I've been working on a project lately. I am going through pictures for my son. I want him to know who the people in his family and among his friends are in the photos, so I am categorizing and labeling them for him. Seeing pictures of my daughter is particularly hard for me sometimes. My precious friend Dawn worries about me going through these pictures all alone, but I have to do it sometime. It may as well be now.
This week, I found some pictures of our sweet priest/friend, Fr. Dermot Twomey, SCJ. He passed away four years ago today on March 25, 2008.
He was more than just a priest to me. He was my friend, and he was absolutely a father to me. What a precious soul he was. I loved him fiercely, as did many in our parish. He truly was Christ to us in so many ways.
I learned to love his community, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, or Dehonians, and their charism. They are such precious men and their work is so special. If not for them, we in North Mississippi would have to drive to Memphis or somewhere out of our way to worship and receive our Lord in the Eucharist. They started our parishes and have served us to this day.
Fr. Dermot was a tall, lanky Irishman with wild hair and a quirky sense of humor who loved the Lord above all. It was evident, especially, when he was in the midst of a homily. It was like a light was shining on his face when he taught us.
We used to see him almost every time we went to the casino in Tunica. He was never in the gaming area, but was always at the buffet, with a group of elderly women who were Irish Travelers. He ministered to that group all the time.
One day I came to him and told him I had seen a church just outside of town that was offering Spanish-speaking services. That same week, someone who knew I was Catholic asked me if I knew about the "new Mexican Catholic church in town." After explaining that Catholic churches don't just "pop-up" out of nowhere, I went to Father. He and I discussed the fact that we felt the Spanish-speaking community in Tate County might be lost to us if we did not reach out to them and let them know we were there. We started offering a Spanish mass on Saturday evening. Today, every mass at our parish is bilingual, and our church family has nearly doubled.
He came to bring the host to my mother and father-in-law who were visiting us, and not able to come to mass, due to physical limitations. He even went to visit my in-laws when he went on a trip to see a brother-priest in Las Vegas where they lived.
On his birthday one year, we had a big parish party for him, and I was able to get a Celtic musician friend to come and perform. He danced the Irish jig in the Church Hall that night. Later, he said, "It felt like being back home." I think it really made him happy.
Fr. Dermot came to us when Lauren died. He was heart-broken I know. Lauren was his special friend at church. He loved her and always said what a special girl she was. He stayed strong for us, and was flexible enough to understand that our little parish was not large enough for the funeral, so he agreed to bring an altar to the Fine Arts Auditorium at Northwest to accommodate the many people who came. He celebrated her funeral mass and it was as lovingly done as her wedding might have been because of him.
When Father got sick, it nearly broke our hearts. He kept going as long as he could, running from one parish to another, serving us like he always had. A few weeks before he finally retired, he called me out of the blue. After talking about how he was feeling, he finally got around to the reason for his call. I realized after listening to him for a minute that he was asking me, in so many words, if I thought it was ok for him to leave. It had nothing to do with ego. He loved our parishes so much that he did not want to disappoint us. He wanted me to tell him it was ok, I think. I told him that we loved him and that we wanted him to get well most of all, and it was ok for him to rest. He had served us and the Church well.
He thanked me and gave me his blessing.
I keep his picture on my dresser. I think of him and miss him every day. Before I met Fr. Dermot, I had never really known a priest personally. He made me realize what a gift the priesthood is to all of us. I have a deep devotion to his community and try to support them through prayer and donations as often as I am able.
In the past few years, I have come to know several younger priests in his community. They are all wonderful men, and I know their brother Dermot would be so proud of them.