Father Bernard Tells Us of His Life as a Missionary
Hello everyone. May I start by thanking all the parishioners, from all our three parishes, for the wonderful way my 40th anniversary was celebrated by you all. My thanks for all the lovely gifts, cards and kind words that were offered, and for making it a most warm and humbling experience. I have been asked by The Trinity to give you a potted history of my journey of faith, and what a journey it has been. Well here goes.
I was born in the November of 1943. My parents, Joseph and Helen McDermott lived in Norris Rd, Sale with my two sisters Una and Eileen. I had a happy childhood with my schooling at St Joseph’s followed by De La Salle, Pendleton, Salford.
In 1961 I started work at the Inland Revenue, both in Manchester and London. After 4 years with the Revenue I moved to British Petroleum (BP) as a Personal Tax Advisor. In 1969 my life took a totally different direction when realizing my vocation, I applied and was accepted by the Missionary Society of St Columban – the Columban Fathers, as a candidate for the missionary priesthood. Studying at the St Columban’s seminary in Navan, Ireland.
After five years of study I was finally ordained to the priesthood on the 21st April at St Joseph’s Church here in Sale, by Bishop John Brewer. What a day! I was quickly assigned to the Philippines, along with five other classmates from Ireland. Appointed to the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines and to a Language School, to learn the language, for 12 months.
Martial Law which had been enforced in the early years, made our ministry difficult and different!! Very challenging. Following the Language School, I was a assigned to a parish in Tangub with 56,000 catholics, spread in a wide mountainous area, which in parts was very inaccessible.
Two priests had to minister to all those people, typical of many parishes in that diocese. We created a model for the church, so that basic Christian communities could be self-sufficient, self governing etc. and not reliant on a priest!! The Columbans set up a formation programme for the laity to train leaders from different villages (barrios). This was very successful and in this way the faith has been passed on and developed over the years.
Great emphasis was placed on ‘options for the poor’, as the social condition of the people was one of poverty, with a small minority of the population controlling most of the wealth and resources. This was a very challenging time for me, when I really felt that I was being ‘formed’ by the people, through their deep faith and struggle for justice. Malnutrition was a major problem with children dying at a very young age. We also initiated a community-based health programme in an attempt to combat the poverty and malnutrition.
In 1979 I returned home to take up an appointment as Vocations Director in Britain, and was involved in school missions (Caring Church Weeks) for 4 years, which was very challenging but also enjoyable.
From 1982 I was assigned to Taiwan, as part of small team of Columbans, to engage the people in a cross-faith intercultural dialogue ministry. Very different from the Philippines experience and I struggled to gain a fluency with the Chinese language. This was a good experience which gave me a different perspective on my mission, but not a highlight of my missionary life!!
1988 saw me doing a period of study, after which I joined the Mission Education Team back in England. This involved visiting different parishes for Mission appeals etc. I was elected (appointed) 1st director of a newly formed Columban region of Britain (separate from Ireland), and for 4 years I was leader of the region which was a great challenge and responsibility.
In 1992 I returned to the Philippines and resumed a parish ministry in another very poor parish in Mindanao. At this time the Church in the Philippines was gaining in confidence, with their own clergy gradually taking over from missionaries like the Columbans. I returned home in 1996 when my father became very sick and remained at home after dad died. I was then assigned to a Columban parish in Widnes, and in 2002 was re-elected as Regional Director for another 6 years and then returned again to the Philippines for another short assignment.
In 2005 I developed asthma. This prevented me taking up an assignment in Burma (Myanmar), so I was asked to go to Australia to help re-organise their Mission Education Programme. I was assigned to Melbourne, and the Columban house in Essendon. 2009 saw me being seconded back to the Diocese of Shrewsbury. I wanted to return to a parish ministry and Bishop Noble welcomed me into the Diocese on a 4 year loan. Around 2012, the Solihull community requested my return. Personnel problems had become very difficult, and so I took up my present assignment as House Manager, with pastoral involvement with the three parishes of All Saints’, St Margaret Ward and Our Lady’s (Trinity) at weekends. So, that’s the story to date, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you all a little better over the coming months.