[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921.]
The Pillar of the Church
Faith, ’tis good to see him comin’ when the bell for Mass is flingin’
Gladsome golden notes appealin’ on the Sabbath-softened air,
Sweet compelling invitations to the congregation stringin’
Up the road to old St. Michael’s, on the blessed day of prayer.
You might seek the boundin’ gait of him in any youth or maiden
With the rhythmic pulse of summer, and in vain would be the search;
Steppin’ on with fine importance, like a general paradin’
In his Sunday regimentals, comes the Pillar of the Church.
There be mighty ones a-comin’, most bedazzlin’ in their dressin’—
Silken, swishin’, sweepin’ garments, gold and gems so fine to see;
There be homely ones in “fine clothes” with no less assurance pressin’,
And the candid smell of moth-balls clingin’ round the finery,
There be strength and fashion flauntin’ this their hour above their neighbours;
Little faded beaded bonnets droppin’ slowly to the rear;
Aged achin’ shoulders stoopin’ ’neath the trials and the labours,
Hobblin’ on and crutch-supported where they hastened yester-year.
But there’s somethin’ in the step of him, there’s somethin’ in his bearin’,
Somethin’ haughty-like and scornful, as he paces to the fore,
Somethin’ swellin’ out responsive to the flattery of the starin’,
Of the little groups discussin’ parish gossip round the door.
What if through the workin’ week-days, fame his humble labours scornin’,
He is just a common mortal whom the stains of toil besmirch,
Whose opinions matter nothin’ — here he is the Blessed Mornin’
In his Sunday regimentals, — and the Pillar of the Church.
Ay, the Pillar of the Church is he, and woe to them who’d doubt him;
Faith, he’d put them to the right-about, and face them to the rear,
For it’s never parish-priest there’s been could carry on without him,
Since St. Michael’s been a parish church — it’s goin’ on fifty year.
Don’t we see him time and time again, the chest of him expandin’,
Superintendin’ things that matter not, and things that matter much?
Don’t we see him with “the gentlemen,” the officer commandin’,
Every Christmas Day and Easter writin’ down the names and such?
Ain’t he present all occasions when there’s grave deliberatin’
On important parish matters at the school or presbyt’ry?
With the eyes of him a-blinkin’ and the wisdom radiatin’-
He, the sole survivin’ member of the first church “Komitee”?
And maintainin’ which distinction, don’t it make stonewallin’ sweeter? —
And a heap of “argyfyin’” cannot shift him from his perch —
Don’t he tell them how they did things in the time of Father Peter?
Faith, he shows ’em there’s a kick left in the Pillar of the Church.
Sure the Pillar of the Church it was that saved the situation,
“With the whole of ’em agin him,” as I’ve often heard him tell;
’Twas he “seen the danger comin’,” he that “med the suggestation.”
He that “druv ’em to their rat-holes,” where he shook ’em good and well.
He’s the Pillar of the Church, bedad, and never shy or shrinkin’,
Nor afraid to be upstandin’ his opinions for to state.
Times the priest he’s flabbergasted; once he set the bishop thinkin’;
That he did, Man — “ups and ats” him, “lets him have it purty straight.”
Och, ’twould do you good to hear him, with an “audjunce” round him gawkin’,
Tell of openin’s here and “big days,” puttin’ modern feats to scorn;
And the banquets and the speeches, and the “Arrah, don’t be talkin’,
Sure the half of them that’s livin’ now don’t know that they are born.”
And the priests he knew by dozens, and the strugglin’ and the strivin’,
And the failure starin’ at ’em, had he left ’em in the lurch;
Times and times he travelled with ’em, and “tremenjus” was the drivin’ —
Pshaw, a hundred miles was larkin’ to the Pillar of the Church.
Ay, the Pillar of the Church is he; and still at Mass or meetin’
There’s the crabbed old bald head of him, conspicuous to the view.
And at answerin’ up the prayers betimes the voice of him competin’
With its thunders shames the thin attempts of others in the pew;
See the poisonous little face of him at Cooney’s baby screechin’,
And the twistin’ and the glarin’, and then listenin’ like a hare
While His Reverence reads the notices — but plottin’ through the preachin’
For to get a kick at Murphy’s dog, that’s ramblin’ everywhere.
Times and times he’s “riz their dander” — every member up agin him —
And the jealous call him “curate,” while the flippant call him “Pope”;
But he doesn’t care a “thraneen,” for “the venyum” isn’t in him,
Happy just to be a leader where the lesser spirits grope,
Priests have come and priests have left us; change has blown from every quarter;
Him alone the grim marauder ne’er has chanced on in the search;
But we’d miss him were he taken, as we’d miss the holy water —
He’s the feature of the Sunday, is the Pillar of the Church.
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921
argyfyin’ = arguing (presumably related to “argy-bargy”, as a heated argument or fight)
bedad = an Irish exclamation, a euphemism for “By God”
pshaw = an expression of contempt or derision
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