My name is Paul Coupe, and I was a very good friend of Fr Edwin Gordon. It was he who inspired my journey of faith through his humility, humbling theological knowledge and example. Please bear with me if I offer a few insights into my friendship with Fr and what that friendship meant to me. I will, by the way, be donating to your call for a memorial shelter. I assume it is via the same email address via paypal?
I was deeply saddened to learn of Fr Edwin's sudden death and Fr had asked if I would visit him in Fatima this year, something that I put off for several years due to family and work commitments but which I wanted to do.
I last spoke with Fr Gordon last summer when he visited England. We had several long talks, mostly about past recollections and on topics brought up by the company around us.
I First met Fr Gordon a little over 30 years ago as a teenager living in a small market town close to the parish of Nympsfield where he had come to replace the outgoing priest,Fr Tranter. Poor Fr Gordon was given a hard time right from the word go because the villagers were not, shall we say, leant towards orthodoxy and were used to getting their own way. However, several loyal and faithful villagers helped look after Fr for much of his time as parish priest, notably a little old lady with a hunched back called Molly, who herself was not only very well read and very orthodox in her views, but was the one who transcribed everything to tape for Fr and looked after cataloguing and acting as secretary to Fr for all of his administration needs.
During the start of 1984, whilst still at school, I used to walk the 3 or 4 miles up the single track country lane, sometimes after tea in the evenings, to visit Fr. Sometimes I was on my own, and other times, when a catechism class was started by Fr, my siblings and one of their friends would attend as well.
We would arrive to a warm welcome and that sincere smile that fr had that drew one in and made a special place in one's affections for the man. He would always begin by asking after me (and the others) and what I'd done over the past week, taking a keen interest in where I felt my vocation in life lay. Indeed, on occasion, he would gently probe as to whether I had considered the priesthood (which I had) but I had never had the courage to follow my early convictions, despite a few prompts of the more spiritual Kind! Fr also instilled into me the importance of regular confession and receiving of communion for spiritual growth and spiritual health.
Fr remained and inspiration and we would often sit for hours discussing the theology behind his (then) yet unpublished work "Upon This Rock". I remember his gentle way of educating people without ever being judgemental. I chap once visited during one of our Catechism classes and the subject of the origins of the universe came up. The visitor claimed that the universe, whilst partly in chaos was also in balance and that all of this was explained in the Big Bang theory and not a function of some divinity. Fr calmly asked the man whether he was wearing a watch. The man, puzzled, responded that yes, he was wearing a watch but what had that got to do with anything?
Fr let go the answer for that moment and asked what else science tells us about the universe, and the man answered that, well, science tells us that the chaos is actually quite organised due to quantum forces of objects acting upon one another so in fact, things were quite predictable and ordered.
Fr then returned to the question of the watch and asked: "what does your watch tell you?" This chap, again looking puzzled, stated with blunt confidence that his watch told him the time of course. Fr looked down for a second, paused and raised his head and with a smile told the man that he was missing something fundamental. That the watch did not create itself, that someone with intelligence made it, and so it was with the universe. It was a clever analogy and got the chap more interested in discussing theology as it was a way of breaking the ice, of barriers being dropped if you like.
I had many in depth discussions with Fr and whilst his breadth and depth of knowledge, especially where St Thomas Aquinas was concerned, was masterful and humbling. One thing always stood out though, and that was in the simplistic way Fr could put over some really quite deep and complex theological subjects. It was part of his holiness, his humility and his visible outward sign of deep personal faith. It was this especially which I think endeared him to all peoples, whether scholarly or more simple folk. He also took a genuine and sincere interest in everyone he met and had genuine concern for those he held a special affection for. I count myself to be very lucky to be amongst the latter.
For my part, I tried to help Fr over the years into adulthood, often staying with him when his housekeeper was away; fetching him to my parents for meals when I eventually graduated and bought a car, and stayed in touch up until he left for Fatima. I was there during the deeply distressing time Fr was put through at the hands of a few ungodly people and it was heart breaking to see the once vibrant, energetic and happy man broken to a former shadow of himself, with failing health and almost but never quite despair in his voice. It was moving to Fatima which was the saving of his health and it gave Fr back a new found purpose and drive, no doubt aided by the charity, help and support of all around him including your good self.
I think that in some ways, Fr was slightly disappointed that I had not gone into the priesthood but God's plans lay elsewhere for me and Fr was I think delighted for me when I married late in life and had children, the youngest of whom is still just 3 years old.
On his first or second visit back to the UK, he said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life, something which he first mentioned to me as a teenager. He said that, like himself, God had willed me to wear a hair shirt...that my path to salvation may appear to be in crooked lines but that ultimately it would still lead to Christ. The hair shirt reference was of course a reference to suffering. Just as Fr had his fair share, so have I and so I guess do we all. The moving thing for me was that Fr first mentioned this to me some years before the various types of suffering I had to (and still to some extent continue to) endure. I have learnt through Fr Edwin's example and guidance that I am not alone, that Christ walks beside me and that to offer one's sufferings in this life up and to seek Christ out in our daily lives is a worthwhile goal. His quiet and prayerful nature remains an example to us all. The fact that his blindness, far from being something to hold him back fed his stubborn streak (which he had in spades!) and enabled him to continue with his scholarly works and publications.
I will miss Fr Gordon terribly and am not ashamed to say that have already shed a good few tears for his passing, yet at the same time am so grateful that Our Lord's will was for a swift and relatively painless calling of Fr back to him in heaven.
Thank you for publishing your article "Two Funerals". It was deeply moving and it is quite sad that even in death, life on this earth still had some cruel twists in store for Fr all the way to his final resting place. It would have been nice if he had been lain to rest where his heartfelt vocational work last rested, but his legacy was his holiness and example which I am sure will live on both in Cabo Verde and in Fatima, as well as at Valadolid and here in the UK.
Many thanks for letting me know details of Fr Edwin’s departure from this world. I hope in due course to be able to read a full obituary of his remarkable life.
I first met him in the ‘80s when he was at Nympsfield, and I took Francis Johnson’s Fatima programme to his parish and stayed the night. I kept in touch with him, as did my friend Philip Trower, and later I learned of his horrific experience of being allegated by a drug addict. I visited him at the convent in Bristol, and in due course met him several times after he went to live in Fatima.
he was an outstanding priest, and will go straight to a heavenly reward.
I’m glad to hear a fund has been opened for a memorial, and enclose a cheque towards it.
Blessings for Lent and Easter.
Those articles on the two funerals, which I only just read today, were absolutely wonderful.
What was wonderful to learn was that God reserved for him on earth, a taste of the love with which he was loved by heaven, in just those last weeks of his life. Too much of that would have spoiled his sanctity! What a wonderful grace.
And the coffin at Fatima! I just fell off my chair. Your interpretation - from the perfect perspective of someone who had been at both funerals, and experienced the contrast - will doubtless be received by the Church and people of Cabo Verde with a lot of pleasure. What it does for his friends outside of Cabo Verde is to endow us with such a blessing of confirmation of the sanctity of our friend... I am so thankful!
What a contrast, though, between our European mis-appreciation of God's servants, and that of the simple islanders of Cabo Verde! God forgive us, for the way we treat our priests!
Take care. God bless you – and St Constantine of Cornwall as well.
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