Born and educated in Ireland
1943 Ordained Kilenny for Glasgow
1943-1958 St. Bridget’s Baillieston
1958-1960 St. Patrick’s Shieldmuir
1960-1966 St. Paul’s Hamilton
1966-1972 St. Clare’s Easterhouse
1972-1985 St. Augustine’s Coatbridge
1992 5 June Died St.Mary’s Hospital Lanark aged 73
Very Rev. John Canon Moss-25th June, 1992
CD 1993 p 427
Canon John Moss, retired priest of the Diocese of Motherwell, died on 25th June, 1992, in the 74th year of his age and the 49th of his priesthood. At his funeral Mass in St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge, on 28th June, the following homily was given by Bishop Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell.
Today I have no excuse for failing to preach the best panegyric I have ever given. I have a great theme, the life, work and priestly ministry of John Moss. Who could have a better one? And secondly; I have had seven years to prepare it, since that day when what appeared to be a second stroke left him speechless yet mentally unimpaired. Once the immediate crisis was over, there was no cause for alarm, for the greater part of those seven years. So I never sat down to compose a panegyric, until yesterday. Hence the poverty of my words, to try to capture, in a few paragraphs, a remarkable priest who never saw himself in such a light. If he ever had, he would not have been either the man that he was, or the priest that he was.
That was his secret, an open secret to all but himself. He had an enormously powerful interior life, based on prayer. He had few interests other than his work as a priest. Integrity was on his agenda, as if anything less was unthinkable. That is why he was so open to others, regardless of himself, as if what he wanted from life was what others needed from him. He was consumed by the love of Christ and his people, artlessly, unaware of that being so obvious to others.
Canon John Moss was one of the finest priests I have ever known. That knowledge was brief, in terms of first hand contact. I would have had others speak today of him, trusted friends like Mgr. Gillen, or Father Foley or Father Pat Moss. They would have spoken with greater insight. But I recognise that such a task would have been burdensome. I spared them that, although each of them would have risen splendidly to this occasion. With that characteristic twinkle in his eye, I am sure that John Moss would have readily agreed. I owed him this service, in the names of Edward Douglas, James Donald Scanlan and Francis Thomson, the Bishops whom he served so loyally, for 35 years of active service in the priesthood. If my name is added, it was as one who came to know him best when his life was one of self surrender to the Lord.
“Agere sequitur esse”, is an old philosophical principle. As someone alleged to have a passing acquaintance with philosophy, I should know how it is translated. It means that action flows from the being of a person. Tell me what a person does; I will tell you what that person is like. That’s its meaning. The sacred scriptures capturing better that same principle. In its negative form, the principle states that a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. Only the good tree yields good fruit. John Moss came from a very good family tree.
He was born on 4th February, 1918, in Pettigo, Co. Donegal. After early schooling in the town, he entered St. Macartan’s College in Monaghan, before proceeding to St. Kieran’s in Kilkenny, for his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained for service in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, on the 6th June, 1943. After his arrival in Scotland, he served in St. Bridget’s, Baillieston, for 15 years. In 1948, the decree of the Holy See, Maxime Interest, divided the old Archdiocese into three parts. He found himself in the Diocese of Motherwell. Although it would have not been known at the time, this Diocese was to inherit one of its finest servants.
He continued in Baillieston for another eight years. The immense amount of work which he did there built a community, many of whose members revere his memory, more than 30 years later. That was the impression he made wherever he went, if he was to enjoy a reasonably lengthy stay. He was the kind of priest who needed time to make an impression. There was never anything flashy about him, or his priestly style. He never saw a purpose in taking shortcuts. Shortcuts sell people short. John Moss was never in that line of business.
A deep courtesy marked all his relationships, a courtesy in tune with his shyness of manner and his diffidence in speech. He inspired confidence because he was utterly trustworthy. Confidentiality was written into his nature, as firmly as was goodness and kindness. His best sermons were never preached from a pulpit. They were preached without his ever realising it, through the quality of his presence to others, in their homes, as he met people on streets, and in the sacramental encounters of a confessional.
After his long service in Baillieston, he then encountered the kind of situation not uncommon in the priesthood, three changes in a relatively short period of time. The first was to the old parish of St. Patrick’s in Shieldmuir for two years, from 1959-61, followed by his first term of office as a parish priest, in, then a new parish, St. Paul’s in the Whitehill District of Hamilton, from 1961-66. There will be people in this church today from each of those parishes. I am glad to see them, a further reminder to its of the effect he had on places even over such a short period of service.
