I met Bede Mullen at the 4th reunion I went to.
He was 54.
The last time I had seen him he was 12 years old.
I was really looking forward to seeing him again – especially as there were unsolved questions, answers he hadn’t given me all those years before.
Frank McGinnis had been my best friend – but Bede would have been one of the ones that I hung about with most, alongside Francis Locke, Martin Murphy and Peter O’Hagan.
Not Coming Back
So, it was a bit of a shock to me when, as he was packing his bags for the looming holidays, he informed me that he wouldn’t be coming back after the holidays. He was going to be staying home.
This sort of thing happened far too often and was both destabilising and upsetting.
Often people would go home from their Christmas or Easter or Summer Holidays and simply wouldn’t come back. Some of them had decided against it, either because they were homesick, or they had lost their vocation, or it was too strict, or they just didn’t fancy it any more.
Others were told not to come back, often via a letter sent to their parents (as we discovered long afterwards).
It didn’t just happen during the holidays. It could happen during the term.
Someone would just disappear. You might, or might not, hear the reason why they had been ‘disappeared’. You were seldom officially told – but there were always rumours. The Rumour Mill is strongest in closed societies.
When I was quite new, and in first year, three guys suddenly grabbed me in the toilet, picked me up, and tried to put my head down the toilet as they flushed it.
It was quite terrifying at the time.
They were very unlucky that Pinkie happened to wander into the toilet just as they were doing this (he had that knack).
The three were asked to accompany Pinkie along to Fr. Rector’s office immediately.
Two of them were given warnings as to their future conduct. The guy that was considered the ringleader, a guy called Kerrigan, was instantly expelled. His vocation disappeared with the flushed toilet water.
We were never to see him again.
<h2?Sent Home Quickly
They got rid of miscreants very quickly. There was none of that phoning your parents to tell them to come and collect you whenever they could, which might be in a few days time.
They were gone instantly.
They had to make their own way home, perhaps to distant parts, at the age of as early as eleven. I doubt if they even gave them money. They might have been given the money that they had themselves handed in at the start of each term.
Bede, however, had decided to go home of his own volition. He had decided not to come back after the holidays.
I didn’t know that I was the only person he told this to till 44 years later. Bede didn’t remember telling anybody.
When I spoke to him at the reunion he told me that he didn’t dare tell any of the priests. He was afraid that they would maybe lock him up and not let him go home. This may seem ridiculous now, and they almost certainly would have done no such thing – but the way they acted in those days, it wasn’t quite outside the realms of possibility.
I immediately wanted to know why he was leaving so I could convince him into staying. Most people just disappeared or didn’t come back and you seldom knew the reason why.
This was one tragedy, a loss of, effectively, a brother, that I could prevent and prevent it I thought I could – but I had to know the reason why he wanted to leave first.
And he wouldn’t tell me that.
Related to Father Pinkman
He came close to telling me several times as he packed his suitcase on his bed. He even told me that it had something to do with Pinkie.
Even by this stage I had heard people talking about Pinkie’s Boys, the ones that he used to invite up to his room, his special boys in his special boys club that I wasn’t a part of.
I would have liked to have been part of it and had wondered why I hadn’t been, I had usually been part of the ‘in crowd’ with the teachers at school before – but I was to get my invitation soon.
Connected To Pinkman
The strong inference was that it was something connected to Pinkie and that Bede felt that he had to get out of there.
It wasn’t that he disliked the college.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have a good time there.
But, for some reason, that I couldn’t quite fathom, he had decided he had to leave it all behind. He decided that, despite all the good things that had happened there, and despite the friends he had made, he had to leave us all behind, his new family, and get out, never to return.
Never Came Back
It was something I had often pondered in later years, i.e. why Bede just had to get out of a place that he loved. Why did he give up his vocation, his friends, that beautiful place and just leave, never to come back?
Of course, looking through the eyes of a twelve year old I couldn’t understand it at all.
It just seemed crazy.
However, putting the same data through the eyes of an adult, I came to a completely different conclusion.
I didn’t know for certain that something had happened to him with Pinkie, but I was pretty sure that this must be it.
I even told the other guys at previous reunions that I thought that something had happened to him and that this was the reason for his departure. Some of them were a little sceptical – but I was pretty sure of it.
He wasn’t keen on coming to the reunion. He told Joe Colby that he had some bad memories of the place and didn’t really want to have anything to do with it. It was in his past – a past he wanted to forget.
It took a lot of convincing by Joe and many emails and phone calls to convince Bede to come.
But Joe warned us all.
Bede didn’t want there to be any discussion about Pinkie – and Joe had promised him that there wouldn’t be.
