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LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
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‘I can’t tell you how blessed I feel.’ So said Archbishop Malcolm McMahon as he reflected on his 40 years as a priest at a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday 26 June.
Archbishop Malcolm said these words as he looked out on a congregation including family, friends and members of the Dominican Order to which he belongs.
Exactly four decades earlier, he had been ordained a priest by Cardinal Basil Hume at his home parish in London – Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic’s, Haverstock Hill.
As he told the congregation at the Cathedral: ‘Today I am celebrating the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood by Cardinal Basil Hume whom I miss every day of my life.’
Archbishop Malcolm, 73, dwelled in his homily on that day’s Gospel (Luke 9:51-62) in which Jesus and his disciples find themselves turned away by a Samaritan village, talking about the ‘cycle of rejection and acceptance’ that Jesus faced and finding an echo in the many challenges, the ups and the downs, encountered in the life of a priest.
And he noted the sacrifice demanded as he cited Jesus’s line in the Gospel that ‘No one who sets a hand to the plough and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.’
He added: ‘The message is quite clear that following Jesus is not that easy in life. It doesn’t mean it is not joyful, it doesn’t mean it is not enriching, it doesn’t mean it is not at times a great pleasure, but overall it is not an easy option.’
Yet equally he expressed his gratitude for the blessings that a ‘wonderful journey’ had provided – including the sight of ‘so many friends and families here today’. Those present included Archbishop Mark O’Toole, the recently installed Archbishop of Cardiff; Canon Geoffrey Hunton, his secretary during his time as Bishop of Nottingham; and his two auxiliary bishops here in Liverpool – Bishop Tom Williams and Bishop Tom Neylon. The Archbishop noted the presence too of members of the Knights of St Columba, whom he served for many years as chaplain.
Then, returning to that notion of journey, Archbishop Malcolm affirmed: ‘It is a journey of faith and of life, a journey of life and light, light which leads us out of the darkness – depression, sin, the past – and leads us into the future of blessing, the future of richness of love. That is the journey I’ve been on for 40 years now.’
From engineering to the altar
Born in 1949, Archbishop Malcolm was brought up in north London. After studying Mechanical Engineering at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), he took an engineering job with London Transport. Yet a visit to old friends in Manchester early in 1976 set him on a different path. There he met up with Father John Fay, national chaplain for young Christian students.
‘It was during that conversation I suddenly blurted out that I wanted to be a priest,’ he recalled during his homily on 26 June. ‘I have no idea where that came from. Six months later I was in the novitiate of the Dominican Order on Fr Jack’s advice.’
After Archbishop Malcolm’s ordination as a priest in 1982, he was based with the Dominicans at Blackfriars, Oxford, while studying for a Master’s degree at Heythrop College.
His subsequent service as a priest included time spent in Leicester – where he was based at Holy Cross Priory and served as chaplain to the polytechnic; at St Dominic’s in Newcastle; and then back in London as Prior at St Dominic’s. After three years in this last post, he took over as provincial of the Dominicans in 1992.
It was in 2000, not long after his return to Oxford as prior of Blackfriars, that he received his appointment as Bishop of Nottingham. ‘I had to learn to live differently,’ he reflected. ‘It is a very different routine of life. But I was 51 at the time so had a lot of energy. I loved it, I loved meeting all the people. Nottingham diocese is a wonderful diocese, the largest territory of any of our dioceses in England.’
In 2014, Archbishop Malcolm succeeded Archbishop Patrick Kelly here in Liverpool. ‘People here in the whole of the diocese are very warm and friendly and the priests have been very supportive,’ he said, while not hiding the challenges of the here and now for the diocese. ‘We’re all aware of the situation the Church is in these days after Covid and secularisation but we’re up for the challenge.’
Hence, he added, the significance of the Synodal process recently undertaken. ‘I felt we had to do something. Our diocese has been changing a bit beyond our control with falling congregations, shortage of clergy, old buildings. It’s a very difficult time for the Church here in the northwest of England. I didn’t want us to go into a downward spiral of closures. I thought we’d see if we could take the initiative and seek new ways of being Church in the future.’
Thoughts of the future could wait on 26 June, however. It was a day, instead, to mark that 40-year milestone – and ponder his four decades since ordination. ‘It has been a good way of life and I’m always grateful to the people who’ve supported me so that I can serve others – not only my family but also close friends who I’ve got to know through being a priest,’ said the Archbishop.
‘I live a very interesting, fulfilled life. I’m still on my spiritual journey like every other Christian – there’s still work to be done on me, spiritually and in other ways – but overall it has been a really good 40 years. I’d recommend it. Religious life is for all … it’s a very hard kind of life but when you concentrate on the great privileges that go with it, the gifts you get of love and friendship and being free to return those gifts to other people and serve them, there are certainly no regrets.’
Archbishop Malcolm marks 40 years of priesthood
The message is quite clear that following Jesus is not that easy in life