Item 2 - The Land Rover Priest - at Work

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GB ARCHON 2913 NTM-02-03-2


The Land Rover Priest - at Work


  • May 1970 (Creation)

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1956: ordained
1959-1975: Northampton Travelling Mission
1975: Parish Priest in Diss
2003: retired from Diss
2015: died

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Copy of a page from PACE May 1970. Text:

The Land Rover Priest at Work
“Old Faithful” makes the Mission's wheels turn

The miles between in a far-flung diocese such as Northampton is one of the reasons why – as we enter the 70s – a Travelling Mission is still so necessary.

In this article, Father R L McCormick tells something of his work over the past 12 years.

Nearly ten years ago I sat down to write the first edition of 'Travelling Mission News' which turned out to be a qualified success. I use the word "qualified" intentionally because I was soon to discover the difficulties and limitations attached to the production and circulation of a one man news sheet. It was due to these difficulties that I had to give up the production of the news sheet in 1966.

The editor of Pace however is now hoping that I will be able to provide him with some Travelling Mission news for each monthly edition of the paper.

At the end of 1958 Bishop Parker appointed me to the work of the Travelling Mission and at the beginning of 1959 I started on this work. I recall that Bishop Parker gave me a fortnight in which to make up my mind whether to accept the job or not. He said he hoped my answer would be yes, but that if I felt that I would “go off the rails" on this kind of work then he hoped I would tell him so. I am glad to say that I am still on the job, and as far as I know, still “on the rails"!

I joined Canon Hulme on the job which he had started at the end of the 1940's We worked together for about a year. Then Canon Hulme was appointed to Bedford, since which time I have been on my own in this work.

But what is the work of the Travelling Mission which I have talked about? Surely, you say, there is hardly any need for mission work in England?

Much of the diocese is rural, parishes are relatively few which means that many villages and small towns not only do not have their own parish church, but that they are frequently a number of miles from the nearest one. The mission work is aimed at doing something for the Catholics who live in the villages and towns of these rural areas, in conjunction with the work and wishes of the parish priests. The work revolves round a rota of what I call 'quarterly Mass centres'. A quarterly Mass centre is a village or town in which I offer Mass each quarter and at the same time give the local Catholics the opportunity of having their children baptised if they so desire. Each Sunday I offer Mass in two and very often three such centres. I can only come once every three months because of the large extent of the diocese.

Some people who very often live on the doorstep of their own parish church, question the usefulness of having Mass on such an infrequent basis. My answer is that it is always beneficial and therefore useful to get the local Catholics together in their own home villages or towns for the purpose of offering the sacrifice of the Mass. The quarterly Mass also gives the people the opportunity of getting to know each other as members of the same community. It gives them the opportunity of talking to a priest and it gives them a realisation them with the means to be the visible church in their own localities.

I live in the villages where I work and usually stay with a local family. A point of interest which has always intrigued me is that I very often receive much more spontaneous hospitality from non-Catholics than I do from Catholics. I have never quite worked out why! I suspect that perhaps some Catholics think that a priest lives off a golden platter and so are somewhat afraid to offer hospitality in case they might not come up to standard, whereas the non-Catholic looks upon the priest as just another human being in need of bed and board. I hasten to add that once I am known in the district there is no shortage of hospitality.

Where do I have Mass? Until relatively recently I have used village halls, British Legion halls, public house rooms, private sitting rooms, stately homes, theatres, a boxing ring, and the open air. Now that I can use the Church of England parish churches in quite a few places the question of where to have Mass is becoming less of a problem than it has been.

I book each place where I have Mass for two hours. I allow myself half an hour in which to get the place ready - setting up the portable altar, putting out chairs and kneelers, setting the large tape-recorder to play ‘holy music’ until Mass begins, setting up the large carved statue of Our Lady in some suitable spot, giving out the Mass leaflets and finally giving the whole place a good whiff of best Prinknash incense to smother any noxious odours left over from any riotous sessions the previous Saturday evening. (Particularly in village halls and pubs). I then hear confessions for half an hour, half an hour for Mass and finally, half an hour to get packed up again and ready to move on to the next centre. This repeated three times on a Sunday makes a fair day's work.

How do I carry my kit?, and what do I get around the diocese in? - Land Rover. This vehicle whilst having a remarkable thirst for petrol proves to be about the best for the job. (I am not being paid by the Rover Company!). My kit weighs about five cwts and this has to be carried everywhere I go day in and day out, month in and month out. People have to be picked up from the farms and cottages and brought to Mass on many occasions and transported home afterwards (of course). I have found that the Land Rover is about the only vehicle able to stand up to this constant heavy usage without heavy repair bills. In the winter the Land Rover comes into its own because with its four-wheel drive it is able to keep going when most have stopped. I often feel that I do more good with the Land Rover during the winter months pulling cars out of snowdrifts than by several years of preaching!

What do I do during the week? This is a question more often asked by the mere cynical clerical colleagues of mine! About four days are spent in the village areas where I have the Mass centres – finding and visiting the people, arranging for instructions for the children, smoothing out arrangements for using places for Mass. On the weekdays when I am in the villages I have morning Mass at the houses where I stay. One full day (made up of two separate half-days) is spent travelling to and from the work areas. The other two days are spent writing letters and Mass notices - at the moment I have about 75 outgoing mail items per week.

Do the Mass centres always remain the same? No, there is a slow evolutionary process going on. Each year I hand over about four of my quarterly centres to the parishes so that the centre can be served on a much more frequent basis than my quarterly one. When I hand over a centre then I am able to bring in a district from the waiting list and so the process starts again. Sometimes on the other hand I have to close a centre because of a shift in Catholic population or because of a failure on the part of the local Catholics to respond to the opportunity of having Mass in their locality.

The average attendance at the mission Masses is 34 at the moment. Over half receive Penance and Holy Communion. About one-third who attend go to Mass irrespective of whether I am there or not, and another third could go to Mass regularly despite some difficulty and the remaining third are unable to go on a regular basis.

That then is a sketchy outline of the work of the Travelling Mission. In future editions it will, perhaps, be possible to relate some of this general picture to the detail and colour of particular localities.

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Image from PACE May 1970 (Fr McCormick and his Land Rover)

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