Part One – Fr Hilton Roberts remembers Mons Kevin, Rome and “Aussie Rec” (Audio)
Last week a host of family, friends, clergy and religious farewelled Monsignor Kevin Barry-Cotter at a requiem mass held at St Christopher’s Cathedral. While studying for the priesthood in Rome during the late ’50s, early 60’s, Monsignor Kevin met the soon to be ordained Hilton Roberts. The two seminarians started a friendship that would last over 60 years. Here is part one of a two part series where Fr Hilton talks with Fr Simon Falk about his memories of Monsignor Kevin and their days in the Seminary.
Part One: Memories of our time in the college.
Well, my earliest memories of Kevin go back to Rome in the late 1950s.
I went to Rome in 1954 to study at Propaganda College. Although its full title is the Urban College of Propaganda Fide named after the pope who established it in 1627 paper Urban the eighth and he established the college to educate and train missionaries to go to those countries that were being colonized by the European powers at the time.
And Kevin came over to Rome to join me at propaganda College in 1957.
And at that time they were about I think 300 students in the college 10% of them Australians.
And they came from about 50 different countries.
Kevin and I were the same age that I was a couple of years ahead of him because of the structure of the college and the way that the authorities didn’t want National groups to sort of club together too much. I didn’t really see much of Kevin on a daily basis and looking back in my memory I see how our friendship began have it developed and how in the end we became very good close friends.
Once a week the Australian students were allowed to club together for one hour in the early afternoon, and we called it ‘Aussie Rec’ and that’s where I first got to know Kevin and it was immediately for me a delight to be in his company.
He had a spirit of Joy, a sense of humour. And even at that early age to me, he seemed to have insight and sort of wisdom about life far beyond his own young years at that time. So that was when I first got to know him and our friendship developed their ‘Aussie Rec’.
And then my memory tells me that another way that we grew in friendship was making music together.
There’s nothing like music to sort of bond people together. And at the time I was the college organist from 1955 to 1958 and Kevin was in the choir.
We absolutely loved making music together in the chapel and elsewhere because we used to go, you know to churches in Rome as a choir to sing and it goes with all these different races in different colors of skin, we were a sort of an object of wonder, you know to people when we went to sing in the Roman churches,
But I was talking with Kevin early some few months ago about our time together, you know in the choir
At the time Kevin was writing these historical sketches for the for the Catholic Voice and he wanted to know who was the choirmaster – maestro de coros just before he arrived but he was the choirmaster when I was the organist from 55 to 57. And in fact, he died in 57 and Kevin wanted to know his name and I told him it was Nicolau Praglia – he wanted to know because it was Praglia who wrote that antiphon (….)And that antiphon became a standard piece to be sang at ordinations. Not only in Propaganda, but elsewhere, you know in the world particularly here in Australia, and he wanted to know then who composed it? And so I told him?
And when Kevin was celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination on the 21st of December I rang him to wish him well and he told me he’d just been speaking to his dear friend and classmate Bishop Jeffrey Robinson who at that point was on the point of dying really I think he died a week or two later, but Kevin told me. that he’d just been speaking to Jeff and he just voice was very weak. But they have a lovely little conversation together and he said you know what we did Hilton. He said we sang (…) together, which I found, you know, very very moving.
And another way which our friendship grew in those days is that every Thursday afternoon. It was a college rule that we all had to get out of the college and go and visit some place in Rome go and explore it is that the churches are which there are so many and the ancient ruins of Rome because there was always a danger when you’re in college and studying hard you had to get a bit absorbed in college life and let the world around pass by so it was it was a it was a rule. You must go out and visit. I did that quite a lot with Kevin because it was always such interesting company. He had a sense of history and I could see he was very very much drawn by beauty. It was really a lovely experience to go and visit places in Rome with Kevin. My other memories of him in those days was not in Rome, but add a Castel Gandolfo.
Every year we spent three months from the beginning of July to the beginning of October at a Castel Gandolfo, which is a town in the Roman Hills.
And the college had a beautiful Villa there right next door to the Papal Villa. So we would go out for three months and we do wonderful things. We were completely free and we were able to mix more than we were able to do in Rome and we used to put on the Aussies particularly used to put on Gilbert and Sullivan plays and operettas.
But the thing that I remember most is that every fortnight we were allowed to go and cook out an Alfresco down at Lake Albano casting and also is built on the on the on the crest of a volcanic crater and Lake Albano was is in the heart of the crater is magical place very very beautiful. Once a fortnight we would go down by on the shores of Lake Albano and in little groups.
We would cook our meal and be together. Quite often I used to go with Kevin because it’s already at that time and I think was probably also to that it had Scout experience, which I didn’t know at the time but he was a wonderful cook wonderful cook and it was so enjoyable, you know to be with him and others, you know in a little group sitting by, you know, the Waters of Lake Albano and enjoying his particular cooking. It was a little sort of foretaste of the hospitality and so forth that he was so renown for. He was always a very very good cook whenever I visited him whether it was the West Wyalong or Cooma, or whatever or Michelago I remember he’d always put on a great meal and of course has been know when he had the opportunity. He used to make his own wine. So I remember that but the other thing about being at Castel Gandolfo with Kevin was that we used to go on these long hikes. Sometimes the whole day we would we would walk for kilometres and kilometres visiting all these different, you know towns, you know in the Roman Hills. And again, it was absolutely wonderful, you know to be walking with him because it was always interesting and he was so alert to you know to the surrounding the environment and able to make, you know, interesting comments about what we were walking through and so on.
In fact in the middle of the 1980s, I think it was some American Jesuits came to our diocese some priest will remember to set up a program called ‘Ministry to Priest’ it was a sort of program to help priests to look after themselves and to look after one another. We had these different interest groups, you know, and we’d get together, you know, once every month or two months or so and one of the group’s was a walking group and so not unexpectedly both Kevin and I joined that group and we had we had wonderful times so many of course of that group of now gone back to God with Kevin. But Paul Bateman still with his Pat Power of course was, Peter Gannon. We walked all over the diocese, and beyond the you know the boundaries of the diocese as well and there they there are wonderful times together, you know, they’d really built up our friendship and comradeship is as priest so, you know, I sort of enjoyed those walks, you know here back home sort of as a sort of a follow on from the wonderful walks we used to have back in the in the hills of around Rome.
So they’re my earliest memories of our time in the college.