The Rev. Fr. Basil, Passionist, whose death took place in Holy Cross, Ardoyne, early on Christmas morning, will be a loss not only to his brethren in the religious order to which he belonged but to the Catholic laity in Sutton and Belfast.
He was ordained priest 43 years ago, and of those 22 have been spent in Belfast.
Born on October 8th in 1846 at Ashton, near Wigan, in earliest childhood he came to live in Sutton, St Helens, where he was in closest touch with the fathers of St Anne’s Retreat. His relations founded our monastery and built the church there: and, as a little boy, he carried from his own home the meals prepared for the pioneer fathers during the first stages of the foundation of the Retreat
The Venerable Father Dominic, whose beatification is going on and who was the first Passionist to come to these countries, had charge of the retreat at this time and took a great interest in the child who carried the food and played with him and blessed him
Little wonder then that he received the vocation to religion. He entered our novitiate and after a prolonged period of probation was professed in his 18th year. He succeeded so well in his studies and was so pious that he was ordained priest in 1869, by special dispensation.
In 1872 he came to Belfast, and he sometimes told us, with a smile, that the first words his rector said to him when he arrived were, “Do you like hearing confessions?” He worked here until 1881. Except in the confessional, the outside world did not know much of him; but to his brothers he was the soul of kindness; he had the opportunity of exercising it in his office as Vicar for some years.
From Belfast in 1881 he went to Sutton, and here, in the home of his childhood, he laboured as parish priest, not only throughout Sutton, but also through Peasley Cross, Burton Wood and Darbyshire Hill, all now separate and flourishing missions, handed over by us, as they developed, to the Bishop. In Sutton, while he was rector, he roofed the house and church, put up a peal of bells, erected the side chapels of Our Blessed Lady and St. Paul of the Cross, and constructed a new vault for the bodies of Venerable Dominic and the Rev Ignatius Spencer
But these material works during these intervals were merely a side issues. It the Retreat his piety, kindness and religious observance of rule endeared him to his own brethren, while in the parish, in the people’s homes, in the confessional, his work for souls, his unselfishness made him beloved everywhere. It is now 18 years since he left Sutton, yet from there and the towns around, since his illness became known, every post brings us sympathy and enquiry about him. He was afterwards superior in Carmarthen; again superior in Herne Bay.
He returned to Belfast in 1899 as Vicar, and has been there ever since. After three years he was elected a Provincial Consultor. At the expiration of three years he became Vicar and this office he held until waning strength made it impossible. To us his hidden life, as I may call it, was a marvel of geniality and piety: to the outside public he was best known in the confessional.
It may interest many to know that during the last few days of his semiconscious life his hand never ceased making the Sign of the Cross while the his lips murmured; “God bless you; go to Communion”.
We grieve over the loss of a dearly loved brother and there are many who grieve with us; but our sorrow is brightened by the belief that for himself this is the happiest Christmas he has ever spent.
Yet he may be suffering for a time and we ask the prayers of all that he may soon rest in peace.
25th December, 1912.