Tribute is paid to retired priest Fr Paul Mercer

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Tribute is paid to retired priest Fr Paul Mercer

Fr Mark Hackeson pays tribute to Fr Paul Mercerwho retired as a priest in Bury St Edmunds last year and died on September 8.

Jeremiah Peter Paul Mercer was born in the farming town of Tralee in South West Ireland on June 27, 1938, the eldest of two brothers, born to an English mother and Irish father. Paul was born into extreme poverty by today's standards.

Pre-World War II, Tralee was still recovering from the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War that had left high unemployment, no social security and limited medical care. Coming from a strong Catholic family, the young Paul attended St John's Church and the Dominican School of the Holy Cross in Tralee.

Paul's father was recruited to the Royal Airforce in 1946 with postings as far away as Rhodesia, modern day Zimbabwe. By 1958 the family had moved to England and Paul spent the next 10 years with his father, mother and younger brother Jim, moving between RAF stations, culminating in a final move to RAF Honington, where his father had gained the rank of flight sergeant. For his work as physical training instructor (PTI) and rehabilitating aircrew his father was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1976.

Around this time, Paul and his friends from the station would come to Bury St Edmunds for a night out, and this is where he would meet his future wife, Marie. The story goes that the Old Drummond Centre up by the old hospital site was the place to be in 1960s Bury. At a dinner dance around 1963 he casually asked an attractive young trainee nurse where she was from, as he detected an Irish accent.

When told Tralee, he of course said he too was from the same town. Marie, suspecting a line, was having none of it, until he was able to recount the street and place names familiar to them both. Marie continued her nursing and midwifery training and they were married in St Edmunds in February 1966. Peter was born later that year followed by David, John and Paul all of whom were baptised and served as altar boys at St Edmunds.

Paul and Marie worked hard to raise their four sons in a happy and loving home. They continued to follow their faith in St Edmunds and when the opportunity to explore entry to the permanent Diaconate arose, Paul discussed this with the then Parish Priest Mgr John Drury and was accepted to train at St Edmund's College Cambridge. He was ordained along with 19 other men by the first Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Clarke, at St John's in Norwich in 1991.

With Marie’s help and support, Paul's Diaconal ministry brought him great fulfilment and was much appreciated by clergy and parishioners alike. He grew into the role beautifully, and his homilies came very much from the heart as he became more at ease with this aspect of his ministry. He shared his insights into the Scriptures that were set for each day – so we may be sure that his choice of readings for his Funeral Mass would have been very carefully chosen!

Marie's untimely death in 1998 was a great blow to Paul. He felt the loss of Marie keenly following 32 years of loving and happy marriage, and since 2001, each year he would celebrate Mass for her and in thanksgiving for their marriage on their wedding anniversary.

Throughout his life, Paul had often expressed his wish to explore his vocation to the priesthood, which dated back to his childhood. Paul and Marie discussed this at length during Marie's illness and after discussions with the then Bishop, Peter Smith, he was offered the opportunity to test his vocation to the Priesthood at St John's Seminary Wonersh. In 2001 he completed his studies, no small undertaking for a man in his 60s, and was ordained Priest in Bury St Edmunds where he continued to practice his ministry both at the Parish Church and as Chaplain to the Benedictine Sisters of Grace & Compassion at "Montana' in Great Barton.

Paul delighted in being a priest – androoted in a parish in which he had spent the greater part of his life, his pastoral care was informed not only by a knowledge of the people he served, but a deep respect and love for them. His sons have said that the first five years of his ministry saw him at his most fulfilled and active – in priesthood he found the personal fulfilment that he had not found in his working life. Over theyears he became very good at accompanying people – and was spiritual director to a good number of parishioners and others from further afield.

Paul continued to balance the demands of the priesthood and fatherhood, providing support to both his parish and four sons in equal measure. In 2001, Paul was delighted to welcome his first grandson Charlie to the family, followed by Henry in 2007 and George in 2009. Paul spent many happy times in St Edmunds and beyond; in the company of his parishioners, grandchildren and family, and many hold fond memories of this time.

In the last two years, ill health has continued toafflict Paul – but he bore it bravely and only a few weeks ago saying that he felt so much better – and able to join the parish to concelebrate Mass at St. Edmund's. This was always a great joy for him and for the parish – it was where he belonged – and it is good to know that he concelebrated the Wednesday morning Mass at St Edmund’s only days before the stroke which took him from us.

Paul is a ‘unique’ priest – he has received all seven sacraments and in the two Sacraments of Commitment, as Marriage and Holy Orders are sometimes called, he has found great happiness and fulfilment.His experience of married life, certainly informed his ministry both as deacon and priest.Ina conversation with Paul’s sons after his death it was concluded that Fr Paul "felt very blessed,humbled and privileged to have been married, have a family and be called to the priesthood." We have all benefitted from that.

Paul died peacefully at West Suffolk Hospital, having fully participated in the reception ofthe Sacraments, and surrounded by his sons on the evening of September 8, Our Lady’s Birthday.

May he rest in peace.