The story of a journey to conversion

This is the story of a friendship that was celebrated this year in September in Lourdes, a friendship that has lasted sixty years, almost to the day.  It is about  a young priest newly ordained in 1950  by John Charles McQuaid for the diocese of Cashel and Emly,  but was bound for New Zealand  to help out at the request of Bishop McKeefry and sailed on the S.S Captain Cook, the emigrant ship that took six weeks to sail from Glasgow to its destination. He set sail in September 1953 and landed in his designated parish of St. Josephs, Wellington on October 20th 1953.  This priest was Fr. James Feehan, friend,  orator, author and exemplary priest.

On the long ocean voyage Fr Feehan said mass each morning for the very small group of Irish Catholics on board,  including Sheila Hope from Belfast and Jimmy Forkin from Roscommon.  On board also was Iris and Frank Carrie and their two small children, Francis and Angela  from  Jersey. Frank’s mother was Irish and he was one of fourteen children of Bridget Kelly  and  had been brought up as a Catholic but  strayed away from the church. He married Iris in a Catholic church in 1948, which he said was important to him,  but as Iris had no interest in the Catholic religion they both soon lapsed. Frank was the welter weight boxing champion of the Channel Isles in 1950 but decided to emigrate to start a new life in New Zealand. They had travelled through Southampton to get the train from London to Glasgow to board the ship for New Zealand.  The Carries made friends with Sheila and Jimmy and used to wonder about the ceremony every morning in the Writing Room which was shared with 3 other ministers of different faiths on board ship.  Iris used to peer in through the glass door, but gave Fr. James a wide berth, keeping her distance. But Sheila and Jimmy were an inspiration to her and even though she disappeared to the lower deck to avoid being part of the mass going group she was still drawn to the Irish contingency.

She had never seen Mass being said before and was fascinated by the ceremony.  Frank introduced Iris to Father Feehan but she was still sceptical and continued to give him a wide berth. Sometimes she would sit outside the door and listen.  Finally Iris decided to speak with  Fr. Feehan and she asked him about the story of St. Patrick and how the faith came to Ireland. In his own inimitable colourful way Fr. James told her the story and she thought it was a “nice story”  and said she would like to know more.

Iris was touched by the living faith of the Irish she had befriended and who took an interest in helping her with her children then only 2 and 4 years old. Their comraderie and their kindness and new found friendship touched her.  She asked for more instruction in the Catholic Faith and of course Fr. Feehan was the right priest in the right place.  For the duration of the journey, through the Pacific ocean, with flying fish and its magic power, Iris continued to become more and more interested in becoming part of the Catholic church.  She found that when they got to where they were going to live that Fr. Feehan would be her priest and he assisted herself and Frank in getting accommodation through friends of his,  Tommy and Mary McCabe from Cavan.

Iris started going to Mass on the 23rd December 1953 after she had received conditional Baptism and eighteen months later she received First Communion and Confirmation accompanied by her Irish friends.   Iris has said that Father Feehan had given her “a spiritual outlook on life that has sustained her to this day and has enriched her life”.   Iris and Frank called their next son Jimmy after the Padre.  Frank  was so taken by all that Iris knew about the  Catholic religion that he was born into that he  asked to join an instruction class for non-Catholics as Iris knew so much more than he did. They have remained devout Catholics throughout all these years and after Fr. Feehan left New Zealand to return to the Diocese of Cashel and Emly, when it took six weeks for a letter to arrive,  they kept in constant touch.  Iris and Frank and their five children returned to Jersey in 1966 where Fr. Feehan has spent many happy holidays with them and their children.

A celebratory Mass and a diamond anniversary cake presented by Angela Carrie to her parents and Fr. Feehan at the end of the O.M.I. Pilgrimage was a fitting tribute to the  conversion and a lifetime of friendship between Fr. Feehan and his loyal and true friends from Jersey.  Frank Carrie will be ninety years old next birthday as will Fr. Feehan on the 4th July 2014.  May they have many more enjoyable times in the knowledge that their friendship and their devotion to the Catholic Church has remained intact and loyal throughout sixty years and many changes in their lives.  It was indeed a great privilege to be part of that unique ceremony where the bishop congratulated and blessed great friends and wished them health and happiness in the future from the pulpit in St. Bernadette’s Church in Lourdes.

Peg Hanafin MSc.  7/10/2013