30 December 2008

Did I meet a saint?

Some forty years ago now, I think I met a saint.

He was Peter Bridges, a first-year student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg in 1964, from Rhodesia, where his parents apparently owned a huge ranch. He was a member of the university Anglican Society, but I did not get to know him well until he, Ken Lemmon-Warde, Bridget Bailey and I went on a weekend work camp at Springvale Mission near Ixopo where Ken Hallowes was the priest.

Peter and I worked together on stringing a fence around a vegetable garden, and that was when I got to know him as a person, and concluded that he was a saint. He seemed totally innocent, totally loving, a perfect example of genuine humility, with never a bad word to say about anything or anyone.

Soon afterwards the July vac came, and when we returned to university after the vac Peter did not. Mrs Anger, the housekeeper at the William O'Brien Hall Men's Residence, asked me about him. She said she had had a letter from his parents asking what had happened to him at university, and why he had become a religious maniac. It sounded as though they thought he was mad.

I was troubled by this, and went to ask the local parish priest and university chaplain, Fr Mervyn Sweet, about it. He said Peter had spoken to him quite a lot, and had lots of questions, and eventually made his confession. But he showed no sign of being mad.

There was no further word from him or his parents and I never discovered what subsequently happened to him, though he would now be in his 60s. But I still think that for a brief period I was privileged to be in the presence of a genuine saint.

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