Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Two Good Men

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By Cecil Scaglione,  Mature Life Features

It isn’t every day I get to have lunch with a couple of priests.
Nor is it every day I travel a few thousand miles to nosh with a couple of high-school buddies whose friendship can be traced back to the 1940s. They grew up around the block from each other in the shadow of the Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption in North Bay, Ontario.
Monsignor John H. Caswell was already in the parking lot of the lakeside roadhouse when I arrived. The Right Rev. Father Dennis J. Murphy slipped in seconds later. Our last gathering had been more than a quarter century earlier when a handful of the old gang set aside an evening at Murphy’s cottage on the south shore of Lake Nipissing. It was during an alumni gathering at Scollard Hall, the North Bay high school we attended in the 1950s when a dozen or so Resurrectionists molded a couple of hundred boys into shape each year.
Since graduation, Caswell crafted a television network in Sudbury for the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Murphy carved a career in Catholic education.
This Cas-Murph-Scag lunch was set up after my wife and I, now living in San Diego, decided to take an R&R (relatives and reminisces) swing up to Pennsylvania to visit her folks and to Toronto to visit my brother Louis. An auld-lang-syne visit to North Bay seemed appropriate. A quick e-mail to Caswell was all it took. His ready response was that, while both men manage crammed calendars, such meetings deserve priority since old friends are passing away with regularity.
As we greeted each other, neither priest showed signs of his recent battle with cancer. Caswell trumped esophagus cancer a few years earlier. Murphy had just completed a radiation program for his prostate problem. “I thank God for Cas’s presence during my treatments,” Murphy said later.
There was no table talk of the awards and accolades these two retired reverends logged over the years. For example, Caswell’s work with Cath-Com Productions earned him a prestigious Gabriel Award in 2005 from the Dayton, Ohio-based Catholic Academy for Communications Arts Professionals. Sharing the awards program that year was U.S. television icon and NBC news senior vice president Tim Russert, who died recently. That same year, Murphy was cited by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees for his support and service as, among other positions, director of Catholic education.
Our lunch was punctuated with a lot of pauses over the passing of associates and acquaintances, grins and nods over accomplishments by colleagues and classmates, and guffaws over dredged-up happenstances of long ago. The two clerics were eight years old when they met in 1943, shortly after the Caswells moved to the Bay from Smith’s Falls. “One of my earliest memories was being invited to play ball after supper with his family,” Caswell said. Not only did Murphy have a few brothers and sisters, he had “a big side yard.”
“We certainly played road hockey – the R.H.L (Road Hockey League) – from that time on,” Murphy added. There were touch-football games with other kids on the block. And the pair played on the same midget hockey team at Scollard Hall.
“Dennis was ahead of me in school, so he had a jump start on giving the seminary a try,” Caswell recalled. “Remember, at that time there were a number of guys from our home parish who were already ordained or in the seminary. This was inspiring in itself and, when Murph went, it was only natural that I should give it some serious thought.” Murphy attended St. Augustine’s Seminary in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough while Caswell chose St. Peter’s in London, Ontario. Caswell was unable to make Murphy’s 1960 ordination in the church that dominated their neighbourhood because St. Pete’s was not yet out for summer vacation.
But Murphy made Caswell’s two years later. “He was on Bishop (Alexander) Carter’s staff and master of ceremonies for the diocese (of Sault St. Marie) for all such events as ordination,” Caswell said. “It was a special moment for me,” Murphy added.
Murphy continued his studies in such faraway cities as Rome and Brussels, did parish work at the Pro-Cathedral and Corpus Christi church in North Bay, held administrative and leadership posts in local, provincial, and national religious and secular boards and commissions, and wrote extensively on Catholic education. He was also appointed co-ordinator of Pope John Paul II’s September 1984 visit to English-speaking Canada.
Caswell applied further education, experience and expertise to building the diocesan communications network into a polished professional organization centred around its weekly Mass for Shut-Ins telecast while taking on parish work, including several years as pastor of Christ the King church in Sudbury, Ont.
And over the decades, they nurtured and nourished their friendship. “It really is quite remarkable,” Murphy said, “that during the last almost 50 years, although I worked many of those years in Ottawa and Toronto and Cas was in the diocese, we managed to see each other often. There were the summers when I was home. The same was true for many long weekends, Christmas and Easter holidays, and so on. It didn’t seem to be any big deal, but we just stayed together.”
“We try to stay in contact as much as possible without getting in each other’s way,” said Caswell. “I have always had the enormous blessing of being considered part of his family and he was always considered part of mine. It’s a given that he and I are always there for each other, in good times and bad. If there has been any mentoring, it’s been more by example than words.”
“The business of being there for one another is true,” Murphy added, “We certainly have prayed for and remembered each other not only in … less-felicitous moments but on all the happy occasions that have been part of our lives. I don’t recall us being much into offering spiritual advice or guidance to each other but I am sure we have communicated to each other much of what we hold of value.”
Such as their ongoing friendship.


(This article originally appeared in Forever Young News)

Tuesday Apr 20, 2010

Written by Cecil Scaglione

July 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

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