Don Maclean, comedian, broadcaster and pantomime dame extraordinaire, was invested as a Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Pope St Sylvester by Archbishop Bernard Longley during a special Mass at Our Lady of the Wayside Shirley, Solihull, on Saturday 26 May, the Feast of St Philip Neri, 1515-1595.
The Knighthood represents one of the highest and most prestigious distinctions which the Pope, as Supreme Pontiff and Head of the Catholic Church, can bestow on any individual.
It was a glorious summer day with the sun shining brightly from a clear blue sky on the eve of Pentecost 2012. It was a memorable occasion in the life of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and one filled with great joy.
The Parish Church of Our Lady of the Wayside looked at its best. The choir and musicians added to the beauty of the celebration. The congregation heartily joined in Don Maclean’s choice of well-known favourite hymns including: Faith of our Fathers; Hail Queen of heav’n, the ocean star; and Soul of my Saviour.
At the start of Mass Archbishop Longley warmly welcomed Don Maclean and his wife Toni, their two children, Rachel and Rory; children-in-law, Guy and Mel; and grandchildren, Gracie, Cheska (Francesca) and Noah.
Bishop Philip Pargeter, Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham; Mgr Canon Timothy Menezes, Vicar General; and Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Chad, Birmingham concelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop of Birmingham together with other priests. These included Fr Gerry Murray, Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Wayside, and Mgr Louis McRae, now aged 97, who resides in the parish and still celebrates Mass,
Throughout the 90 minute ceremony Don Maclean was well protected by a cohort of 12 Papal Knights and Dames together with eight Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre, of which Don Maclean is himself already a Knight.
Some of Don’s local mates, “golden-oldies” from the world of show business – Malcolm Stent, Jasper Carrott, and Dave Ismay – were there, absorbed as they watched the ceremony. Malcolm Stent is an actor, musical performer and playwright; Jasper Carrott is the renowned comedian, actor, television presenter and personality; Dave Ismay is an entertainer, comedian, after-dinner speaker, presenter, and former Aston Villa match day announcer.
Among Don Maclean’s other personal guests were Councillor Kate Wilde, former Mayor of Solihull, the Revd Ernie Rea, a Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland, who was head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, 1989-2001; Hilary Robinson, a former senior BBC producer, and successful children’s author; and Gary Newbon, the former ATV and Central Television sports presenter and executive.
Also among the congregation, who packed the parish church to overflowing, were Old Boys of the former St Philip’s Grammar School, situated next to the Birmingham Oratory, where Don Maclean was a pupil from 1954-1959; together with Catenians from Solihull and North Warwickshire.
After the homily Archbishop Bernard Longley greeted Don Maclean at the foot of the sanctuary steps. He said: “The Pontifical Order of St Sylvester is the oldest of the Papal Orders, and it is conferred on lay faithful of proven loyalty, in recognition of services to the Holy See and the Church as exemplified in the exercise of their professional duties.”
The Archbishop, who had been delegated by Pope Benedict XVI to invest Dom Maclean with the Insignia of the Order of Pope St Sylvester, invited Fr Gerry Murray, Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Wayside, to read the Papal Brief:
“Benedict XVI, Supreme Pontiff, gladly acceding to a request made to Us from which We have gathered that you are most deserving for what you have done for the Holy Catholic Church and its affairs, and in order that We might give a clear sign of Our pleasure and appreciation, We choose, make and declare you: Donald Michael Maclean of the Archdiocese of Birmingham a Knight of the Order of St Sylvester. We bestow on you the right to use and enjoy all the privileges which go with this high dignity.”
Given at St Peter’s in Rome, on 20 October 2011, signed and Sealed by the Cardinal Secretary of State: Cardinal Bertone.
Archbishop Bernard Longley invested Don Maclean saying: “In the name of the Holy Father I herewith invest you with the insignia of a Knight of the Pontifical Order of St Sylvester …. and I present to you the Papal Brief.
Archbishop Longley presented the Sword to Don Maclean: “and I present to you the Sword of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Pope Saint Sylvester.”
