By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp
Irish Father Desmond Reid is 85 and going strong.
"MARVELLOUS" is a word Father Desmond Reid frequently uses - his family is "marvellous"; his 34-year missionary experience in Singapore is "marvellous"; the parishioners of St. Ignatius Church are "marvellous". "Marvellous" is also a fitting description of the person who is "Father Des" to those who know him. Fellow Jesuits see him as "dedicated", "pious", "a source of inspiration and hope".
Born in 1921 into an Irish Catholic family in Dublin, Father Des is the second of 10 children. When the Reid children were still young, they lost their mother and were brought up by loving and faith-filled grandparents who instilled strong family bonds among the siblings and encouraged the religious vocation of two. Desmond Reid joined the Jesuits in 1940 when he was 19. His younger brother Derek followed a few years after.
The Society of Jesus was the obvious choice for Desmond because his parish was run by the Jesuits. "I used to go for Mass at their church and I liked the priests," Father Des shares. "They were very friendly, always stopping to chat and their friendliness attracted me." After his ordination in 1953, he served as a college lecturer in Industrial Relations, which included church social teachings.
He also edited a Jesuit publication and conducted spiritual retreats. Father Des also prepared couples for marriage - about 300 couples each year, and was a much appreciated family and marriage counsellor.
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"God blessed me with being able to talk attractively to people," he says humbly. In 1969, his younger brother, Jesuit Father Derek, invited him to spend his sabbatical year in Hong Kong (where Father Derek was based). When the Jesuits in Singapore, who were rather short-handed then, got news of this, they asked him to stop by Singapore. Father Des obliged.
The result? He stayed 11 months in Singapore and only one month in Hong Kong because in Singapore "I could speak English but I would have been useless in Hong Kong as I didn't know any Cantonese," he explains. "I liked it here, doing pastoral work, and I asked to come back." Father Des returned to Singapore in 1972 and remained.
During his 34 years in the parish of St. Ignatius - he was the second parish priest there - he administered the sacraments, taught Bible classes, provided spiritual direction and counselling, and directed the editorial team of Sharing, the parish bulletin. Jesuit Father Gerard Keane, a good friend of his, describes him as "an excellent teacher of the young for whom he could expound the trickiest of truths in startling simplicity." Adults too found Father Des an inspiring shepherd. His gift of storytelling and Irish humour made him a popular homilist.
Father Des was always available to listen, comfort and pray with his big clientele of spiritual directees and went (on his motorbike) to wherever his pastoral service was needed. He continued to do this despite frail health.
He jokes that he holds the record of being admitted most frequently to Mount Alvernia Hospital - 22 times, including once for a heart attack. Today, Father Des still gives spiritual direction and takes care of the bills of the Jesuit community at Kingsmead Hall where he resides.
Recalling the highlights of his 85 years of life, he says, "My ordination was the number one big moment in my life. The second was my Golden Jubilee. It is rare for a Jesuit to reach that - normally we're not ordained until you reach past 30."
Speaking with this much loved and admired Jesuit, it is evident that gratitude is one of his attributes. He is grateful for being chosen to the priesthood, and for being helped along to live his vocation; he is grateful too for the talents, particularly that of preaching and lecturing, that God has given him. Today, Father Des is particularly grateful "to be mobile, to be clearheaded and for the gift of sight".
To young men considering the religious life or priesthood, Father Des says, "It's not an easy life but it can be a very happy life. If you're thankful and if you make the best of your abilities, you'll find great fulfilment and satisfaction."