|Fr Cormac being ordained in Rome by Bishop Luigi Traglia|
How many of us stay with the same employer? How many of us work more than 45 years? How about the same boss for 60 years? Cardinal Cormac is in conversation with the A&B News’ Peter Burholt on his 60 years in priesthood – a reflection on his life, both the ups and the downs.
When did you think about being a priest? Did you just fall into priesthood and follow a family tradition, grow into it or was there a ‘Damascus’ moment in your life?
No, I do not remember a dramatic ‘Damascus’ moment in my life. I come from a very Catholic family with uncles who were priests, so it is not surprising that I might consider a vocation to the priesthood. I remember when I was about 15 I was out with my father on his calls - he was a doctor – when he turned to me and asked ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, without hesitation, that I wanted to become a priest. And I never changed my mind.
What were your aspirations when you were going through seminary in Rome? Was it to become, one day, a bishop or a cardinal?
Having expressed my wishes to my father when I was 15, I never really deviated from that by the time I left school at 18. I was convinced I wanted to be a priest and that was the only thought when I went through seminary. No, I had no idea of what the Good Lord had in store for me. Perhaps that was fortunate!
After seminary, what was your first appointment?
This was as a curate in Portsmouth, then a very poor parish where people were mostly dockyard workers or widows from the War. Many were lapsed and I quickly learnt that there was no point in asking why they did not come to Mass.
In time I evolved the idea of starting courses for non-Catholics wishing to know more about the Faith, which were very successful. After four years I moved to another parish and put in place what I had learnt in Portsmouth – it revolutionised the parish.
Do you recall any particular parish experience which has helped you moving forward?
For a moment Cardinal Cormac pondered this question. With a wry smile he replied.
Yes, there was. When in Portsmouth members of the Catholic Evidence Guild would speak about the Faith in Southsea. I went to join them on one occasion and there was a big crowd. The speaker before me was excellent. To my horror, when I started to speak they started moving away because they became bored. That taught me a bit about speaking.
Cardinal Cormac is well-known today for his humorous stories and his ability to hold an audience.
What do you count most precious in your life?
The family is absolutely crucial. The greatest evil of life today is the break-up of families. It has such an effect on the children. The work the Church does in trying to hold marriages together is hugely important.
It is quite common for priests to be tested at some point in their lives. Has this happened to you?
You are right. And I have had my fair share, after all we are human. I must give credit to my family, as well as my Faith and friends for weathering the storms of life. You will always find the cross in life in ways that you hadn’t expected. Even during times when you do not get a result, you realise through it all that the Good Lord was there in the community of the Church.
As a priest, what makes you sad?
There were sad times when I accompanied people as they were dying or families in their bereavement. You get to see the will of God or in the providence of God in everything.
In contrast, the most worthwhile thing about being a priest is being with people. I remember the experience I had of a married couple who were childless for 10 years. They came back, hand-in-hand, to give me the great news that a baby was expected. These are the small things that give me great joy.
If you were not a priest, where do you think your calling would have been? Would it have been a concert pianist or a co-presenter with Chris Evans on BBC2? Or ……………….?
Interesting question. I had thought about being a doctor, like my father, or a musician – or in today’s terms even a DJ. Yes, the Cardinal did say DJ!
We have a strong culture of vocations in the family, there are doctors, teachers, lawyers and business people. I would have liked to have been a teacher. It is a very noble profession and a demanding one. Teachers and priests are similar in that they both have the task of forming the whole person for the greatness of life.
In celebrating your Jubilee, is there a moment which stands out from all the other events?
People have been so kind to me in offering their prayers and good wishes, but I think it was my special trip to Rome when I was joined by 28 of my family. We met the Holy Father, who said that when you get older, you become wiser and more compassionate; wiser because you learn from other people and your own experiences in life; more compassionate because you understand more – therefore, you give more and you learn that you need to be forgiven yourself for your own faults and weaknesses. Wisdom and compassion are the good qualities that good priests have as they become older.
I will tell you something else you need, patience and perseverance.
I remember as I was setting off to Rome to start my formation at the seminary all those years ago, I went to see my parish priest to ask for advice. I thought he would say ‘the harvest is great and the labourers are few’ but he didn’t. Instead, he just said ‘pray for perseverance’. I thought that it was very boring advice, but it has proved to be very true.
Being with Cardinal Cormac talking about some of his reflections on 60 years of priesthood is an honour. However, the one problem is that small matter of time – it was time for the Cardinal to fulfil his next commitment. But that same time has given us a great man over his 60 years of priestly fulfilment. With our prayers and blessings we say ‘Well done for getting this far and may we continue to experience your wisdom and enjoy your humour for many, many years to come. Amen’