Re-discovering my Roots in Torquay
by Michael Waddington
Having been born in Wallasey in the 1970’s, historically a predominately Catholic area of the Wirral Peninsular (with approximately 6 Catholic Churches in an area the size of Torbay, each with a primary school), to a catholic family who were originally from Liverpool (but with surprisingly few Irish roots), it was a given that I was Baptised into the Catholic Church. My parish church and primary school was, Saint Peter & Pauls New Brighton.
During the Second World War the church was nicknamed the ‘Dome of Home’ by merchant seamen returning in their convoys across the Atlantic. Once they spotted the dome they knew they were safe from the ever present threat of U-boat attack.
As a child in the 70s we would have feast days off school (much to the annoyance of my non Catholic friend who lived 7 doors down, however that stopped in the early 80s) and the whole school would attended mass on Saints and Feast days. Harvest Festival was favourite, fresh bread straight after mass in the school yard, and of course Sunday mass with Mum and Dad. It was an imposing church, awe inspiring really, I have seen smaller cathedrals; there were usually 3 priests in residence and a retired priest living in the presbytery.
Of course I followed my faith (it was a given), First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. During this time I became an Altar Boy, while in primary school serving at nearly every weekday funeral and plenty of weddings on a Saturday and as I got older taking the lead as one of the senior Altar Boys in the Parish, Saturday Vigil Mass being ‘my mass’. So it’s true to say that the Catholic Faith was in my blood, at one point aged 12 even seriously considering attending St Joseph's College, Upholland which was once a Seminary but at that time was a boarding school for boys considering a vocation.
However by the time I reached 15 my attentions turned to most things 15 year old boys are interested in, my attendance dropped off, Mum and Dad divorced and I stopped going. But I didn’t lose my faith, I just think my perspective changed, priorities change when you’re a young man, I became a Christmas and Easter Catholic, but I still also attended on the odd Sunday up at the Dome of Home. It was comforting, the mass hadn’t changed, the same faces were there, and I felt like I belonged.
By the time I turned 23 I had moved out of the parish and in with my then girlfriend (now my wife), still attending the Dome of Home at Christmas and Easter and the infrequent Sunday. I turned 25 and we got married in Saint Peter and Pauls, a grand church indeed for a wedding, it was a February and very cold. In 2008 the church was closed and it made me cross, both with the Diocese and the church in general, so I tried my own parish church and I didn’t really enjoy it, a nice enough church but without the grand elegant marble altar and a victim of the “modernisation” aka vandalism of the 1960s, it was a young congregation and a bit ‘happy clappy’ for my traditional tastes, the Second Vatican Council wasn’t a popular move at Saint Peter and Pauls.
And then one Christmas I went and the mass had changed, the Apostles Creed was different, we said “and with your spirit”, for the first time in living memory, I had to read the mass book, once I knew it verbatim, most people took communion in the hand, I was one of 3 people in a hundred that took it on the tongue, I didn’t feel that I belonged anymore, but still I went at Christmas and Easter, never feeling like a catholic, more of a visitor.
I had 2 children and although my wife is a Christian she wasn’t keen on them becoming Catholics and at the time, I had no great drive for them to follow me into my faith, so they were both Christened in an Anglican Church, however ironically they are both (while in Wallasey and now here in Torquay) attending a Catholic Primary. A little over 4 years ago we moved to Torquay and into this parish, at the same time my old parish church had reopened under the aegis of the Institute of Christ the King. With full support from the Diocese of Shrewsbury, the church is now established as a Shrine Church for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and celebration of the Liturgy in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The reopening of the now slightly longer named, Saint Peter Paul & St Philomena had restored my faith a little bit. But my own attendance patterns didn’t change, I attended Holy Angels at Christmas and Easter, it is hard walking into a strange church for the first time, especially one so small, there aren’t many places to hide and my usual anxieties about the different wording and receiving communion on the tongue hadn’t been allayed. But I did a feel better for the more traditional feel to the mass at Holy Angels and the marble altar, reminding me slightly of the Dome of Home.
