My Life as a Passionist, by Nicholas Postlethwaite
I have been extremely fortunate as a Passionist. After committing to become a member of St Joseph’s Passionist Province in 1958 I studied for six years and was ordained a priest in 1964. After a year of various pastoral involvements in this country I was encouraged to go to study theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. This coincided with the Second Vatican Council and was a very privileged time to be studying there. Subsequently I was in France from 1967-69 – a time when Europe was experiencing some significant student uprisings: I was studying in the Paris Institut Catholique. After some research in London I became be part of a new Passionist Province venture which subsequently became known as our Inner City Mission. With my friend, Father Austin Smith, we left our religious community structures to live and work in Toxteth – a very special place as the home of the Liverpool Black Community whose history has enriched this neighbourhood for generations – in fact, the oldest Black Community in the UK.
Working with local people, I helped develop a new educational movement with the young people in our community. Beginning in Paddington Comprehensive School it spread outwards into the streets and homes of the community and took as its primary focus the experience of young Black Liverpudlians. We learned together by learning about and respecting their experience: this was key to what was essentially a shared education process for all involved in it. I began learning at first-hand from my new friends about so many systems which sadly so often seemed to fail them. Together we learned how to build mutual confidence anew and help each other look towards more positive futures. The pain of racism was a powerful spur in our ongoing conversations together. By sharing we strengthened each other in a resolve to challenge the realities of poverty and racism – two forces that are so closely linked to each other.
I have never regretted my decision at a very young age to commit to joining our band of Passionist brothers who make up the Province of St Joseph. My community has never failed to be for me a positive spur always to continue searching: always to recognise that in sharing the mystery of our common humanity we also share the mystery we believe is God with us. Passionists believe that by contemplating the paradox of Jesus dying on a cross on Calvary we are drawn deeper into the heart of all human struggle as we dream and work for a world in which we can be at peace one with another – where we can be at peace with our planet home – where we can find life’s meaning as in sharing with a God who calls us to fellow co-creators.
My friend Austin with whom I lived for over forty years in Toxteth used to say we need to learn how to combine the roles of midwife and undertaker! I think he meant we need always to look for where new life is beginning: while at the same time also being ready let go, with sensitivity and respect, those or systems that no longer serve the needs of our sisters and brothers. This is particularly true in inviting our sisters and brothers marginalised to the edges of life to help teach us the difference between the two.
I believe this is urgently needed in our world and church today. Following such a dream is why I can affirm I remain so happy to be a Passionist. I like the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Nicholas Postlethwaite, CP.