Fr. Fulvi visited us at home, and a weekend visit to Mirfield was arranged. My mum seemed especially keen for me to go, but my dad was not so enthusiastic. Some Catholic families thought that it was a great honour to have a priest in the family. The words “God chose you, you did not choose God,” I remember being said several times both before and during my time at Mirfield.
I do not remember much about my weekend visit. I recall being dropped off by my mum and dad and seeing the big building for the first time. It was very daunting going in the dormitory – with maybe 40 beds in it. I played football, went to the services – I don’t remember mixing with the other boys very much. However, I also don’t remember missing home – probably because I knew mum and dad were coming for me on Sunday night. I don’t think it occurred to my consciousness that this was, more than likely, going to be my home for the foreseeable future.
So in September 1969 I found myself being dropped off at Mirfield, the Verona Fathers Junior Seminary, to begin my training to be a missionary. I have this memory of everyone waving to me as they went back home.
The moment my family left me I knew I had made a terrible mistake. What was to follow was a period of extreme pain, fear, loneliness and isolation.
I took my direction from Father Romano with true dedication and allowed the vision of my family to hurt me in the name of devotion to God. Eventually, no matter how close I felt to God the images of my mother and sister, in particular, were too much to bear. In
the middle of the night I left the dormitory and made my way to Romano’s room to seek his help and guidance.
It was the first time I had seen him without his glasses; he woke from his sleep and was happy to invite me in. In floods of tears I apologised for not being able to deal with the pain. Romano held me and comforted me, he assured me that the Devil was powerful and we could face him together. Romano then removed his top and took me to his bed where we remain entwined for what felt like hours.
It was not until the arrival of a rather unusual Italian Priest at our West Yorkshire Seminary did I begin to feel a certain closeness. Father Romano Nardo was unusual, not only as a Priest, but also as a person. This eccentric young man made an instant impression on me despite his odd appearance; he wore thick glasses, big glasses, actually, very big, thick glasses.
Romano was the first Priest of the Comboni order to offer an explanation for my unbearable homesickness. Pain, he told me was a route to God. By accepting our pain, learning to live with suffering, we move ever closer to God. As a rational adult I’m capable of offering counter arguments. But in vulnerable adolescence the notion that pleasure is sinful and pain and suffering is spiritually uplifting resonated with me and I embraced his theological reasoning.