Fr Gerry Reynolds 'told people to pray for Rev Ian Paisley' after confession
A NEW book about about dedicated Redemptorist Fr Gerry Reynolds has revealed how he told people to pray for Rev Ian Paisley as part of their penance after confession.
Unity Pilgrim: The Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds was written by Dr Gladys Ganiel, a research fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University, Belfast
Born in Maine in the US, Dr Ganiel previously worked in the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast where she met former Presbyterian moderator, Rev Dr Ken Newell and Fr Reynolds.
Having previously written books about religion in Ireland, Rev Newell asked the mother-of-one to write his friend, Fr Gerry Reynolds' biography.
She and Fr Reynolds met seven times between July 2015 and November 2015 before the much-loved cleric passed away at the end of November at the age of 80.
At that time, he had been based at Clonard in west Belfast for more than three decades.
Born in Co Limerick, Fr Reynolds joined the Redemptorists and was ordained in the late fifties. He worked in the Republic until 1983, when his work brought him north to Clonard.
He became heavily involved in peace and reconciliation, working to establish cross-community links by reaching out to other denominations.
Along with his friend and fellow priest, Fr Alec Reid, who died in 2013, Fr Reynolds also worked tirelessly to bring peace to Northern Ireland, holding discussions with members of the IRA.
At a time when it was not fashionable to do so, Fr Reynolds was said to have been instrumental in opening up dialogue between opposing sides, thanks to his inclusive spirit.
In 1999 Fr Reynolds was one of two clerics who were awarded the Pax Christi International Peace Prize. Fr Reynolds and his friend, Presbyterian minister Ken Newell were members of the cross-community Clonard-Fitzroy group set up to encourage peace in the north.
Dr Ganiel said the book covered the priest's whole life with her research aided by journals and newspaper clippings, some given to her by Fr Reynolds himself.
"I wanted it to be a biography of his full life," said Dr Ganiel.
"It was quite important for me to have his early life, his work in journalism in Dublin. He was really one of the pioneers of Catholic media. He helped set up the Religious Press Association.
"He was in that group of modernisers in the Catholic Church, using media to try and communicate what the Church is and what it could become. He was really a leader in that field in the seventies. I don't think people had an idea about that."
Dr Ganiel said Fr Reynolds had been particularly touched by his meeting with the mother of a Protestant man who had been killed by the IRA in August 1986.
She said when Fr Reynolds heard about the murder in the Shankill area, he was "upset and moved".
"He wanted to go visit her but being a Catholic priest, he rang up Sam Burch, a Methodist minister and asked Sam would he go with me," she said.
"They went along and were graciously received. During the course of the conversation, Gerry gave her a carving of the wounded Christ which one of his missionary friends had brought back from oversees."
Dr Ganiel said the grieving mother told Fr Reynolds if the gunmen had have known her son "they never would have killed him" and this "stuck with Gerry".
"If people really knew each other, they never would have been able to do these things to each other," she said.
"That was a key thing. It set in motion a ministry of visiting families on both side of the peace lines when there were bereavements."
Dr Ganiel, who now lives in Belfast, said Fr Reynolds had also shared experiences of his work alongside Fr Alec Reid.
"He would have went with Alec Reid to particular meetings," she said.
"Alec Reid was the early driver, it did become clear to me Gerry was really a help and support in the process. He wrote about prayers with Alec Reid and driving up to Derry to John Hume's house and reciting the Rosary together."
The author said there were also references to "talks between Sinn Féin and Protestant clergy that Gerry and Alec organised".
"No unionist politicans would meet Sinn Féin even in secret but some minister friends would and that was a learning process for Sinn Fein and Protestant ministers and helped build understanding."
Dr Ganiel said she was particularly "struck" by Fr Reynolds' "commitment to prayer".
She said the cleric had begun petitioning in his prayers, Protestant reformers, John Calvin and John Wesley "for help, aid and assistance in his own life and in Northern Ireland".
"I was also struck by the way he prayed for (the Rev) Ian Paisley over the years," she said.
"Ian Paisley would have organised protests at several events that Gerry had organised, ecumenical events.
"Ian Paisley is a big character in the book. Gerry is constantly praying for Ian Paisley. He never met him, he prayed for him and towards the end of his life, there's a lovely little passage and Ian Paisley had become a peacemaker. His own view of Ian Paisley changed."
The writer said Fr Reynolds revealed that he asked others to pray for "the big man" and would ask people to pray for him as part their penance after confession, to which some would respond "Are you serious?"
Dr Ganiel said those reading the book will be both "interested and surprised" to learn some of the detail from Fr Reynolds' early life.
"I was surprised at the depth and commitment of his prayer," she said.
"I think that discipline and practice of prayer is probably what kept him sane and able to continue the work. That was a huge thing that enabled him for three decades in Northern Ireland to do the most challenging work and have lots of setbacks and just keep persevering."
Unity Pilgrm: The Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds will be launched at Clonard Monastery on Wednesday, May 22 at 7.15pm. Following the launch, the book will be available to buy from Clonard or online at redcoms.org.