Fr John Griffin’s attempt to be ordained was Murphy’s Law in operation.
On the occasion of a jubilee all priests are filled, I’m sure, with a deep sense of gratitude - first of all to God for his calling them and to all people who prayed for them, taught them and otherwise supported them, especially parents and family, along the path to ordination. Along with that feeling of gratitude will be a calling to mind of people and events that have been a part of life in the years leading to the anniversary.
As I now approach my 60th ordination anniversary there are many people and events etched into my memory, but foremost are the events that immediately preceded my ordination day itself.
Six of the seven years that I spent in seminary training were spent in Australia and arrangements were made for my New Zealand classmate, John Walsh and myself, to return to New Zealand for ordination - he in Wellington and I in Dunedin, for July 23, 1950.
Our journey home included a flight from Melbourne to Sydney where we would connect with the seaplane which was an eight hour flight linking Sydney and Auckland. That flight was arranged for us to be at 9:00am on July 21; from Auckland we would fly to Wellington and Dunedin respectively.
Accordingly, we took an early morning flight out of Melbourne, leaving in fine weather but we discovered that we were unable to land in Sydney due to a heavy fog. Our pilot diverted to Wagga Wagga where we arrived in time to catch the night train connection between Melbourne and Sydney.
Disruption to our travel plans was only just beginning because when we did reach Sydney about midday we learned that the fog had lifted and the flight to New Zealand had been able to make a late departure. The Qantas people found us accommodation for the night near the Rose Bay seaplane terminal, with ourselves now listed for Saturday’s flight which would reach Auckland about 5:00pm.
It was clear at this point that there was no way on earth that I could be in Dunedin for a Sunday ordination because there were no south-bound National Airways Company (predecessor of Air New Zealand) flights out of Auckland in the late afternoon. When on the Saturday we finally reached Auckland, Fr John Flanagan met us, having been contacted by phone by the Lower Hutt Columbans.
He took us to the Cathedral presbytery for sandwiches and coffee, explaining that he had arranged for us to be driven to Wellington so that John Walsh could be on time for his 10:30am Sunday ordination and that mine had been re-set for Tuesday at 8:30am at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Dunedin. My parents were informed, of course, of what was happening but it was impossible to notify all relatives and friends of this change to the timetable. They were in Dunedin but where was John Griffin?
We travelled nearly 700kms through the early hours of Sunday to Wellington. There I became an unexpected witness at my classmate’s ordination and also at his First Mass on Monday. It was only on Monday that a booking south could be made for me. It was not until 5:00pm and only as far as Christchurch - almost 300km from my Dunedin Tuesday destination! I took that flight and was met on arrival by Bishop Edward Joyce, a long time friend of the Columbans who had been contacted and made aware of my predicament. Like Fr Flanagan in Auckland, he provided me with a snack and coffee and assured me that a driver would take me through the night for my long awaited ordination. I phoned my parents to tell them of this latest development in my saga.
We reached Dunedin at about 6:00am and I was ordained at 8:30am after a brief rest at the Cathedral presbytery. “Did you ever see a dream walking?” might have been suitably sung as the opening hymn, but something more liturgical was chosen.
Following my First Mass at the Cathedral on the Wednesday, then Benediction at the convent where my Dominican sister was assigned, I started north with my parents to make short visits to parishes where we had lived earlier. I linked up with Fr John Walsh to return to the seminary for our final months of study and to await news of where our mission assignment might be.
That news came in October that both of us were going to a new Columban area in the Philippines, the province of Zambales in the north of the country. It was my home for the next 20 years.
Fr John Griffin SSC resides at St Columban’s, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.