a priest.
“This is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual of natural takes its name.” As the father of this spiritual family which is this parish of Our Lady Help of Christians it is his aim to work with you and for you”… until, knowing the love of Christ , which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.”
I must just finish with another symbol in this church which is fantastic: the gates above me on the organ loft. They are dedicated to the Litany of Loreto: Tower of David; House of Gold; Ark of the Covenant . But my favourite invocation is Mary as the Mystical Rose.
Coming from Wales I must remember the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins when he wrote:
Is Mary the rose then? Mary the tree?
But the blossom, the blossom there - who can it be?
Who can her rose be? It could be but One.
Christ Jesus the Lord her God and her Son.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine
Show me this son, mother, mother of mine.