John Moss was a “dream priest” for a bishop, the kind of priest who can tackle the most demanding of missions, as if it was what he would have wanted, had he been given the choice. It was to a demanding mission that he was assigned in 1966 to St. Clare’s in Easterhouse. I am sure that those older people and priests who are with us will remember the reputation of Easterhouse in that era. A huge population, massive social problems, a great number of disaffected young people, and an increasingly bleak future for the community, in terms of low levels of amenities and employment prospects. But he simply got on with what needed to be done, in terms of service, sacramentally and humanly. He created a happy home for the assistant priests who were with him, in a time of great change for the church, as the decrees of the Vatican II were causing further disruption for the kind of church in which he had been brought up and which he had served for the first 25 years of his priesthood.
Those days were difficult for the church community here in Scotland. It needed a steady hand at the helm. At the parish level few hands were steadier than those of John Moss. The language might change and the liturgy with it, along with new vision about herself which the Church introduced in the core documents called `Lumen Gentium’ and ‘Gaudium et Spes, better known to us as the Church in the Modern World. But, although he would be among the first to be ready to embrace a new church, a church in a highly reformist mood in a changing world, John Moss knew something else. He knew that people change less rapidly.
The priority, he saw, was to meet people at their point of need in Easterhouse, at that time, as Canon Harry McGinn was equally aware in the neighbouring St. Benedict’s. A pastoral agenda for Easterhouse was a more immediate priority. I am indebted to Mgr. Gillen for reminding me of these some 25 years after those events. Those two priests, John Moss and Henry McGinn, along with the priests who served with them there, made a quite remarkable contribution to the stability and vitality of their parishes. Many of them are with us today, mostly now as young Parish Priests of the Diocese. Belatedly, I thank them for their service, in a time of difficulty, in a setting of maximum challenge.
In 1972, one further challenge was offered Canon Moss. It was to come to St. Augustine’s. Who could have wished for anything better? As I have reason to know from the celebration of this parish’s centenary a fortnight ago,. this is a fine community. The Canon loved it here, in sickness and in health. He enjoyed a long time among you, since his arrival in 1972. The greater part of that time was in health. He knew virtually everyone by name. He built up the resources of the parish, a fact well known to Father Foley in the fine renovation of the parish’s properties over the past five or six years.
But the best contribution which Canon Moss made was not in terms of a conservation of resources. That happened. But it happened because of a prior commitment. That commitment built the spiritual strength of this community. That was always his strength. It had been his hallmark over his priestly ministry. It, happened in a quiet: way, without fuss. That, was also his hallmark. The quiet man. I remember that being the title of a great film. It was an even better description about a man for whom no film will ever be made. That name is John Moss. Let it never be forgotten here.
The paradox is that when the diocese sought to honour him, by making him aCanon of the Chapter, within six weeks, his health became seriously impaired. He suffered a stroke from which he seemed to have recovered in a remarkably short time, A year later, a further setback left him in a human limbo, from which there was to be no recovery. He was left speechless, fed intravenously, with all the consequences of that condition, for such a shy and retiring man. I am, immensely grateful to, Father Foley, Father Taylor, Father Devlin and Father Morton, for their support of Canon Moss during the years of gradual decline which marked his time in St. Augustine’s presbytery. He was extremely happy there, comforted by visits of priests and others who had a deep affection for him. That is how I will best remember him, communicating, by a pencil and pad and by three hand signals, thumbs up to signal that all was well, thumbs down to indicate that something was not well with his general condition, and a kind of wavering line to tell me that, like the Grand Old Duke of York, he was neither up nor down.
He retained, until the end, a certain involvement in his one interest, outside his priestly ministry, the fortunes of a certain football club called Glasgow Celtic. I fear that not even he was impervious to the influence on his life of Mgr. Gillen! But over the past few years, the hand signal, in that connection, was invariably either thumbs down, or occasionally, a wavering line.
No such signal would have been given him by the Lord. “Welcome home, John Moss”, is the only possible verdict. Nothing else would make any sense. The Lord.made of him.a splendid oblation. He demanded from him all his assets, except one, the assets he had used so very well in his priestly ministry. The. Lord took his strength, he took his speech and he took, away his independence. His mind alone was left intact. But it was enough, for it guaranteed that the Spirit within him would burn so brightly. That Spirit will be brighter now in the’, presence of God. So, we pray together, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May he rest in peace” Amen.