Bede Mullen’s Return
On the first night of the reunion, we all went out but Joe decided to wait in the hotel for Bede who was supposed to be arriving at seven o’clock.
It was twenty past seven when I decided to go and join the others in the pub.
Another half an hour later Joe joined us.
Bede hadn’t arrived.
“He won’t come” I said. “He’s thought better of it”.
But Joe and Danny Curran were convinced that he would.
Back at the Hotel
About half an hour later Joe and I decided to go back to the hotel. When we got in the door, Joe decided to check the guest book to see if he had arrived.
His name wasn’t there.
Just at that, someone came out of the breakfast room.
I thought he might have been a fellow guest. Joe seemed to think he was someone who worked there.
“Have you seen our mate Bede Mullen?” Joe asked.
“Yes, he’s arrived” said the guy.
“Where is he now? What room is he in?” asked Joe.
“He’s standing in front of you” said Bede.
And Bede was back.
Forty Two Years later
I’d had an inkling it was him whilst Joe was asking him questions.
My 12-year-old friend was back – as a 54 year old.
I still have a very clear picture of Bede as a 12-year-old – a very clear one as he packed his suitcase that day. It is one of those pictures that you have that stay with you forever whilst you forget most other things.
It was great to see him once again – but more than a little frustrating that I couldn’t ask him why he had left. What was it that Pinkie had done?
Talking About Pinkie
Strangely, after telling us not to mention Pinkie while Bede was there, it was Joe that brought the subject up – after we were back in the hotel after having had a meal and a few drinks on the first night.
We actually tried to change the subject a couple of times or tried to make it sound as if it Joe was talking about something else. But Joe was either oblivious to this or was having nothing of it – and surprisingly enough Bede wasn’t uncomfortable with it.
Perhaps he had made the major step in deciding to come at all. Perhaps this was just another smaller step along a path that he decided he was going to take anyway.
Perhaps he expected it.
He never did tell us exactly what happened. It’s not the kind of thing that you ask someone unless they volunteer it (at least guys don’t).
But he did confirm that something bad had happened with Pinkie and that it had happened in Pinkie’s room and it had happened more than once.
We didn’t need to know the exact details.
He said that it had caused him a lot of problems in his life.
He surprised us all by saying that he had only just told his wife about it the previous week after many long years of marriage.
He must have taken the decision then, before he even got to us, that the genie was clamouring to be let out of the bottle – and that he was going to let it be opened.
Affected Bede’s Life
Bede had been a very dignified 12-year-old and he was still a very dignified 54-year-old.
He told us that what had happened with Pinkie had affected his life. He had obviously never shared it with anyone till just the previous week, 44 years later, with the person closest to him in his life, his wife.
How surprised she must have been about hearing this secret that he had borne by himself all those years.
The genie was out of the bottle – and I think deep down Bede was pleased. Perhaps pleased is the wrong word. Bede was now comfortable with it – or at least comfortable enough with it now that he could talk about it.
This was all well and good – but the big test would be the next day.
Tour of the Seminary
We were scheduled at 11am the next day, to go on a conducted tour of our alma mater St. Peter Claver College, Roe Head, Mirfield.
What would Bede feel then?
Could he handle that after 44 years away?
I had done the tour twice previously.
This year, Allison, our guide from Hollybank School, which our seminary had become, took us to the usual spots, the old classrooms, the dormitories, the Refectory, The Chapel etc.
There was a lot of reminiscing about old times and ‘this is here we used to….” etc.
But I knew that the big one awaited us.
We came around the corner from the dormitories and I knew what was coming.
Led by Allison, everybody had actually gone past it altogether and Allison was now showing them the Chapel.
I saw Bede towards the back who hadn’t walked past it yet.
I said to him “that was Pinkie’s room”.
There was no need to tell him of course. He hadn’t casually walked past it like the rest but had hung around. I looked through the thin glass slat in the door, that hadn’t been there 44 years ago, into the room.
What would Bede’s reaction be?
When I took my face away from the slat in the door, Bede walked forward and peered in too.
That was enough for me.
Into Pimkie’s Room
I walked a few steps forward and asked Allison if she could let us into that room.
Only she, Bede and I went in, as the others were more interested in the chapel.
I could see tears well up in Bede’s eyes.
But he remained in control. He always did.
He motioned to the corner of the room. “The bed used to be there”. After a pause he pointed to another spot. “The table was there” and paused.
Like Jim Kirby previously, he was seeing events from forty odd years ago.
“A lot of things happened here” he said in his understated way, and for a brief moment he was far away in a time gone past.
Then he pulled himself together and said “It’s just a room. It’s just a room”. He looked at me, nodded his head and walked out the door.
And, in that instant, the demon who had tormented him, had finally been exorcised.