Parishioners at St Mary’s Church are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of their priest Fr Francis Barnett. To mark the special occasion a social evening is to take place in the Nairn Dunbar clubhouse on August 2 when parishioners from St Margaret’s in Forres, where Fr Barnett is also parish priest, will join them.
Fr Barnett arrived in Nairn 15 years ago to take over from Fr Gerard Hassay who replaced Fr Barnett at the Sacred Heart Church in Lauriston, Edinburgh. Before his arrival north he had also worked in Glasgow and spent a number of years in the teaching profession.
But his path towards the religious life began just after World War II had ended and while he was growing up in Crosshills, Glasgow. As a 12-year-old he moved to St Bernadine’s, a Franciscan College in Buckinghamshire. However, a Franciscan’s life wasn’t for Francis Barnett although he still wanted to become a priest. Two books by Fr James Brodrick – The Origin of the Jesuits and The Growth of the Jesuits – changed his life forever. Shortly afterwards he was accepted into the Society of Jesus – otherwise known as the Jesuits – in London where he spent the next 13 years studying. “It was a good life and I enjoyed the student years.” During that time he also taught at St Ignatius, in Tottenham. On the completion of his studies, he was ordained at the age of 30 on August 6, 1963, at Holy Cross Church in Crosshill, Glasgow.
He then moved to Liverpool where he taught at St Francis Xavier’s College for four years before returning to Scotland to spend the next nine years at St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow during which time he gained a Diploma in Education specialising in Comparative Education which led to overseas visits to Norway, France and a little time in Spain.
His Provincial was keen on him taking over as headmaster at St Aloysius but Fr Barnett wasn’t so keen and it wouldn’t be too long before he found himself back in London. In 1980 an invite from one of his contemporaries, Fr Patrick Cooper, to become his deputy head at Wimbledon College proved irresistible. The two men had been ordained in the same year. However, just six weeks into the post tragedy struck when his friend died suddenly. “I picked up the phone to the Provincial and I said ‘the headmaster’s dead’. He replied: ‘the headmaster lives’ – isn’t providence wonderful!”
Five years later he returned briefly to Glasgow before moving to Edinburgh in 1986 to become parish priest at the Sacred Heart Church before moving to Nairn in September 1998. “I really didn’t know what hit me when I arrived in Nairn – it was such a complete change,” said Fr Barnett. “There’s plenty to do here but in a big city parish you always have back-up with other priests. “But there are people here who are very good at helping me.”
As well as his Golden Jubilee, there was a landmark birthday last week when Fr Barnett turned 80 on July 16. “I should be retired but I can still do a job!” he declared – “maybe not as good as I would like but I can do a job.”
Next week’s celebration isn’t the first involving the two parishes. In July 2007, St Mary’s hosted the ordination of Damian Martell, from Forres – and brother of well-known local nurse Siobhan Ross – the first ordination ever to take place in the church, which celebrates 150 years in 2014. “It was a link between the two parishes. It was a very historic occasion and I was very proud to be part of it. “Some people tried to persuade us that Damien should be ordained in St Sylvester’s Church in Elgin. “But in effect, this church was big enough to take the people who came.”
Among Fr Barnett’s other special interests is the Holy Land where on numerous occasions he led tours on behalf of tour company Special Pilgrimages. (He’s given a number of talks in Nairn on the subject.) Looking back on what he says has been a rewarding life in the priesthood – and more than 60 years a Jesuit – he remarked: “There are a thousand and one things one would much rather have done but, no, I didn’t miss anything.”
George Worrall, one of a group of parishioners who has been in charge of organising the celebration, commented: “The 50th anniversary of the ordination of any priest is a wonderful personal achievement and it is also an honour for the parishioners to whom he is their priest. The parishioners of both parishes felt that this important milestone should be celebrated. “As a priority, it was agreed that funds should be raised to provide an appropriate gift and parishioners were keen to make donations and give ideas for a suitable gift to be presented at the social evening which we hope will be a memorable one for both Fr Barnett and the parishioners of St Mary’s and St Margaret’s.”
By his own admission large social gatherings are not something Fr Barnett revels in. He added: “It will be nice to be among my parishioners but I don’t want too much fuss. It’s not the same for instance as a couple getting married. But people will still hopefully remember it.”
Article reproduced courtesy of the Nairnshire Telegraph