In the 150th anniversary year of the founding of the parish of St Margaret's, Canning Town, a proud congregation saw Bishop Thomas ordain James Mackay last month.
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Posted: 4 Aug 2009
When James Mackay was ordained by Bishop Thomas on 18 July in St Margaret’s Convent Chapel in Canning Town, it was the culmination of a journey which began when he was eight years old. He recalls: “We became Catholics then and when I first went to the chapel I wanted to become a server. Then I found myself drawn to what the priest was doing; I decided that I wanted to become a priest.”
Throughout his school life, first at St Helen’s Primary and then at St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate, that conviction remained. “When I was 17, I went to parish priest (and diocesan director of vocations) Fr John Armitage to talk it through.” Five years later, after he finished at university, James went to the Venerable English College and Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to study for the priesthood. “There hasn’t been a moment when I didn’t sense the call to be ordained,” he says.
His ordination took place in the convent chapel he attended as an altar server, where he was confirmed, and from which his brother, Billy, who died in 2005, was buried. The building had fallen out of use and had been closed three years ago. It had no electricity and no sound system. Thanks to the work of Fr John Armitage, Anchor House and members of the Canning Town parish, though, it was resurrected for the ordination. “It was transformed, decked with flowers and was just perfect,” says Fr James.
Fellow students from the English College attended the ordination Mass. Nine members of the cantor group - the Schola - led by Michael Patey, sang, while Phillip Pennington-Harris, a newly ordained deacon, played the keyboard. Friends Aimée Pickering, Emily Rouiz and Edward Henley (another seminarian) undertook the readings and the psalm, while the Gospel was proclaimed by Mark Reilly, who is due to be ordained in September. “The Mass intention was for my brother Billy,” says Fr James. “His birthday was the 18th July.”
The ordination was an overwhelming experience for him. “The chapel, which seats about 450, was packed but I knew everyone. It was very emotional – I was moved to tears as I was being vested. I had been pointing towards this from the age of eight – it was the culmination and fulfilment of the project God has for me.”
A reception followed the Mass at St Helen’s Primary, courtesy of headteacher Gael Hicks. St Bonaventure’s was also involved in the day, printing the ordination booklet and providing ushers.
Fr James now has another year to complete in Rome, where he is studying Canon Law. After that, he will return to the diocese to take up his priestly duties.
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