Favourite photos no.2 - Brother Gregory Casey

Brother Gregory Casey. This man was a saint. Worked for 9 months of each year for 21 years in Lourdes, organising all the English masses, etc... for English-speaking pilgrims. One of my heroes. Also a genius on computers... I took this photo back in 1990 whilst he was in his 60s (note the old-style computer screen!!! An Amstrad, I think). Gregory (or "Grogs" as he was fondly known) was from Stoke-on-Trent and had been a great footballer in his day.

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Bro. Gregory in his office enjoying one of favourite pastimes (1990).

I was lucky enough to do my first year of training (the Noviciate) near the south-west coast of France in the foothills of the Pyrénées (Ciboure, by St. Jean-de-Luz). It was about 90 minutes drive from Lourdes. Gregory came to the small-scale ceremony we had to start the Noviciate year. A gesture I greatly appreciated. He spoke words of wisdom to me that I have never forgotten. He said, "James, my Noviciate was at the same time the hardest year and the happiest year of my life and the way you live your Noviciate will lay the blueprint for the way you live the rest of your religious life." By the end of the year I agreed with him totally on the first point. In hindsight I feel it still to be true 17 years later, as is the second point. The Noviciate requires a total commitment, a letting go of things you hold dear (especially materially, culturally, etc...). It's a desert time, a time of purification, but potentially a time of immense grace too, if you truly abandon yourself to God's will. I have found that in so many ways the rest of my religious life has been an attempt to hold on to or regain that relative purity of heart (in terms of motivation and intention), that clarity of focus which by the end of the year had taken hold of me.

We must have spent about 8 weekends and one retreat week in Lourdes during the Noviciate at one of our order's 2 communities there. Gregory would invite me to come and join in the Choir singing on the Basilica steps during the processions and in the underground Basilica for the International Mass. He would also get me to say the Hail Mary in English at the microphone during processions. All of these experiences were priceless for a young, impressionable trainee Brother. I'll never forget standing on the Basilica steps, looking out over a sea of candles (thousands surely) lit for the Blessed Sacrament procession.

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His little office to the left of the Basilica was a favoured hideaway for the great and the good of the English-speaking Catholic Church who would readily call in on this humble Brother for a tea, coffee or something stronger. I'll never forget being in there one day when a priest walked in, sat straight down, put his feet up and lit up a cigarette. Without comment, Gregory just opened a cupboard and handed him a bottle of whiskey, saying to me (without missing a beat), "James, meet the Bishop of Wrexham".

Gregory had the same relaxed, simple, friendly manner with rank-and-file pilgrims. He always had time for you and would do everything he could to help you in any way. I grew very fond of this lovely man and looked forward to our visits to Lourdes in large part because of him. He said to me one day that I had been the answer to his prayers as he had never stopped praying for vocations to our District (though some other Brothers maybe had) despite there being none for at least 12 years. What do you say to that? I felt honoured but also awestruck by this man's sincerity and deep, deep faith.

I had met Gregory as a pupil in Southampton during the 3 winter months that he would spend there each year before going back to his beloved Lourdes for the start of the pilgrim season. But it wasn't until a diocesan HCPT pilgrimage that I went on as a helper at Easter 1986 that I started to get to know him. This next photo is another of my personal favourites.

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Lourdes - myself (aged 17) and Bro. Gregory (1986)

I still think of Gregory often and know that he is still looking out for me (as well as many other people, including his family who also held him in high regard - "Uncle Frank"). He has come up in conversation with members of my prayer group recently due to the fact that the day before he died suddenly in Southampton (in 1993, I think) he invited me into his room for a chat. He gave me a book on St. Bernadette and showed me his latest mathematical calculations (the man was a Maths genius). We also discussed a possible trip to Medjugorje. Neither of us had been there yet and both of us were very interested in going, having followed events there since the beginning of the apparitions in the early 1980's. I said I'd start looking into organising a trip for us. Later that day I travelled back up to Liverpool. The following day Gregory complained of not feeling well after having gone out for a walk and was later found dead in his bedroom having laid down for a rest.

One day I hope to go to Medjugorje in his honour and I know he will be at my side every step of the way.

Thank you so much, Gregory, for your prayers and support during my early years in religious life. Help me to hold onto the ideals of my Noviciate just as you held so marvellously onto yours.

To you, Grogs.

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