I had the privilege of being at the Golden Jubilee of Priesthood celebrations of my friend Mgr Aidan Turner. It took place at St Anne’s, Westby, Lancashire yesterday, 20th May. I knew it was going to be a big celebration when there was a small traffic jam getting into the Church car park. Everything was well organised, even those doing car park duty had yellow jackets on, and they were smiling. Everyone was smiling. This is because Aidan is such a popular priest. He is popular with everyone, his fellow priests and all the people he has served over the years. The Church was packed, literally standing room only. At the front were his family and friends from the ‘Faith & Light’ movement, inspired by Jean Vanier. There were a dozen priests concelebrating, some going back to his days as a seminarian. Aidan made friends where ever he went and didn’t lose them; you wouldn’t want to lose a friend like him.
I shall always remember his homily. Taking for his theme the last line of the gospel of the day, “I will love him and I will show myself to him”. Aidan took us on a journey through his life from childhood to the present day; and everywhere he went he said he felt God’s love. He was born in the next parish, and from the first moment of his existence he was surrounded by love. He entered the junior seminary aged 11 at Upholland, Liverpool; from there to the senior seminary in Valladolid, Spain. Then on to Cambridge University to study classics. Where he said he got off the treadmill he had been on since 11, and had the chance to opt out. But he didn’t, thank God. He was ordained and instead of being sent to a parish, he was sent to teach at the Lancaster diocesan junior seminary, at Underlee, where he spent many happy years. After that he was sent to a parish. Then another, including Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Annes (Lytham St Annes), and Walney Island (Barrow in Furness); at the mention of Walney there was a loud cheer from a contingent of parishoners from Walney. He said among other memorable things that he had come to learn that God is in the poor. He worked elsewhere in the diocese, other parishes, but everywhere he went he applied those words: “I will love him and I will show myself to him”. You sensed God’s presence in him as he was speaking. I have rarely been so uplifted by a homily. I thought to myself that if any young man was listening who might be thinking of vocation to the priesthood then this talk would have inspired him.
Mgr Aidan Turner is almost 80, but he is that only in age. His spirit is young, and it is the Holy Spirit that keeps him young as well as his obvious love of God and of other people. He also keeps himself fit. He has a delightful sense of humour and is fun to be with. He is still a good golfer, at least I should say, he can hit a ball further than I can, even though I am about 15 years younger than him.
I just wanted to share this experience about this good shepherd, this true disciple of Christ, a man of faith and love.