Newry Priest gives thanks for 50 years of service
Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Newry native, Fr Ray Collins celebrated 50 years' service to the priesthood on July 12. Born in 1939, the fifth of nine children born to Lily and Harry Collins, the young man spent his early boyhood at No 27b Dominic Street in the shadows of St Catherine's Dominican Church where he would later serve as Prior.
Tom Kelly, Irish News columnist and radio presenter had this to say about Fr Collins, who is a close friend:
“Fr Collins was a legendary and formidable character from my youth. He had an infectious charisma and wondrous sense of both fun and devilment not often found in a priest. Despite his sheer physical size he was a 'gentle' man.
“He was extremely supportive of me when I went to study in Cork with the SMA. I even took my old mentor as a confessor. When I returned to Newry and university in the North, Fr Ray helped me settle down back into 'civvy' street providing me with both spiritual support and craic.
“I remember him pointing out to me something the late Pope John XXIII said, "Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in but what is still possible for you to do." It was welcome advice.
“Fr Ray is in every sense a people's pastor and no doubt I was only one of hundreds who received the benefit of his wisdom, wit and godliness. The recently canonised Pope John XXIII was known by the Italians as 'Il papa buono."- Fr Ray is what we Irish would simply call "An dea-Sagart."
Fr Collins spent his early school days at the Abbey Christian Brothers, however when big brothers Paddy and Eric went off to Newbridge College in county Kildare, it wasn't long until they were followed there by the young Ray. While there, Eric and Ray developed a deep love of Rugby and the two brothers excelled on the field. In the 50's and 60's the two lads regularly played with the Newry Rugby Club.
However, there was a stronger calling in his life and after he left college he immediately entered the Novitiate of the Dominican Fathers in Cork to take up his seven year study period. While in Cork, his beloved father Harry passed away. He continued his education in Cork, finishing his studies in Rome. He was ordained on July 12 in Dublin and returned home to Newry to celebrate his first mass in St Catherine's, where he had served as an altar boy as a youth.
The day is still fondly remembered by local people, many of whom are still members of that congregation.
After ordination, Fr Ray was advised of his next posting which was to Catamarca in The Argentine. Ray took up his post in this far-flung destination without question and spent seven years amongst the Andean peoples. The area covered by the administration was so large that at that time, the priest travelled to visit the congregations by open truck, visiting villages once every few months, traversing dirt roads with much danger. Strange to think that christenings, weddings and blessings all took place at once, whole villages at a time. The mountain people very much looked forward to these visits, and they were much beloved by Fr Ray.
Upon his calling home from Argentina, Fr Ray returned to Ireland and took up his posting as Chaplain at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, a time of which he has very fond memories. Throughout his career Fr Ray was Prior of the Dominican Church in Newry on several occasions. He also served as Prior in San Clemente, Rome for a number of years before returning home to Ireland following a close family tragedy. During this time in Rome, Pope John Paul II was his guest at San Clemente when the pontiff came to celebrate mass and spend an evening with the local community. Amongst the guests that evening were Ray's siblings, Paddy, Maurice, Carmel and Sheila.
Fr Ray is currently stationed at St Saviour's Church in Waterford where he regularly welcomes many of his former parishioners. Many people throughout Ireland remember Fr Ray with great affection as a caring, humane, witty and understanding priest who has helped and encouraged many, many people throughout his fifty years service.
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