Yesterday, Monday 9th May, Bishop Philip travelled up to St Edmund Campion, Maidenhead to celebrate the Requiem Mass for Father Michael Stanier who died on 23rd March. Monsignor Canon Vincent Harvey, Parish Priest of Southampton City Centre Parish of St Joseph and St Edmund gave the following Homily…
I was Vocations Director when, on 1st of April 1992, I interviewed Mike Stanier in Newbury. Well I’m not sure whether I interviewed him, or he interviewed me! Apparently he never forgot that this interview took place on April fool’s day!
A few days later a reference came from a consultant in staff development in Berkshire supporting Mike’s application. She wrote “Being myself earthbound rather than spiritual, I can only grasp Mr Stanier‘s motives in making this application, but I believe that over the years strands of his life, and belief and faith have come together to command him to bring all his gifts to help others to achieve the faith in Jesus as Saviour which has brought so much light to him”. Further on she continues “his vocation will, I believe, be the coming together at last of his considerable intelligence, his extensive work experience, with a kind-of-to-date-unused passion (in the sense of total conviction and commitment) which will be of great benefit to the church and to the individuals he serves “
And, in a sense, so it has been.
Born in 1936, one of three children, Mike attended Windsor Grammar School, and later King’s College, London. After national service in the RAF he entered social work; and during his thirty years in the social care sector, he received letters of recognition from the Home Office. He held many roles including Area Chief Social Worker for Windsor and Maidenhead and later Divisional Director from 1974 to 1991. During this period Mike became a catholic and within a few years applied for ministerial priesthood in the Diocese. After studying in Allen Hall he was ordained on the 20th April 1996.
Together with his close friend Mike McDonough, he enjoyed travelling, particularly to countries behind the Iron Curtain and China. He was fascinated by India and Tibet, in particular their religious views and beliefs. One could add very many other countries like Albania, Yugoslavia and the like; the list is almost endless. To a certain extent I picked up some of my interest in foreign travel because of Mike’s stories and experience.
In a self-review, in 1993, when still studying in Allen Hall, Mike wrote:
“One of the joys of becoming a catholic, which I had not anticipated in an apparent authoritarian organisation, and then running the RCIA process for three years, was the realisation that
Firstly: No one knows it all, least of all priests: that
Secondly: Being on a journey God supports me in the most unexpected ways, and
Thirdly: You can, and must, have fun in finding out the faith of and with the community.”
And that was the Mike Stanier that came to me in St Joseph, Newbury, as a deacon in September 1995, with the understanding that he would remain with me as a priest; but that was not to be, since a situation in another parish meant the Bishop moved him immediately after Priestly ordination; I oversaw his first few months of priesthood from a distance until Bishop Crispian moved me, so that I could join him and take over as parish priest. Mike stayed with me and we worked for a year or more together. He challenged me in many ways, and could be very direct in those challenges, but was always ready to learn and to change. Mike never forgot those years and I received a card every year on the anniversary of my own ordination. This year it arrived in time for 19th March; and Mike died four days later!
Mike was aware that he was on a journey, a journey with others and God, into a deeper relationship with them and with God. A deeper relationship together! Because of his professional background and experience, he reached out in particular to those he considered in need socially, spiritually, emotionally or physically. And fun was part of the equation!
Mike had a passion for those in real need; a passion which wanted the church, both locally and further afield, to respond to those needs. I experienced that first hand with Mike in Newbury and Basingstoke. I was told recently that when Mike was in Farnborough he made a special welcome for children with autism and was creative in his sacramental preparation of such children. He didn’t want them, and others with physical, mental and emotional challenges to be disadvantaged in terms of faith and Church. This approach built up community in a real and substantial way, both humanly and spiritually. This was classic Mike Stanier. Whatever parishes Mike served, he was renowned for his kindness.
Mike chose the scripture readings for his funeral today. I’m not sure why he chose these particular ones, but can only speculate, knowing something of Mike’s past, and him as a man, a person of faith and an ordained priest.
Job, throughout ‘The Book of Job’, will not give up on God despite all that is thrown at him. But as his life gets worse, and he is seemingly being destroyed physically, socially and spiritually, his faith begins to waver; nevertheless he remains aware of his frailty, sinfulness and mortality, and ultimately all he has is God. During these last few years Mike was becoming more aware and conscious of his mortality and therefore his reliance on God and on others. But Mike, I think, reflecting St Peter’s sentiments we heard about a few moments ago, still believed in God in Christ even though he couldn’t see him; and still loved him, knowing, deep down, that salvation was, or is, a given.
As in the Gospel, Mike took seriously the mandate to preach; to preach not just with words at Mass, but with actions that backed-up those words. In doing so he supported and built up others in the belief that God knows them and loves them, no matter who they are or where they are, or what they have done!
And what was true of Mike’s approach to his Catholic Christian faith and his priestly ministry is true for Mike: God knew him; God knows him; God loved him; God loves him. The God who Mike tried to communicate to others in word and deed, is the God who now, we believe, embraces Mike into the fullness of life. As Mike said in his self-review 29 years ago: God supports me in the most unexpected ways; it’s that God who promises eternal life; it’s Christ Jesus who guarantees eternal life. And today, it’s into God’s hands, through Christ Jesus, that we place Mike, Michael Stanier, Father Michael, who we pray Jesus will acknowledge before His Father who is in heaven.
For Mike: eternal rest…………..
The photograph is taken from the back cover of Fr Mike’s Funeral Mass booklet.