In this Vigil Mass we prepare for the Requiem Mass of Fr William Ross at St Stephen’s Cathedral tomorrow morning, to be celebrated by Bishop Michael Putney, Bishop of Townsville, as Fr Ross canonically belonged to that Diocese.
From school the young William Ross joined the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and taught at Chevalier College at Bowral, but ordination in the MSC’s was not to be, though in his heart he retained an enduring love of the order of his choice. In the end he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Hugh Ryan for Townsville. He served many years there in parishes and as Secretary to two Bishops, first Bishop Leonard Falkner, then Bishop Raymond Benjamin, who also has a connection with this parish.
The unexpected death of his brother-in-law brought him back to Brisbane (which was in any case the city where he grew up), to a flat under the Kedron house of his sister, widowed with several children, where he established himself with his magnificent library.
Since he was not charged with parish responsibilities, he was free to engage in a wide range of ministries in the Archdiocese and beyond, for many years zealously teaching and devoutly serving the parishes where he was needed to supply. Father Ross was a faithful priest. He was faithful to the Catholic faith, which he championed vigorously, with a grasp of doctrine that was firm and clear – as it should be for all of us. This did not endear him to those whose bent is towards dissent, and towards challenging due authority; but Fr Ross courageously adhered to Catholic truth and tradition, in which he was so well grounded, through thick and thin. This style became the hallmark of all his ministries, and they were many. It took him to the United States over the years to a diocese in Connecticut, where a Bishop Egan would have liked to keep him – better known later as Archbishop Egan of New York; but Father’s heart was in his native land and he always returned. Before he did so however he always visited Alabama to record appearances – Mass, or talks – on Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network, talks that may still be seen from time to time. This connection proved invaluable when Father was instrumental in introducing EWTN programs on Bris 31 through the Rosary Christian Tutorial Association of which he was President, and Spiritual Director, thus introducing it to Australia. Devoted to Our Lady, Father served for over ten years as Chaplain to the Legion of Mary. The younger members were gathered into the Patricians with whom he had many a session, being prepared to travel good distances to meet their needs. One of them went on to be ordained priest last year, namely Fr Michael Grace, who showed his gratitude to Father Ross by crossing Brisbane on his day off to celebrate Mass in his room for him where he retired at Holy Spirit, Carseldine. This was not just an occasional gesture but an abiding appreciation of how his priestly vocation derived from that of Fr Ross.
When the Traditional Latin Mass began to reappear Fr Ross was quick to assist, even when I was appointed Chaplain to our Latin Mass Community, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that. He loved this Mass, and delighted in celebrating it in my place when I was absent, and in assisting in the Easter Ceremonies, which we revived after they had lapsed for some thirty years. He was immensely appreciated by that early congregation, rather different from what it has grown to be now, something that would have pleased him no end had he been able to come and see it.
There is a sadness about Father’s passing, the sadness of family like his cousin Father Bill McCarthy, tonight’s celebrant himself, or his sister Margaret, who knew her brother from childhood, and saw his bravery in the face of his disability, one that he overcame with characteristic courage, to the degree that he could compete in the national Ballroom Dancing competition, surely a first! There are many friends and admirers who have had to get along without hearing his voice asserting or defending orthodoxy – and what a voice it was! – whenever orthodoxy was challenged, or speaking for loyalty when disloyalty appeared. It is also sad that he did not live to participate in more recent years as the Holy Father was opening windows to new opportunities for the Catholic tradition to flourish, something Father would have relished. Alas it was not to be. What he did do was remain faithful in times he found grievously difficult.
We pray the prayer of the Liturgy for a priest who has died: O God, listen favourably to our prayers offered on behalf of Fr William Ross your servant and priest, and grant that having committed himself zealously to the service of your name, he may rejoice for ever in the company of all the saints. We ask this through Christ Our Lord.