Robert – April 1996

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The whole gymnasium decked out in splendid decor felt a far cry from the same school yard where our paths first crossed almost twenty five years previously. We had gathered to celebrate Fr. Robert Mc Namara’s ordination. On that night the glamour of the school gym was an early topic of conversation but while the bare walls were transformed there was an even greater transformation within. Here we had a parish united in its celebration of one man’s accomplishment, the first parishioner in a generation to be ordained to the priesthood. Robert readily admitted that the path towards his ordination had many twists and turns but this was a night when he stood on a pedestal: having travelled his path he was everybody’s hero.

Having bumped into Robert as a toddler, playing on Old Church Street. I picked him out as a familiar face among strangers in my first days at school. After three memorable years in the convent Primary school we were ready to take on the boys school. On keeping with tradition, the boys from first class paraded down through the town “beirt le beirt” towards the old boys school. This was an annual event on the last day of first class and Robert and I were the proud men parading down past Mrs. Shaughnessy, Mai Wilson, Mrs. Kearney, and Mrs. Coffey men of the world at seven. Robert has chose to work with the youth in inner city Belfast but ironically he always had a special “gra” for the older members of our community. They loved his company and followed his progress with a keen eye.

Another annual event which brings back fond memories is the St. Patrick’s day Parade. This was the day the Boys School Band under Donal Kennedy’s baton were let loose. Frozen in our white shirts and maroon ties we would lead the parade around the town. The band comprised of drummers, accordion players and tin whistles. Robert was always musically inclined but more of us were better with the hurleys than with the tin whistle. When it came to picking the band members you were in one or two categories – the actual musicians when were strategically positioned to be in the public eye or among those who had their tin whistles plugged with cotton wool and were used to fill up space to the inside. Despite some private tuition from Robert, I seldom made the outer line which invariably contained Robert himself.

When it came to secondary school we were the first group of first years in the new school – a fact we were all very proud of. At this stage we had no inkling that Robert would enter the priesthood. I certainly would not have imagined him giving a sermon and holding the congregation spellbound as he did during his first mass. Yet while many of us became embroiled in the infamous “ points” race Robert set his sights on the priesthood.

Almost a decade later he became an invaluable asset to the Redemptorists Community and no doubt he will be as popular with his parishioners as he was with his school mates.

Nowadays not many can claim a “Reverend Father” as a class mate but the class of 85/86 have that privilege.

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About this record

Written by John Hardiman

Published here 02 Nov 2022 and originally published 1996

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