Sadly the Marist community in Glasgow lost another member with the death of Br. John Phillips on 31 August. His requiem took place in St. Peter’s, Partick on 6 September and was attended not only by his family and friends, Marists from Glasgow, the Marist Vicar General Br. Joseph McGee and the Provincial Br. Brendan but also former students from Cameroon.
The Mass was celebrated by parish priest Fr. John McGrory and the music of the liturgy was led by long time friend Dr. Noel Donnelly with members of the St. Mungo Singers. Dr. Noel played quietly reflective harp music before the Mass began and the choir sang the beautiful funeral pieces “How blest are those who have died in the Lord” and “Just as Jesus died and rose”.
In his homily Fr. McGrory recalled the lovely fresco of the Harrowing of Hell which is in the Chora church in Istanbul, with its portrayal of the risen Christ drawing Adam and Eve out of Hell. It is a reminder of the reason for God sending His Son – to help us to eternal life through our baptism into Christ. Adam and Eve in the fresco respond with very human emotions to this act of redemption – hope and embarrassment. The latter is a response perhaps more of those who, as they get older, become more aware that they have not opened up to the love of God and responded sufficiently. However the second reading of the Mass – the great vision of Isaiah of the banquet for all peoples spread on the mountain of the Lord, gives a very positive promise to all.
Br. Brendan at the end of the Mass spoke of Br. John’s very full life and in particular of his long association with Africa. After his university studies, he had been sent to Nigeria. When the Biafran war started he worked initially with the Red Cross to try to alleviate the problems of the people. Eventually he escaped to Cameroon and was sent to Rome to recover.
He was then sent back to Africa to Cameroon where he spent 17 years as principal of the Sacred Heart College which he said were the happiest years of his life, and the presence of his former students paid tribute to his memory there. He left Sacred Heart college because he felt he was becoming stale, and he didn’t want to offer his students stale goods. When he left, he was thanked by the Archbishop for all his work and he was also awarded the MBE for his services to education in Africa. He then worked in other parts of Africa and in Rome, before coming to Glasgow where he continued to provide a translation service for the Marists.
He would be remembered as a provocatively outstanding teacher, a great reader and debater, and someone who loved the Marist life and community. Br. Brendan lamented that he was the person that he usually asked to check the text of his words for the funerals of Marist brothers and he felt bereft that he was not here to do it this time. In closing, he reflected that Br. John, the great reader, had sadly never written a book. His life had been the book he had never written, and this was our loss.
At the end of the service, as the choir led the congregation in singing the Marist hymn “St. Marcellin, to thee we pray”, it was very touching to see his coffin borne out of the church on the shoulders of his Cameroonian students to his final place of rest.