Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 1, 2007
Fr. Michael Troy at 90
Unforgettable priest recalls those who made him the man he is today
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
- photo supplied
Fr. Troy in 1958
One day when he was 10, Michael was on his way to his aunt's who was taking him to the pantomime when he stopped by his grandparents. He was shocked to find them both sick in bed.
Granny asked him to let the chickens out and he fed the hens with grain scooped up in the helmet Uncle Willy wore in the First World War.
Granny shooed him on to the pantomime.
"But when I got back that evening, my daddy was there absolutely shattered. I did not know that men could cry."
Granny died the next day and when they returned from her funeral, Grandpa was dead.
The cause? Pneumonia - a killer before antibiotics.
His aunt chastised young Michael, saying, "Why didn't you shed a tear?"
His faith already solid, the young lad replied, "Why would I? They've gone to heaven where everything is good."
By the time Michael reached Grade 4, the new priest Father James Carroll had built two new schools - one for the girls and St. Brendan's for the boys.
Their teacher, Mr. McCabe, just one year of teaching under his belt, demanded the best from his boys.
That's one of the troubles in our education - we train everyone to be executives and nobody to do the work."
"He used the strap on fellows like me," says Troy with a still rueful chuckle. "We were smart boys, but careless, not paying attention."
McCabe harnessed that energy, forming a choir, drafting Michael's father into starting and coaching sports teams.
"And he put us in for examinations - all sorts of examinations."
That's how young Michael, at 12 1/2 finished Grade 6 and won a scholarship for secondary education.
Says Troy, "He was the right teacher at the right time."
The priest Carroll sat down and fired off letters to three secondary schools. One queried back, "Does he have any feeling for vocation at all?"
"Not a one," replied Carroll.
But Rockwell College in Tipperary sent a syllabus.
Carroll helped Michael pack his things in the same trunk Carroll took to the United States when he was collecting money to build schools and churches back home.
"He even put my name on it," says Troy. "He was a key man in my life."
Boarding school was hard.
"Imagine a small boy like that being shipped into this big school with all these rich kids."
But harking back to the discipline instilled by McCabe, Michael took to all sorts of sports - mountain climbing, track and field, long distance running.
Did you win?
- WCR file photo
Fr. Troy as chaplain of St. Joseph High School in 1983.
"Of course I did," says Troy with a howl of laughter. "But I lost some too. You never come out of a game that you didn't do your best."
Boarding school rules were rigid in those days, says Troy. Students spent two hours before dinner studying, followed by another hour and a half before bed.
We all have favourite teachers and Michael's was his English instructor Father Thomas Nolan.
Any twinges of vocation?
"Well I would say my prayers and I had all that time on my own," remembers Troy. "Then the Holy Ghost guys came."
Bishop Joseph Shanahan visited Rockwood and talked to the students about missions and the work the Holy Ghost Fathers were doing in Africa.
"So I decided I would give it a go," says Troy. "But then I had to go home and tell my mother and father."
It was Easter break of his second or third year and after coming through the door at 1 a.m. after a three-mile walk from the bus, Michael told his father, "I'm thinking of joining the Holy Ghost Fathers."
Bob, who hoped Michael would continue his folk dancing when he played the violin, gave a weary retort, "I have to get up and milk cows in the morning and you don't know what the hell you are doing."
Tess worried, "If you want to be a priest, then join the diocese and we will always have you around."
But by the week's end, both signed the permission papers, telling Michael, "We hope you know what you are doing."
All that discipline and study won Michael another scholarship - this one to university.
- WCR file photo
Fr. Troy in 2000 promoting the Holy Childhood Association.
After a novitiate year in Tipperary, Michael enrolled in University College Dublin where he specialized in philosophy and classical languages.
He tips his hat to professor Father Dan Murphy for his excellent tutoring.
BA and MA in hand, he spent two years teaching in St. Mary's College Rathmines, where he played rugby in the national league.
"Wing forward. I could move around all the time."
To teach, Michael needed his doctorate. So he sat down and wrote his thesis titled The Concept of God.
His fingers drum the kitchen table as he tells of typing out his missive.
The examining professors from Oxford rebuffed his work, saying, "You can't be knocking down all these German professors and Aristotle and other authorities."
His memory slips back to that moment and Troy mutters, "If I had written down everything my professors said, I would have gotten it in the first round. But you could stuff that up your jersey as far as I am concerned."
With just one year of theology at Kimmedge College and the war still sputtering, Michael was sent to Fribourg, Switzerland, to study for his bachelor of theology. Skiing. Mountain climbing. Learning French so he could deliver his homilies. Witnessing the practicalities of the country's technical schools. Michael took it all in. He was ordained a Spiritan missionary priest in Switzerland in July 20, 1947.
If you use your brains, you can't get away with saying this whole bloody thing happened by chance. There may have been evolution, but who the hell started it?
Time to put all that study and experience into practice and Troy joined Kimmage Manor teaching philosophy and theology from 1948 to 1956.
But remember that refused doctoral thesis? Seven year wiser, "I was able to put it down much better and we used the printer and original Greek characters."
The telegram saying he received his doctorate tracked him down to his new posting to Canada where he had been assigned in 1958 to establish Neil McNeil High School in Toronto. It was at a time when the diocese had to fund the building and "a lot of sacrifices were made by a lot of people: The parents did a lot of work."
Troy's father Bob journeyed out to visit his son and as he walked through the building, he pointed out what still needed doing "and bits of falling plaster."
The sports factor came into play and Troy helped the school acquire a Junior A hockey franchise. Twenty-four of those Neil McNeil boys made the NHL.
What does sports teach students?
"It gives them the spirit of competition," says the former athlete and coach. "They learn respect for other people, to admit you make mistakes."
By 1964, Troy moved west to help Archbishop MacDonald High School in Edmonton. After six years, he went to St. Joseph. He is still there as chaplain.
"It's a changing world," says Troy. "I found that after Vatican II, people didn't want priests giving orders on anything, especially being teachers. So that is why a lot of the priests and nuns - they quit. They were used to being the big authority, the big shot guy.
"But I could take orders just as well as anyone else. I've been taking them all my life."
As well as his work at St, Joseph and serving as resident priest at Holy Spirit Parish, "I do lots of Masses, I pull my weight."
This man's tapestry of contribution to this city include a multitude of threads from bouncing soccer balls into almost every venue possible, authoring books, including Rags to Riches: Claude Francis Poullard des Places (the Spiritan founder) and From Tiny Acorn to Mighty Oak: The Spiritans 1703-2006, chaplain to a variety of organizations and a mighty activist where children, Aboriginal people and missions are involved.
An immensely charming chap whose Irish blue eyes never leave yours, Troy is asked about mistakes people make.
The answer flies out of his soul.
"Some people think religion is contrary to reason and belief in God is stupidity. If you use your brains, you can't get away with saying this whole bloody thing happened by chance. There may have been evolution, but who the hell started it? It is not a question of what it is, but that it is."
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