A close friend gone to God

Palmerston North Fr Kevin Neal6 April 2011 It’s been a mysterious few days. I was sure that I had grown used to the idea of my friend Fr Anthony Ford’s…

Palmerston North

Fr Kevin Neal
6 April 2011

It’s been a mysterious few days. I was sure that I had grown used to the idea of my friend Fr Anthony Ford’s death and when it came I would take it in my stride. But when it did come I felt strangely cut off from everything – just Anthony’s death and nothing else. There wasn’t any great procession before my eyes of his life – just a deep mysterious feeling of his death. I wasn’t used to that. [Fr Anthony Ford died on February 14 and, after a funeral in Hawera on Friday, was buried in Christchurch on Monday February 21.]

A close friend gone to God Archdiocese of WellingtonI had known Anthony for about 15 years. We never really talked that deeply about the years before we met. His talking got pretty serious though when he mentioned the idea of priesthood for himself. Just like Anthony, I had a good long time as a brother and the brothers had helped me make the move. He seemed to want to do the same thing. I could tell that he was pretty well inclined that way and I trusted that. I knew he was a pray-er and that he was taking pretty good advice. My provincial in the brothers put it down as a simple ‘course correction’. I would still be serving the Lord, just in a slightly different way. As far as I could tell, Anthony would be making a ‘course correction’ too. It seemed pretty good to me.

He did go to the seminary in Auckland. He was pretty clued up in theology already but he needed the time and distance before he would be ordained. It was quite a big move so generally they require a gap of at least three years. In the seminary he made some fine friends but in the vacations we would catch up on old times. I still have photos of his diaconate ordination and when he was ordained priest he was posted to Hawke’s Bay and I was, by then, in Stratford.

Soon a vacancy came up for him in Hawera. It was great having a priest friend in the next parish but it wasn’t long before I had my stroke. He was constant visitor in the more than two months I was in Hawera Hospital and he did lots of my laundry! He continued to see me when I was in the Mission Rest Home in New Plymouth and it was there, I think, that he came to realise the value of such a place. He was to see out his own days in the same place some five years later.

When I ended up in the Bay again there were many phone calls and rather long trips to see each other. Eventually, however, he was found to have a brain tumour. He was able to tell me about that and I was relieved because I had guessed that something was wrong but my suggestions about seeking help were not well received. He took the news of the tumour though with all the alacrity of receiving a weather report. He proceeded to plan how he could best use the year or so that remained for him. No fuss and bother, just a matter of ‘what do we do now?’. His faith-in-action was quite spell-binding really.

I saw him about three weeks before his death. We talked a bit and agreed, using lines from St Thomas More, to meet in heaven and to continue the discussion there. Several weeks later I called on him but he wasn’t able to speak. It was only a few days before his death. At the time of my stroke I was absolutely sure that he would have buried me. We even talked about it. It seems the good Lord saw it differently.

The irony of it all is that while I was helping Anthony into eternity, the family in which I was staying in Stratford had just welcomed a grandchild into the world, a mokopuna. It was as if God was saying quite loudly, ‘the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord…’ God has it all under control.

And of course, one day following Anthony’s burial in Christchurch there was the earthquake. But that is another story.