A day of farewells and welcomes

Fr Damian Howard SJ (left) and Fr Dermot Preston SJ
Fr Damian Howard SJ (left) and Fr Dermot Preston SJ

Sometimes life feels like a revolving door, and 31 August 2017 was a day of farewells and welcomes in the Jesuit Curia in London.  At an evening Mass, Jesuits from the London houses prayed in thanksgiving for the outgoing provincial, Fr Dermot Preston SJ.  The new provincial, Fr Damian Howard SJ preached in appreciation of Dermot’s careful stewardship of the province over the last six years. Reflecting on the gospel, Damian said, “Leadership in Christ’s Church is rarely an affair of virtuosic omni-competence. It’s actually about good, honest service in the Lord’s household”.  After communion, the assistant to the provincial, Fr Paul Nicholson SJ read out the official letter from Father General in Rome missioning Damian to his new apostolate as provincial of the British Province. It is an onerous responsibility in a time of many changes, and his brothers showed their appreciation and support with a spontaneous round of applause.  In a moving end to Mass, a final blessing was given to the new provincial who knelt before the outgoing provincial who had presided at Mass.

Earlier in the day the support staff at the Curia offices had organised their own farewell and appreciation to Dermot. Refreshments were enjoyed to a soundtrack of film themes, a nod to the frequent movie references that have emanated from the provincial’s office in the last six years. The affection in which Dermot is held by his colleagues was very clear. Fr Nicholson paid tribute to Dermot’s dedication and long hours, and his care for so many people under his watch. Dermot himself thanked the team whose behind-the-scenes work was so important, enabling the Jesuits to do ministry in an increasingly complex world. They had often, he said, ‘been asked to help at short notice and consistently produced high-quality work’.  Governance is a profound ministry of service and there was much gratitude to Dermot, and prayers and good wishes for Damian.