Luke Coppen’s interview with Bishop Mark Davies was published in the Catholic Herald’s Christmas edition. You can read it in its entirety on the website of the diocese of Shrewsbury or gain a flavour here:
LC: I just want to ask first of all about your calling to the priesthood, at what age you first became aware of it?
+ Mark: My vocation began in a surprising way. As a 12-year-old serving eight o’clock Mass on a December morning my parish priest asked me to wait a moment after Mass and said: “I want you to think about becoming a priest.” That was the first moment in my life that the thought of myself being a priest had ever entered my mind. It was something which until then had been quite unimaginable. So that was the beginning and it was someone else who somehow recognised in me, as a 12-year-old, the prospect of a vocation to the priesthood, even though that was something I didn’t recognise myself immediately at that age it was in the end to be my vocation.
LC: What were your thoughts of what you would be as an adult at that time?
+ Mark: I had no clear thoughts really apart from the sort of childish things that you think about. I had always had a great interest in things military and soldiers and that kind of thing but there was clear prospect for me at the age of 12 and so suddenly the breaking through, if you like, of this call, which came through my parish priest, to think of the priesthood, that took on huge importance.
LC: What did you think the priest saw in you at that age?
+ Mark: I am not really sure. Maybe it was in my faithfulness or perhaps prayerfulness as a server, something which he had discerned and he asked me for a very quick answer as well. He told me he would like me to give him an answer the next morning. And perhaps this was good psychology. It certainly focused my mind and naturally my answer was “I didn’t know” at that stage in my life but it made me focus and God finds many ways of breaking through to us in our lives but you do wonder if my parish priest hadn’t spoken to me that morning if I would have found my way to my vocation quite as easily.
LC: Was he disappointed when you said you didn’t know?
+ Mark: No. He thought that was good enough and said he thought I should see the bishop, that that was the beginning for me.
LC: Who was the bishop at that time?
+ Mark: Thomas Holland, Bishop of Salford. He was the bishop who would eventually ordain me and is the bishop whose ring I now wear and whose pectoral cross I wear as well.
LC: Did you have any thoughts about perhaps having a vocation to married life, say, a bit later on?
+ Mark: I am very conscious of a new generation of priests for whom a very immediate and personal decision had to be made. Starting out at the age of 12, as I did, I always saw that giving myself in the priesthood required giving a whole life through celibacy and yet I’d say – it was I think one of Blessed John Paul II’s reflections – that this sense of vocation and self-gift in priesthood brought me close to my contemporaries who were entering into marriage in the dedication they made to marriage and the family.
LC: Do you mean that they would ask you for advice?
+ Mark: I saw a spiritual closeness in terms of how celibacy supports the commitment, the life-long commitment and fidelity of marriage. I saw that increasingly as I was growing older and the importance of both of those vocations but I never saw myself called to marriage at any point and there was no crisis or dramatic decision required to continue my course for the priesthood.
LC: Did you enter junior seminary then?
+ Mark: I was accepted as a Church student at the age of 12 and then I continued in my ordinary course of education until I was 18.
LC: When did you tell your parents about wanting to become a priest?
+ Mark: That was almost immediately and they were very supportive but not directive of me. I think that’s really the right way to support someone in their vocation.
LC: Were all your family Catholics?
+ Mark: My family were Catholics and I realise how blessed and privileged I was in my life to be brought up with the sheer normality of Church practice – that’s a living Catholic faith in my home life of daily prayer, Sunday Mass, regular confession. I think when I was a small child my mother, when I was out with her, would invariably call into church wherever we were to visit the hidden Jesus present in the tabernacles of those churches and those visits to the Blessed Sacrament from my youngest years are a great memory and I have often said to parents, to people getting married, the importance of what they pass on to their children simply by the normal example of a Catholic family, its coherence and fidelity and that is a precious gift which we give to a new generation. I almost took that for granted when I was young.
LC: Did you ever have a time when you stopped going to church?
+ Mark: There was no time in my own life when I stopped going to church. It was a life which was continuous from my early years because I was on the road to the priesthood and I was conscious of the greatness of this calling and what I had to try to rise to in my own life. So there was a deepening which went on through my life.
LC: You were made a bishop at 50 which is a relatively young age, at least in this country. Did you feel ready for the appointment?
+ Mark: Well, I am often reminded of my relative youthfulness – the children, when I visit them in the primary schools, estimate my age as between 70 and 80 – but relative youthfulness. Well it is slightly awesome that someone like St Charles Borromeo was clearly ready at the age of 25 and Karl Wojtyla – the late Blessed John Paul II – was ready at the age of 38. Mark Davies certainly wasn’t ready by the age of 50 and I was happy as a parish priest. I had roles throughout my priestly life in the diocese but always saw myself primarily as a parish priest. Out of the blue (came) this immense calling, an immense responsibility that you are suddenly called to. It is a moment, I think for every candidate, where you are faced with your limitations and inadequacies and you just hoped that there was another candidate who was holier and more able than yourself who could have taken up this task.But you are very quickly, as I was in my journey back from London to the North of England the day I was called, thrown on to that dependence of prayer. I think I prayed the rosary almost continually in the car all the way back on that day. So that’s how I began, clearly seeing not my own readiness but trusting that it was the Lord who was calling me.