Columba Rabbett OP RIP
|St Martin de Porres OP|
Dominicans tend not to be like each other. But you may wander into the funeral of Dominican A and hear things said about him which sound rather like Dominican B. But in the case of Columba, or William or Billy as many of you called him, you couldn’t mistake him for any other Dominican, or any othe human being, for that matter.
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying ‘What I do is me; for that I came’.
Acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eyes he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
|Derry, Columba’s birthplace|
The Caribbean – two years in Grenada and five in Barbados – was one of his assignations as a Dominican. Having come over from Derry to work on the railways in London in his late teens – and I’m afraid there is nothing miraculous or scurrilous to report in his childhood, quite a portion of which was spent in the care of Granny Rabbett – he became a novice at Hawkesyard, and, in 1953, aged 21, was simply professed. It was another Columba who gave William his own religious name while he was Master of Novices; Columba Ryan himself died only recently, in August 2009; he was another unrepeatable character, and he and our Columba lived together again, in Glasgow, from 1967 to 1969.
Before and after that period he spent time in the Oxford and London Priories, doing things which Lay Brothers were expected to do, cooking, cleaning, sacristy work, counting the collections, answering the door, making beds for guests – in general making a Priory a home. He also spent an amount of time doing things which Lay Brothers were not supposed to do, like drinking uproariously in local pubs and coming home ‘worse for the wear’. He would not want us to paint a picture of himself which did not include that aspect. Conviviality was part of his life, and he didn’t always avoid the attendant dangers of it. But he was a homemaker both for his brethren and for guests, like two law students from Newcastle, Michael Joyce and Paddy Cosgrove, who found in the London Priory a special kind of home from home.
And much earlier he encouraged at least one young lad who became an altar-server and later helper around the house in London and finally decided to join the Dominicans the year I joined: Malcolm McMahon who went on to become our Provincial and then Bishop of Nottingham and who is with us today. Perhaps that home-making instinct was what made Columba choose the Gospel we have just read, in which Jesus is heard speaking of the home he is preparing for us in the Father’s spacious house.
|St George’s, Grenada|
|Newcastle, where Columba spent the last years of his life|