FATHER JOSEPH PHELAN died last month on Valentine's Day,
aged 81 He was the epitome of a parish priest, well-loved, deeply spiritual,
friendly and reliable. He had been parish priest at St Joseph's, Weymouth from
1979 until his retirement in 1997.
At 18 he went to the English College in Lisbon to study
for the priesthood. He had a deep devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary, paying
annual holiday visits to the Shrine at Fatima. After his ordination in 1943, he
said his first Mass at Ferrybank, Waterford in Ireland near his birthplace.
His first Mass in England was at the old Crownhill church
in Plymouth and he was curate until 1949 at St Edward's, Peverell and at the
His first parish was at Lanherne in Cornwall. This was no
sinecure. He was kept busy not only as chaplain to the Carmelite Convent but
also as padre of two Coastal Command Air Stations at St Mawgan and St Eval until
1959. In those days the pilots flew Shackletons and Lancasters and he was often
invited to fly with them. Once they were off to Malta for three weeks'
manoeuvres in the Mediterranean and he was able to go along. But on his return,
he encountered Bishop Restieaux: "I didn't realise Malta was part of
the Plymouth Diocese," said his Lordship!
Fr Phelan was energetic and amassed many athletic
trophies. He played in the diocesan clergy golf team at nearly all the
inter-diocesan golf tournament. He was full of fun and jokes yet his sincere
spirituality was founded on a strict prayer life. One evening, returning late to
Lanherne, he remembered he had not said his evening and night prayers, so he
pulled in at the roadside. Taking out his breviary. he sat on the front bumper
of his car and read the Office by the light of the headlamps. Just then, a U.S.
Air Force truck pulled alongside. "Gee padre," said the driver,
"that must be an interesting book you're reading...!"
Later he served as parish priest at Portland, Broadstone
and Penzance, where he had three curates.
He had chosen to be buried at Weymouth, the parish which
had been the culmination of his distinguished priestly ministry. "No one
was more 'Roman'," said one of his friends, "He was truly loyal to the
Holy Father, to the Church and to the Diocese." Please pray for the repose
of his soul.
March, 2000: CATHOLIC SOUTH-WEST