It was on the Feast of Saint Joseph 1993 that I was ordained a deacon for the Institute of Christ the King in Italy by Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, one of the last of the Sacred College to have been consecrated a bishop in the old rite (John XXIII in 1962). I decided to publish my own celebration a day ahead, as greater men than I will have more to celebrate tomorrow!
In my day, we didn’t wear all the blue “stuff” they wear now. We just dressed as secular clergy in ordinary black cassocks and surplices and we were just called Monsieur l’Abbé. Some of the sights to behold these days are quite “head-turning” to say the least.
About ten years ago, I wrote a reminiscence of the day.
The day arrived for my diaconal ordination, a fresh and sunny spring day. There had been five of us at the retreat, the other four for the subdiaconate and myself for the diaconate. The vestments were neatly laid out in the sacristy with the folded dalmatics to be put over our left arms. The chapel was immaculately clean, and a strange stillness reigned in the little baroque chapel. The Cardinal’s vestments were laid out on the altar, as the strong smell of beeswax polish pervaded the scene of the ceremony. As the time approached for the ceremony, two future subdeacons and myself were vested and ready. The minutes ticked by, and the other two were not present. How can a man be late for his own ordination?
Finally, the seminarians arrived and everyone was vested. Still no sign of the missing ordinands. I ventured a question, but was told that there was no problem. We entered the chapel, and finally, Cardinal Palazzini arrived in cappa magna, accompanied by the ministers, servers and Monsignor wearing a cope. As the ceremony began, it was clear that the two missing ordinands were not going to be there. The feeling of confusion continued throughout the ceremony. I could feel the tenseness in my superior, and would notice the same thing afterwards when looking at photographs of the ceremony.
It was an almost unreal feeling as the sun shone in through the window high up to the side of the chapel, and I realised that I was actually going to be ordained a deacon. After the long Litany of the Saints, the two subdeacons were ordained, and I was finally called. The confusion filled my soul as I knelt before the Cardinal and he intoned the prayer of consecration. The right hand pressed firmly onto my head as the formula was recited: Accipe Spiritum Sactum ad robor… I received the stole and dalmatic, and had to lay my right hand on the book as I received the power to proclaim the Gospel in the name of the Church. The sun continued to shine through the smoke of the incense, as I read the Gospel and took the book to be kissed by His Eminence. There was a great joy within me, but an inability to forget the missing ordinands. Even after the ceremony, no information was forthcoming.
The missing ordinands had been expelled for some kind of intrigue, and one was eventually recycled through a stint in Africa and his ordination some two years later. The most shocking thing was to see him that very evening in Marseilles, where the confusion increased. The other ordinand simply disappeared, never to be seen again.
* * *
As the years condemn for those of us who grow old, I ask my readers’ prayers for some of those I have known in that august House and for those who are no longer with us:
- Pietro SRE Cardinal Palazzini (1912-2000)
- Monsignor Gilles Wach – founder and Prior General of the Institute
- Fr Philippe Mora – seminary rector
- Fr Benoît Jayr – ICR provincial in France
- Fr Frank Quoëx (1967-2007) – MC and professor of liturgy
- Fr José Apeles Santalaria de Puey y Gruells – Spanish television
- Fr Timothy McDonnell – now on the staff at Vienna Cathedral, Austria
- Fr William Richardson- now working for the Dublin Archdiocesan Curia
- Fr François Crausaz (1958-1994) – chaplain in Marseilles and Port Marly
- Deacon Sylvain Tzuan – laicised, and Gerhard Eichhorn who went on to an academic career at Fribourg University, the two subdeacons who were ordained when I was ordained a deacon
- Fr Roger Banet (1937-2011) – once a prelate’s valet and verger for big ceremonies at Gricigliano, ordained elsewhere
- and just a couple of names I have been unable to retrieve from my memory
- and all the others I knew, who are now priests in the Institute, elsewhere or who were mistaken in their vocation…
I have also learned that a former seminarian of this ICR has recently died, Scott Gibson, known in England for his expertise on baroque art and his love of the Oratory. Of my subdiaconate class in 1992, not one remained with the Institute.