He had a front-row seat to the theatre of war, was an eye-witness to the consequences of hate, and now, after 25 years of carnage and chaos, he has come to White Rock to spread a message of faith, hope and love.
Rev. Patrick John (PJ) O’Maoil Mheana, ordained as Father Luke, is currently sitting in what he described as a 14-day “monastic isolation” at the White Rock’s Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity rectory.
O’Maoil Mheana, who landed in Canada from Scotland on Monday, was named the new rector, or priest in charge, of the church.
O’Maoil Mheana, born in Ireland, has a long history of helping people in the most dire of circumstances. He worked in a hospice in London U.K., during what turned out to be the deadliest years of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Following that, he enlisted in the Royal Navy and Royal Army, where he served 25 years collectively.
In the armed forces, O’Maoil Mheana was nurse-in-charge of preoperative care. It was his job, on deployments, to care for the wounded. His career took him to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands.
A video of O’Maoil Mheana, speaking at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, gives a glimpse of what he experienced during his 25 years of service.
“The language of hate is not something we find comfortable,” O’Maoil Mheana said, speaking to the parishioners.
“Speaking as one who over 25 years dealt with the consequences of hate, I am certainly not comfortable with it. Hate has led to being stood knee deep in bodies in a mass grave in Bosnia. Hate leads to being blown across the road by a secondary bomb while treating causalities. Hate leads to being stood at an operating table months after months with a sea of trauma in front of you, and that is wrong. This is not the language which I, myself, am able to accept.”
In an interview with Peace Arch News this week, O’Maoil Mheana agreed that he has seen worst humanity has to offer.
And as traumatic as the experiences may have been, O’Maoil Mheana said there was one constant throughout the years – a presence of God.
“I spent 25 years caring for people in the worst of situations. You have to see the hand of God in it,” O’Maoil Mheana said. “Where God is, is in the hand of the surgeon, in the hand of the nurse, in the hand of the X-ray tech, who are working to save that young man or woman’s life. That’s where the act of God is, the holding and love.
“I could not have done what I did for 25 years had I not had the foundation of faith beforehand… But subsequent to that, I have to say that I couldn’t be the priest I am today, and would wish to be in the future, had I not had 25 years of doing what I did.”
O’Maoil Mheana offered a story of a miracle of God while he was deployed in Afghanistan. He had trouble recalling if it happened on his second, or third deployment to the war-torn country.
He said his base camp’s commanding officer had an knack for photography, and sometimes documented the life on the base. O’Maoil Mheana recalls an evening when surgeons were operating throughout out the night, and the commanding officer took photographs of the work.
Later, the commander showed O’Maoil Mheana a stunning image from the evening.
“It was sublime,” O’Maoil Mheana said, recalling the photograph. “He captured a picture of two of the surgeons working.”
What was striking about the image, O’Maoil Mheana said, was that both surgeons had a look on their face. A look that was all to familiar to O’Maoil Mheana.
“He captured the moment when they were concentrating. They were working, yes, but the concentration on their faces was a concentration of prayer. And it was just… it blew me away,” O’Maoil Mheana said. “It was just the most amazing… In dealing with the chaos and carnage of war – and we had to deal with the chaos and carnage of war – they were working, but the intensity on their faces, they were praying.”
While surrounded by chaos, O’Maoil Mheana said there have only been a few times that he was struck by fear.
“The four times in my life when I have been truly frightened is when I couldn’t find the presence of God. And that’s a scary place,” he said.
Following his military service, O’Maoil Mheana began exploring a return to religious life. When he was younger, he worked as a missionary in Africa during famine.
He was accepted for training in the Church of England before going to the College of Resurrection in Mirifield, West Yorkshire. He was ordained in 2012 and took the name Father Luke. He most recently served as rector of Monklands in Airdrie, Scotland, a position he held since 2017.
Holy Trinity parish council member Simon Johnston said finding a new rector is similar to that of an art gallery hiring a new art director. Not only does the incoming director have a leadership responsibility, but they bring with them a new vision.
O’Maoil Mheana said he takes a Benedictine approach, in that there are three tables: a table of work, a table of worship, and a table in which people are welcomed.
“That’s about providing a space where people can feel included and welcomed and know that they will be accepted for who and what they are.”
Asked about the LGBT+ community, O’Maoil Mheana was unapologetic in his support.
“I don’t, as a priest, have the right to exclude anyone. This is an inclusive setting,” he said. “Jesus’ whole mission was to include, it was not to exclude.”
The process of hiring a new priest in the Anglican world is complex and can be lengthy.
In Anglican tradition, the search is co-ordinated by the parish ‘Canonical Search Committee’ in association with an interim priest and diocesan guidance. The first step of the committee is to create a “Parish Profile,” which is a document that outlines what the parish is looking for in a new rector. The document is posted by the executive archdeacon’s office and priests apply for the position.
The Holy Trinity position sat vacant for more than a year while the church waited for a suitable fit.
Father Luke was to be installed at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. However, the ceremony was cancelled due to the current provincial health orders.
However, Nov. 30 is around the same time when O’Maoil Mheana will complete his mandatory 14-day quarantine. It’ll be his first opportunity to emerge from the rectory and explore his new community. He said he’ll do so by bicycle.
It will surely be a quick lesson in not only the beauty of White Rock, but how hilly it can be.