When Belfast’s Interdenominational Divine Healing Ministries celebrated their 20th anniversary in November, co-founder and director Br David Jardine SSF recalled another November day nearly 50 years ago when his life changed forever.
The SSF may be unfamiliar to some readers of The Irish Catholic. It stands for Society of St Francis, an Anglican Franciscan order founded in Dorset, England, in 1921.
Its members are First Order Brothers and there are also First Order Sisters called the Community of St Francis (CSF) founded in 1905.
Both are stationed in many parts of the world and are bound by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and committed to living out the Franciscan charism.
“I remember the day very clearly – Monday, November 2, 1964, it’s as if it was yesterday,” he says in his home in south Belfast.
That was the day David, a 21-year-old student of Spanish at Queen’s University finally plucked up the courage to resolve something he had been struggling with since he was a young child.
“From as early as eight I felt God was calling me to do something but I didn’t know what it was.”
Brought up in Banbridge, Co. Down, the only child of David Jardine, a member of the Church of Ireland and his wife Maud, a Presbyterian from Kilrea, Co. Derry, David (71) doesn’t recall any sectarian tension during his upbringing either in Banbridge or in the overwhelmingly Catholic town of Downpatrick when his family moved there after his father was transferred by his employers, the Post Office.
He has an abiding memory of “the towering figure” of E.K. McGrady, the uncle of the recently deceased former SDLP MP Eddie McGrady, who preceded his nephew as chairman of Downpatrick Urban District Council in the early Sixties.
His mother had taught him his prayers and while in Downpatrick, the local curate, James Mahaffey, the future Bishop of Derry and Raphoe asked him to become a Sunday school teacher.
At school and university he loved sport, particularly rugby “which taught you to take the knocks and carry on” inculcating in him an imperative “to keep fit for the job” regularly using a set of weights in his front room to the present day.
At Queen’s he was “one of the boys, doing a lot of drinking and going to dances every week” but the call of God became so persistent it was distracting him from his finals and he “couldn’t concentrate on his studies anymore”.
“I was terrified about it and could talk to nobody because I was afraid I would lose my enjoyable lifestyle as one of the boys.”
Finally, that winter day in 1964 he confided in the Church of Ireland chaplain, Maurice Carey who was thrilled by “the good news that I wanted to be a priest”.
Within days he had met the Bishop of Connor and within a few weeks had been accepted as a future candidate at the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel in Dublin, later the C of I Theological College and now the Institute.
He had intended to be ordained a Church of Ireland priest but within weeks of that fateful meeting with Rev. Carey he says the Holy Spirit intervened to alter the plan, in the form of a visit to the C of I chaplaincy in Queen’s by Brother Kenneth, one of the founders of the Society of St Francis more than 40 years earlier.
“After listening to him I got the unshakeable feeling that God was calling me to be a Franciscan Brother,” he says.
“However, as an Ulster Protestant I did not at all relish the thought of wearing brown robes and taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.”
Until the visit of Br Kenneth he had no idea (like many Catholics today one suspects) that there are Franciscan communities outside the Roman Catholic Church.
He graduated with his BA honours as planned, proceeded to Dublin, commencing a long road of study, discernment and service first in the C of I, joining the Society in Hilfield, Dorset in 1973 and going through various stages of exploration until being finally professed in the C of I chaplaincy, Queen’s in 1983.
He was a chaplain in Crumlin Road Prison for a decade at the height of the Troubles (1975-85), recalling many difficult days including the murder of his friend, Edward Jones, the assistant governor.
Br David has a serene presence “though I don’t always feel it” and describes himself as “a broadminded evangelical into [Charismatic] Renewal and the work of the Holy Spirit”.
He says St Francis “challenges me to give everything to God” describing the saint as “one whose life simply belonged to God”.
He adds that there are two other great Roman Catholic figures who are greatly admired by a wide section of Protestants, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the 17th-Century French Carmelite Br Lawrence of the Resurrection whose collected writings The Practice of the Presence of God is “one of best devotional Christian books ever written” which he reads regularly and is “the best book I know”.
Although finding it easy to pray in solitude many hours a day David Jardine finds living on his own without “the stimulation” of a Franciscan community “very difficult”. He seeks to compensate by visiting Anglican Franciscan communities in Britain for several weeks three times a year and has just returned from a fortnight Christmas visit to the Friary in Alnmouth, Northumberland.
Br David is impressed by Pope Francis: “He took the name Francis to underline his option for the poor that St Francis had. I like very much what I have seen so far.”
He adds that the Pope’s “simple tastes and his non-judgemental attitude to gays who are sincerely seeking God” have touched people far beyond the Catholic Church.
In Br David’s experience “the urgings of God have become irresistible” at key stages in his life, like when he felt called to the priesthood, again when he responded to the call to join the Franciscans and once more when he co-founded the Interdenominational Divine Healing Ministries with Sr Margaret McStay CP in 1993.
Sr Margaret is now retired but other Catholics such as Sr Eibhlin Hegarty OP, Sr Clare O’Mahony, a Good Shepherd sister and Peter McCann are, he says, of invaluable assistance.
The IDHM have 120 trained members and services are held in various churches including St Peter’s Cathedral on Tuesday mornings with an evening service there every two months (details on the Interdenominational Divine Healing Ministries website).
It is estimated 300 people attend the various services a week and Br David stresses donations are entirely at the discretion of those taking part.
There are testimonies on the website from some who say they have been cured of various ailments including blindness. Br David says there have been some miracles down the years. One doesn’t recall any having been reported in the media. That doesn’t mean they haven’t happened.
Fr Pat Collins, the well-known Vincentian priest from Dublin delivered the homily at a special service celebrating the 20th anniversary of IDHM in St Anne’s Cathedral in November.
For 10 years from 1991 during the developing peace process IDHM organised eight hours of prayer daily for “peace and healing in our land” in St Anne’s Cathedral and Br David points also to the 24/7 prayers that took place “year in and year out” in St Peter’s.
He has no doubt that all those prayers contributed to the transformation that has taken place in the North over the past two decades and there are those who consider that something of a miracle in itself notwithstanding the fragility of the peace and its flaws.
Looking to the future Br David Jardine says that forgiveness “holds the key”.
“On a personal level when I forgive things that have been done in the past my peace is restored and reconciliation becomes a possibility. Could the same be true as well on a community level?”