The Reverend Father John Fitzsimmons died on Sat. A big title for a big man, "Big Fitz" , allthough I don't remember anyone calling him that to his face, I certainly wouldn't have.
Putting it simply he was a formidable man, a man with great physical and intellectual presence. His sometimes slightly gruff exterior couldn't hide his basic decency and above all unshakable honesty.
I read today that he was the rector of the Pontifical Scots. College in Rome which I had forgotten, for none Catholics that means he was a high flyer indeed.
He also anchored a music and chat show for Radio Scotland for years and demonstrated a confidence,control and sense of humour which suggested a glittering career had he not found his vocation earlier in life.
He was a huge character and was loved by everyone, he was the Parish Priest at St. John Bosco in Eskine.
An example of his courage and honesty was his willingness to fall out publicly with Pope John Paul, the most famous man on the planet at the time, he had the courage of a burglar.
Maybe that's what happened to the job in Rome.
He also publicly disagreed with the Church on contraception and stood four square behind the banning of the notorious clause 28 describing it as "the most malicious piece of legislation ever placed on a statute book in a civilised country"
Poor old Bishop John Mone ( a lovely man ) could have been forgiven for wondering if Big Fitz might go the same way as that other famous "Turbulent Priest" Sir Thomas More, while loving and respecting him all the while.
I had the great privilege of knowing him and he was always great craic, several years ago I attended a funeral Mass in St. John Bosco for a Labour Party friends dad, it was a blazing hot day and the church is an amphi theatre with it's main doors located behind and to the side of the altar where Fitz was the celebrant.
Suddenly a large black Labrador dog appeared in the doorway and gazed up at the congregation who immediately froze in fear, the dog ambled away and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, Fitz. gazed at us a bit bemused and then did the dog not appear at the other door, being a friendly creature he ambled in slowly tail wagging and ears up, he walked round and sat in front of Fitz. who was sitting at this time.
The congregation by now were in the horrors as Priest and dog eyed each other suspiciously I was in pain trying not to laugh when he rose, stepped forward, pointed his finger at the dog and firmly pointed to the door the dog decided to go and off he went perfectly amicably, he knew instinctively who was boss.
Fitz. raised his gaze to us with a face like thunder and held us in his sights, he then turned for a minute of quite prayer where I could see from my sideways seat he was praying with a private smile on his face.
It was pure magic and the congregation for whatever reason enjoyed the episode, or was it relief ?
At a time when the Church is embroiled in much controversy over political issues I'm conscious of the differences which exist among Catholics, as well as others, sincerely held beliefs on all sides, my own position in these matters is well known and I believe Fitz. would have been on the side of science, may god be good to you big man.