During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “By a very happy coincidence today is not only the eve of Pentecost – it is also the feast day of St Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratory and the patron saint of Don’s old school in Edgbaston.
“There is something highly appropriate about St Philip being one of Don’s patrons and perhaps also a major spiritual influence in his life. For Filippo Neri was noted for the cheerfulness of his outlook on life and the way that he was able to use humour in order to spread the Gospel.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham said: “People sometimes speak of those rare times when the whole of our lives seem to appear before us, gathered as it were into one single moment. Don, perhaps there is something of that in what you are experiencing today.
“St Philip Neri was with you in the days of your youth, when you were beginning to observe and understand human nature and to reflect it through your own quick-witted talents and your remarkable ability to communicate with others.
“St Philip Neri is once again with you today as the Catholic Church recognises and gives thanks for the ways in which you have used those talents to build up the Kingdom of God and to bring others closer to the truth in Christ.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “As the Year of Faith approaches it is good to have a reminder in Don’s life and work of the power of words to move and uplift others and especially to point them gently towards Christ our Lord. As we now begin this investiture we remember that in the Order of St Sylvester the Holy See recognises in particular those who have used their professional skills to advance the Church’s mission and so serve the risen Lord. Don for this we give thanks.”
At the sign of peace Archbishop Longley greeted the new Papal Knight of the Order of Pope St Sylvester and members of his family.
Before the Solemn Blessing the service booklet had indicated: “Short address by Don Maclean”. He was magnificent and had the Archbishop and members of the congregation laughing as one joke followed upon another. It was vintage Don Maclean and deserved the standing ovation he received.
The recessional hymn on the Feast of St Philip Neri was appropriately This is the Saint of gentleness and kindness. The great hymn was written by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1857 and dedicated to St Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory (which Newman had joined in Rome during 1847) and Patron of St Philip’s Grammar School. The grammar school was situation next to the Oratory House, which was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman in Edgbaston.
It was a wonderful occasion – deeply prayerful and full of meaning – yet I could not helping thinking of Don Maclean dressed, not as a Knight but in one of the magnificent and spectacular costumes that he used to wear for the great finale at the end of a pantomime at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Archbishop Vincent Nichols was Archbishop of Birmingham at the time, and Don had generously invited us as his guests to a performance.
We had gone backstage afterwards. The stage lights had already been switched off, the curtain was closed and the audience had gone home. I was surprised at how quickly Don Maclean had changed out of his lavish costume and the world of fantasy, and come back to reality!
Archbishop Bernard Longley said during the Investiture: “Becoming a Knight does not merely mean receiving a title of honour – even though well deserved – but fighting evil, promoting good and defending the weak and oppressed against injustice.”
Don Maclean MBE, KSS, KCHS, has always spoken out boldly about his Catholic faith. The Archdiocese of Birmingham is rightly proud of its latest Papal Knight!
Don Maclean, now aged 68, has been in show-business for more than 40 years, featuring on stage, screen and radio. He first came to the attention of the general public through his appearances in Crackerjack, BBC 1 1972-1977 and the Black And White Minstrel Show, BBC1, 1974-1977 which he hosted.
Starting out as a stand-up comic, a path he continues to follow, Don has branched into acting. He has starred in 39 pantomimes – his 40th will be in Poole this year, playing Widow Twanky in Aladdin.
Radio has played a major part in Don Maclean’s successful career. He has hosted several comedy quiz shows for BBC Radio 2; he hosted Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2, 1990-2006, every week for an amazing 16 years, for BBC Religious Broadcasting, during which he presented the programme live from Jerusalem, Rome, Hiroshima and Ground Zero, New York.
In 2001 Don Maclean was made an MBE for services to religion and inter-faith relations. This was followed in 2003 by his investiture as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark. He had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome during 2006. Don Maclean is in great demand on the after-dinner speaking circuit.
The Mass and Investiture was followed by a most enjoyable light buffet lunch with wine held in Our Lady of the Wayside Roman Catholic School hall and grounds.