One year as I walked out, I shook Fr Johns hand, and he held onto it and looked me straight in the eye and said, “you know, we really should see more of you”, I was impressed he remembered me and that made me feel slightly less of a visitor, I told him I was a currently a bit of a Christmas and Easter Catholic but I continued to ‘visit’ at Christmas and Easter.
In November last year my Dad died, it wasn’t a big shock, and partly a relief, he was 81 and had been fighting Parkinson’s for 16 years and he fought a good fight but his wish was to move on and join his brothers and sisters in Heaven. For the first few days it didn’t fully sink in, I was on auto pilot; I even went back to work. But it was a mistake; I went off work on compassionate leave. One morning after dropping the kids off at school I decided to go down the road to 09:30 mass, I felt I needed somewhere to reflect, somewhere quiet, somewhere to think, a place away from the emails and phone calls to various agencies about my Dads estate and the builders we had in the house at the time; there is an African proverb:
“Much silence makes a powerful noise.”
Over the following 4 weeks I was going to most weekday masses. At one point Fr John stopped me and said and with a knowing eye “I thought you were a Christmas and Easter Catholic”, I explained about my Dad, he listened and gave me some sage advice that one would expect from a Parish Priest. It was advent, I even went to confession, I must admit I did feel a bit silly when I said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been over 30 years since my last confession….”
Over those four weeks I started to reflect on my Dads life and my own, I was able to stop, listen and start thinking about my faith and my relationships with God and my Catholicism. It was advent, the church was preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, while I was coming to terms with death of my father, I didn’t feel like celebrating, but advent is also about thinking of Christ’s second coming and preparing for that.
Following Christmas I returned to work and I have settled into a routine of attending Mass every Sunday (usually 5pm). This year Easter has fallen early, meaning not very long after celebrating Christmas we entered into Lent. I felt more comfortable with Lent, it’s a time where we think about the death of Christ, a period of some sadness and reflection, although it was written that God would sacrifice his only son for the good of humanity, generally any death is seen as a sad one.
I am a nurse, I know that we have to die and I have personally witnessed enough death and sadness to last a lifetime. However the reality is that in some deaths we can be freed, Christ died and freed us from our sins, Dad was freed from a disease that robbed him of his dignity and mobility and I know that he would have welcomed it, he told me last year that he was tired and wanted to move on.
So death can have a meaning, it’s another chapter in life.
I only really discovered following his death, that Dad had never lost his faith; he was receiving regular visits from the Canon at Saint Peter Paul & St Philomena, this surprised me slightly as in later years we didn’t really discuss faith.
So far I have written 1500 words about my Dad and my past, but I haven’t really addressed my own experiences and reflections and what I may have learned from them over the last 6 months. I am not sure I can, yet. What I can tell you is that I am certainly a different person to the one I was twenty years ago, I am married with two children, I have a full time job and I live 280 miles from where I was brought up, things couldn’t be much different.
But there has been a constant in my life and my Dads, our shared faith. Faith is like anything in life, it’s a journey, and most journeys in life do not follow a straight and true course.
I suspect that when I reached 15 I became a perfunctory Catholic, it was almost a job, I mentioned previously that I knew the Mass verbatim. Did I lose sight of why I was a Catholic or what it means to be a Catholic (or to have any sort of faith for that matter)?
I challenge anyone reading this not to have ever been at bit pleased that mass was a bit quicker than usual because you had to get home and start lunch or go out to visit someone. Dad used to tell the story of a priest in his parish in the 1930’s and 40’s that if he was taking the early morning Sunday mass, he would rattle through it in order to get away and go fishing, so I wouldn’t feel too guilty about it if you have ever had somewhere to go yourself after Mass.
So I have returned to regular attendance. This time I am not attending because I have to serve on the Altar, I am sitting down and probably paying more attention to the Mass than I ever did, and by sitting quietly I am giving myself the chance to stop and listen.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17”
Attending mass is a link to my Dad, to my past, I am surprised to be re-discovering my Catholic roots in Torquay, and that makes me comfortable.