Sadly, Father Gordon Grace died on March 28 of this year.
He was a friend. But not only a friend to me. He was a friend to my family while we lived on Humber Road. He was a friend to my relatives, the Ryans in Pasadena. And he was good friend to my mother, Theresa Haire. He and mom were close friends for decades.
Mom started working at the priest house at All Hallows Parish a few years after our father died in December 1975. Dad was a Second World War veteran, having served in the Merchant Navy, and we survived financially on benefits from the Government of Canada. To help makes ends meet mom got a job at the priest's house on Humber Road, which was within walking distance from our house. Initially she was hired to do “light house work.” It turned in to a career for mom and, over time, her employee-employer relationship with Fr. Grace turned in to a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Fr. Grace became a frequent visitor to our house. It was common to come home and he'd be there. He became part of our family.
At one point, he became a dog owner. It was a Doberman, a male dog named Hans. That puppy was loved in our house and in many ways became “our dog.” I played with Hans and would keep him busy for hours on the church property. Hans was a magnificent dog, and my mother would take him to dog shows and together they won a stack of blue ribbons. At home, the children would “babysit” Hans whenever Fr. Grace was out of town.
I remember Mom and Fr. Grace attended mass together every weekday for years. Mom would be the only person in attendance at All Hallows and Fr. Grace would say mass, Monday to Friday. Most times the church was empty, except for the two of them. As the years passed, mom’s role at the priest house developed and changed to a point where she ran all the affairs of the parish. She enjoyed doing it because, as she put it, “It frees up Fr. Grace's time so he can go to the hospital and visit the sick.”
As the years went by and I grew in to a young man, Fr. Grace would hire me to do odd jobs around the grounds of the church property. And there were times when we would drive to his family property in Little Rapids and mow grass at the cabin under what seemed like acres of apple trees.
I will always remember his kindness and generosity as I prepared to go away to college in Ontario in the mid 1980s. It was a big event for me, considering I had never been on a plane before, let alone outside the west coast of Newfoundland. I was about to embark on a life-changing journey.
Days before my departure, while driving to Little Rapids, he said to me, “You can do anything you want, you know?"
“I know,” I replied.
“But you can," he repeated.
“I know,” I repeated.
“You CAN do anything. You can move that mountain,” he said, pointing across the Trans-Canada Highway at the hills that loom over the Humber Valley.
“They say only God can move mountains, but that's not true. Man can. Man and the right equipment can move that mountain. And you could too."
I didn't respond — I knew what he meant.
It was my first pep talk. It has stayed with me all these years. Here I was, an unworldly 20-year-old boy, showing some promise, and my mom's friend was trying his best to inspire me.
Fondly, I look back at that conversation and remember a man trying to do some good in the world and help a fatherless boy.
God bless you Fr. Grace. God bless.
Cecil Haire, St. John’s