I don’t think there was another person who played such a big role in the lives of all six of us than Uncle Melvyn. When we had moments of happiness, sadness, pain, he was always the first person we turned to and it hurts so much for us right now that such a large part of our hearts and our family is no longer with us.
As a youth leader and a member of St. Cyprians, Uncle Melvyn was everything we could ask for in a priest and advisor. He respected the traditions of the church but encouraged and embraced the change that came with the young. He was humble, kind, good-spirited and always seemed to have patience with us, even if we called him late on a Friday night to ask him to lock up for us, we never heard a hint of a complaint. The interest that he displayed in the lives of each one of the kids personally is something that they will cherish, he didn’t just ask how many kids were at youth on a Friday, he cared who the kids were, the lives they lead and he made an effort to get to know them. When you work as a youth leader, you are used to former leaders coming to you to tell what you are doing wrong or how things were better in their time, but even though I knew Uncle Melvyn was one of the founding youth leaders at St. Cyprians, he never belittled me. There were times when I was so certain that I was the worst thing to happen to youth ministry because there were hardly any children at youth or most of my leaders had left, but he encouraged me, he believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. As I said in my Facebook status yesterday, as a priest he went above and beyond the call of duty, he made his congregation feel valued and appreciated. He once told me that he doesn’t understand why some priests don’t like to stand outside the church doors to greet the people when they leave on a Sunday because that acknowledgement and encouragement could just be what they need to brighten up their day. We used to have so many discussions about St. Cyprians and church life, most of the time it was me complaining and him mediating, but one thing was certain, he loved St. Cyprians – the people, the traditions, the opportunities, the community. With all his experience, with all his enthusiasms, with all his talents, he used it to improve and buildup the community of St. Cyprians. I am encouraged by him whenever I feel fed-up or frustrated with the church that I am an instrument of God put in this position to display his love in this community and to work to improve it instead of abandoning it.
Uncle Melvyn was an overachiever. As a niece, he wasn’t simply an uncle that you see on birthdays or wave at when you pass in a shopping mall, he was another parent. He has played just as large a role in my upbringing as my parents. Through every family memory, good and bad, I remember him being alongside us, supporting us, helping us, rejoicing with us. I never felt like worthless and inferior child in his presence, he respected my opinion, spoke to me like an equal, valued what I had to say. He would always go the extra mile if we needed anything. When I worked at Readers Warehouse and I was terrified to walk to work, he would get up every morning to take me. Even recently, when I was freaking out because my father was late to take me to an interview, when my mother called Uncle Melvyn to fetch me, he was outside our house within minutes. Nothing was ever too much for him. I learnt through his example that family love stretches so much further than those in your immediate family. They say that priests’ children tend to rebel because they see the true man, what he is like without the robe on, but to see what amazing people my cousins’ Joy, Graham and Nathan have grown up to be is a testament to his and Aunty Delia’s great parenting and their integrity. We are all better people to have known him, he was a living, breathing depiction of what it meant to be a child of God, to be humble, to have mercy, to love your neighbour.
A couple of weeks ago, he phoned me to say he wanted to chat with me, I thought I was in trouble, he laughed at me, he came to fetch me to go to church and all he wanted to speak to me about was the power of prayer. He had been reading a book on the importance of prayer and how we have begun to underestimate its’ power and he wanted to share it with me to see if I had anything I wanted him to pray for. You see, prior to this I had been really struggling with prayer, I have been finding it worthless, inconsequential, a waste of time. He did not know this before he spoke to me and his words encouraged me to trust and believe again, and as this was the last conversation we had alone together, I will always hold true to the example he placed in front of me.
We all long to leave a legacy behind when we die, may it be a book we’ve written, a sports record we broke, a reputation we had but Uncle Melvyn engraved himself onto so many people’s hearts just by simply living by Jesus’ example of loving God, loving himself and loving his neighbour. I will always remember his kindness, his helpfulness, his humility, his good-natured sense of humour, his encouragement, his musical talent, his love for the community, even the way he elongated the ‘Ca’ in my name every time he saw me, including the last time I saw him on Tuesday. Uncle Melvyn, I will always love you and miss you and one day when my children ask me what it means to be a disciple of God, I know I will only be describing you.