Sunday Mass at St Beuno’s
by Fr Tom Shufflebotham SJ
One way or another the St Beuno’s Sunday Mass Folk go back to the year dot (notice, Mass-Folk, not Folk-Mass). I was a Tertian in 1969. (Tertianship was the final year of a Jesuit’s training after which he emerged sea-worthy and copper-bottomed). For many years, before and after then, the leading light was Winnie Jones who, hail, rain or snow, would scramble up from Henafon Smithy for Mass. She was a wonderfully warm-hearted lady, the toast of every international Tertian who was sure to have relished her Typical Welsh Teas. So far as I remember there was no general provision then for coffee after Mass (not even if the Gospel that Sunday had been about Matthew’s Last Judgement).
In the days of Gerry W. Hughes in the early 1980s there were certainly people attending the Sunday Mass from nearby - there are one or two anecdotes from then but better not for public consumption!
Anyway, when I arrived in 1993 the Sunday Mass was still going. At a guess I think there were about one or two dozen people attending. It was quite a low-key occasion, and in the early 2000’s it came to a crisis. The difficulty was two-fold. Although we were still quite a number of Jesuits, we were (and still are) quite likely to be engaged daily at 10.00 with retreats, courses, inputs, etc., plus, sometimes, supplying in parishes. So, one problem was having one of us available. The other difficulty was that while we did not question its value we were, and remained, anxious not to be setting up a counter-attraction to the parishes round about. Largely for that reason we were keeping it a very ‘low’ Mass without singing, usually. I recall that some of the ‘Folk’ came to see me individually to plead that this Mass continue and I had to reply honestly that it might but that we couldn’t make any promise. Anyway, after immersion in our speciality Discernment we decided that for the foreseeable future we would keep it going (there was a hiatus, of course, during the building works of 2003). From then on we were happy to see the coffee-gathering take root and, in due course, for the singing to receive accompaniment.
People of my generation grew up with a very clear understanding that one did not talk in church (except that a blind eye/deaf ear was turned to an almost 3-year-old’s stage-whispering, “Is it coffee time yet?”). A delayed action result of Vatican II was that, gradually, some low conversation grew up as friendliness began to trump awe, both of them being God’s idea. One day Alex Boswell said to me, “Can’t you do something to discourage all this talking?” He was pleading for reverence and recollection. Surely both reverence and sociability have their place in God’s house? So, I would sometimes feel for a balanced solution by (to Alex’s great satisfaction) playing a CD before Mass to encourage quiet reflection, and then after Mass letting nature take its course (so to speak!), especially as some of the ‘Folk’ would be leaving pronto and others would be going to head off to coffee.
In this context it’s relevant to say how touched we’ve been by the generosity of the ‘Folk’ in so many ways, their many kindnesses to us, and now, Mandy’s and Julie’s cakes becoming more famous than King Alfred’s. And those who’ve helped with reading, offertory-procession, Communion, organ, serving, etc., have made a vital contribution not only to making it happen but to conveying a precious atmosphere of participation.
I don’t recall many anecdotes relating to that Mass itself, though afterwards Brother Joe Daly was himself a walking anecdote. One memory of that Mass is that one year on the Feast of the Holy Family the Celebrant took the statue of the Bambino and started it on a journey passed from person to person to hold for some tenderly reflective moments each. I noticed that one elderly and devout ‘regular’ held it as if it were red-hot and did a rugby pass at the first opportunity!
Editor’s note: Some of you may know Ludmilla, a Friend of St Beuno’s, wife of the late Alex Boswell mentioned above. In conversation, Tom also spoke of Veronica, Jenny and Morag, all long-standing attendees of the Sunday Mass. Mandy (of Cafod-cake fame) and Nick Edwards have long-standing family connections – both Nick’s father and Mandy’s mother worked at St Beuno’s (as boys Nick and his brother were altar-servers in the chapel for the pre-Vatican Sunday Mass). I would also like to make mention of the contribution of Clare Cameron at the organ, which has really helped to boost the singing. As for the aforementioned outspoken two-year old – my own son Eoin!
(* after Mass each month we have a cake sale in the dining room to raise funds for Cafod—the total raised in its first year was £878.70)