Well, we are in a time of it in Madonna House, with yet another of our members going to meet Jesus last night. Msgr Thomas Rowland died last night around 9:30, after a long struggle with acute leukaemia.
This is our third funeral of the year (fourth if you count Fr. Jim Duffy who died at Christmas time late last year). So we are in a season of saying goodbye and giving thanks, really, for the beautiful men and women who God has allowed us to share life with in this community.
Fr. Tom was a great man in many respects. He was first and foremost a man of the liturgy, a pioneer in the liturgical renewal movement following Vatican II, and a strong advocate of the active participation that was and is at the heart of this movement.
I don't have facts and dates at my disposal as I write this, but he was very active throughout the American Southwest in promoting precisely the kind of liturgical education and sacramental theology that the Church mandated in its constitution Sacrosanctum Consilium. He was a pastor through and through and in his home diocese of El Paso, Texas did great work in building up parish life around the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
His one book, God Acts, We React, contains his insights around these subjects, and has been well regarded in liturgical circles. His concern always was to not overly focus on the precise rubrics and texts (although he was a stickler for doing things correctly!), but to understand the mystery of faith being expressed within them - the reality of God acting in Jesus Christ and this action creating in us a 're-action' - an imitation of the action of Christ that is both worship returned to God and sacrificial love and service for the world.
I would simply say on a personal note that Fr. Tom was my great teacher on the liturgy, and my writings on that subject on this blog and elsewhere are simply my own regurgitation of his basic insights.
How did this man get to MH? He came quite early, actually, to visit his sister Mary Catherine who had joined the fledgling community. He himself joined it in the late 1950s for some years, but was recalled to his diocese by his bishop. He remained an associate priest in the subsequent decades. It was in the late 1980s that he was allowed, finally, to pursue his sense of call to be a full-time member of MH.
Here, he worked in a variety of jobs--he was the bee keeper for a while!--wrote his book and travelled extensively giving workshops on liturgical theology all over North America. He went to Ghana and taught in a minor seminary there, and later was assigned to our house in Edmonton. He had unflagging apostolic zeal, and in fact the one thing he could not do easily was sit still. He loved parish life and was always the first one to volunteer to go out and fill in whenever a local parish needed a substitute.
It was just about two years ago that he went down to the West Indian island of Carriacou, at age 87, to help out, since they had no priest on that small island. And he was quite ready to stay there as long as needed, and was unflagging in offering the sacraments, and bringing communion to 'the old people', most of whom were considerably younger than him. It was there that he began to feel tired and sick for the first time in his life. As he put it to me, he finally went for a blood test, since he had no energy, and found out that "I didn't have none!" Blood, that is. Upon returning to Combermere, he was quickly diagnosed with acute leukaemia and told he would live for a month or two more.
That was a year and a half ago. He was a strong man, and death did not come easily to him. But the last weeks his strong heart and iron constitution finally began to lose the battle, and he quietly slipped away last night into the arms of the Lord who he tried to serve all his life.
Fr. Tom was a unique character, an original. His other passion aside from the priesthood and the Mass was flying--he was a licensed pilot all his life. Coming to MH meant giving that up, so he become an avid hobbyist building remote controlled model airplanes which he flew all around the priest house on any fine day. He was famous for his prodigious appetite and could pack away ice cream (pralines and cream!) with the best of them. He was a lively conversationalist, a very funny man, a great story teller with an unbelievably detailed memory for past events. He was a Texan through and through, long and lanky and with a drawl that was undiminished no matter how much time he spent in lesser environs than the Lone Star state.
He was unlike anyone else in MH, really, and he will be missed. For those who might have known Fr. Rowland and who are in the area, I will be posting funeral information on my Facebook page when we have it. Pray for us as we say goodbye to another of our family, and pray for Fr. Tom that he quickly find his place at the banquet feast of heaven, the liturgy that knows no end.