This testimony originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of the Westminster Record for Vocations Sunday.
It was the year that England won the World Cup in 1966 that I was ordained a priest for the Diocese. The buzz that football victory caused throughout the country was nothing compared with the amazing experience it has been for me to serve these past fifty years. In my view there is no vocation anywhere in the world that compares with it. I have been privileged to serve wonderful people in many and varied parishes in the Diocese and also been called upon to fulfil other roles and tasks that have been way beyond my imagining.
As a teenager I had been inspired by several of the assistant priests in my home parish of Poplar who had involved me in the life and work of the Church. So I concluded that I would very much like to do the kind of things they did. I offered my services to Cardinal Godfrey, the Archbishop of Westminster, when I was seventeen. What was very clear at the interview was that if I were to become a priest, my role would be to lead people to God. In that same year I was dispatched to the seminary to begin seven years’ formation. Throughout all that period, the seminary life was monastic. The daily routine began at 7am with prayer and Mass and the day was a mixture of lectures, private study, manual work and brief social recreation. The day was completed at 9pm at which time there began the ‘great silence’ until after breakfast the following morning. The body of students numbered one hundred. At times during the formation I wondered whether I would be able to provide the quality of service that people needed, but somehow I was inspired to keep going.
I have been amazed at how multi-faceted the life and work of the priest can be. It ranges from high celebration, such as weddings and baptisms, to the drama of sickness, the moment of death and bereavement. In all of the various experiences, whether happy or sad, the awareness that God is present is always needed. Some events stand out, like my short stay on mission in Liberia; the time two policemen came to collect me to take me to the family of a young baby that had died; the time I was sped through the traffic in an ambulance accompanying a young expectant mother in danger of losing her child; the opening of the new parish school, with its life and verve. You never know where you will be required next, in a palace or in a prison.
I have now served in five parishes in various parts of London and Hertfordshire. It has been my endeavour to try each year to involve more and more people in the life and work of the Church; to celebrate the liturgy with care; to try and enhance people’s understanding of their faith. It has been my experience to see and feel the great love of Catholics for the priesthood. What a wonderful life!
Mgr Canon Harry Turner is parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes in Harpenden.