Homily given by Fr Christopher Basden, Saturday 22nd February 2020
It is lovely to be back here. I spent seven of the happiest years of my life (1983-1990) at St. Stephen’s, Welling. I thought it was the centre of the universe and just down the road I found a real “Bethany” at the house of Fred and Della.
The First World War had not long ended – the most horrendous casualties!
The influenza epidemic was in full flow – even more horrendous casualties.
Pope Benedict XIV was in Rome and George V was our King and Emperor of India. In that year Mahatma Gandhi began his campaign of “non violentresistance” (he got the idea from the Sermon on the Mount – some of which was the Gospel I just read).
Silent films were all the rage and cars beginning to be noticed on the road.
In that year on 19th February a baby was born: Frederick Baker – not a bad vintage as Pope John Paul II was born that year! (as was my dear Mum).
What a life! He grew up in one of the worst economic depressions of modern times. When he was 19, World War II broke out and he did service in the Army. The aftermath was a struggle with rationing, etc. but happiness in marrying Della in 1949. I remember well Joe (how we hoped he would be our Deputy Head, but it was not to be). Gerard, who was our altar boy, and went off to become famous – I remember too those three most stunning daughters! Della had the most amazing radar – she noticed that I had noticed this and she assured me that it was hereditary and showed me photographic evidence. She indeed had been a beautiful woman. Her life and Fred’s were marred by a most terrible cross – the killing of their young son Martin by a lorry on Edison Road. What an unspeakable grief; Della suffered from acrophobia for years afterwards. No wonder Fred had his heart tenderised!
When you might ask, ‘what has Fred done for this Parish?’ – you should rather ask ‘what has Fred NOT done!’ For years he did the count with old Mr Glandfield (whose grandson is now the Archbishop’s Secretary). He was a wonderful member of the SVP and looked after the needy; then there was reading at Mass, visiting the sick – in other words he is one of the pillars of this Parish.
Fred is a real Christian; it takes most of us over a hundred years to get where he has got! He has beaten most of us with his kindness, patience and gentleness. What is his secret? He recognises Jesus who loves us so much in the daily breaking of the bread. The daily Mass, which is part and parcel of his life, is so wonderful. St John Vianney once said that if we knew what Jesus actually does for us at each Mass we would die for joy.
When I came to Welling in 1983 Fred had not long been retired and he had walked all the way to Lourdes. (I remember Della went down to Portsmouth to minister to his blistered feet!)
He called at presbyteries throughout France – a real act of faith! We had such happy Parish pilgrimages. I can remember laughing so much! We went to Lourdes, Rome and Fatima. Let me tell you a story. I am ashamed to say that I lost my temper with Fred at Fatima for he interrupted me during the Stations of the Cross. When we finished the Stations I went to apologise. Fred said, “It’s ok Father , don’t worry, I don’t mind ……. but Della does!” When I went around the corner I encountered a furious Della like a bull in the arena. She wiped the floor with me and I totally deserved it!
Fred has always kept in touch. I remember Fr Wilfred driving him the short distance from St Stephen’s to St Bede’s, Clapham Park but it took hours as they got badly lost. Fred has been a great support to all seven Parish Priests, starting with Fr Clifford Nevatt. And what happy memories we have of the Daughters of Jesus and the lovely Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament!
2020! (100 years later)
We now fight our wars on other people’s territory – Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. We are threatened by the outbreak of the Coronavirus – please God it can be contained.
Pope Francis (quite unique) is in Rome and George V’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, has been on the throne since Fred was 32!
India, now partitioned, has colonised the World with doctors, workers and priests (Gandhi, who was inspired by the Gospel of tonight is part of history).
Our World is filled with gadgetry – TVs, computers and mobile phones, etc! There are so many cars on the road it is hard to park, or even to get anywhere!
. . . . . . and after 100 years Fred is still here! We all love him and praise God and Our Blessed Lady!