Fr Nesbitt's 40th

Last evening, the Church of Our Lady, Help of Christians in Folkestone was packed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Fr Roger Nesbitt's ordination to the priesthood. In the first years of his priesthood, Fr Nesbitt taught Chemistry and RE at the John Fisher School in Purley. During that time, together with Fr Holloway, he founded the Faith Movement. After a spell as assistant priest in Lewisham, he was appointed to Folkestone in the year that I was ordained (1984).

There was a large number of concelebrants for the Mass in thanksgiving with the proper texts for the Mass of Christ the High Priest. The sermon, given by a former pupil, was a fiery, uplifting and theologically rich discourse on the gift of the priesthood.

At the end of Mass, I gave a short address on behalf of all the priests who had been helped in their vocation by Fr Nesbitt (a long list) and placed an illuminated scroll from them as an offering on the altar of Father's parish Church. Sister Roseann Reddy presented a beautiful picture from the Sisters of the Gospel of Life who acknowledged his characteristically down-to-earth encouragement. ("You just have to get on with it!")

This is the text of my address for the occasion:
I was recently asked by a television interviewer what was the secret of a successful parish. I replied that I will only know if my parish is successful when I appear before Christ at the Last Judgement and he shows me how many of my parishioners have gone to heaven.

However there is one sign of effective priestly ministry that can be measured here on earth. That is to see how many other men have been inspired by the example of a priest to respond to a priestly vocation themselves.

Many of us at this Mass this evening have been assisted by Fr Nesbitt’s priestly example to say “Yes” when we heard God make that call “Follow me!” During his time at the John Fisher School, he showed us what it was like to live joyfully and devoutly as a priest. He taught us the value of the Mass and the sacraments. He taught us how to pray. As a parish priest, he has shown us how to be a good pastoral priest. His wisdom brings us down to earth at times and punctures our pride, his humour often brings a new slant to hackneyed problems, and his constant devotion reminds us of the eternal truths that are at the heart of the priestly life.

You his parishioners will know him as a priest for you. You may also share a legitimate pride when I tell you that he is also a priest for his brother priests too. We are deeply in debt to him because a man who has been ordained in the service of the altar knows the priesthood as the most precious gift. By his teaching and example, Fr Nesbitt has led so many of us to embrace that gift from God with confidence and hope. Therefore a scroll has been prepared recording our thanks to him and our prayers on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Father has not received any recognition for his work in terms of canonries, honours, professorships or even a hint of purple. We hope that the recognition by so many priests of his influence on their vocation will serve as a greater mark of honour in the sight of Christ.

I will ask you not to applaud – as Cardinal Arinze has pointed out, we come to Church to praise God, not man. What I ask you to do is to join me in giving thanks and glory to God for the good work that he has achieved through our good friend and father in God.

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