Pembroke – A retired priest from the Diocese of Pembroke who passed away Friday at the age of 81 is being remembered for his willingness to help anyone, for his passion for the youth, and his involvement with a very famous hockey team.
Father Grant Neville, who served in several parishes in Pembroke Diocese prior to his retirement in 2014, passed away at the Pembroke Regional Hospital in the55th year of his religious life.
A native of Pembroke, he was one of eight children of the late Harry and Lila (Clouthier) Neville, and he received the call to the priesthood during the family’s membership at Holy Name parish in Pembroke. He did his religious studies at Resurrection College in Kitchener and St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. He was ordained on May 24, 1969 and served as assistant priest in Bancroft, Haliburton, Arnprior and Deep River. He later served as pastor at St. Ann’s Cormac; Our lady of the Angels, Brudenell; Holy Canadian Martyrs, Combermere; St. Francis de Sales Mission, Latchford Bridge and finally at St. Andrew’s, Killaloe, where he retired in 2014.
In June of that year, the current and past staff, and students at St. Andrew’s Catholic School, held a retirement party for Fr. Neville, with each class preparing something for his farewell which officially began that September. The auditorium was adorned with the colours white and blue in honour of his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.
The coverage of that event in The Leader on June 18, 2014, spoke of the obvious impact Fr. Neville had on the students, who spoke fondly of his religious guidance, of his tendency to always have joke for them, and how he would provide treats for them on special occasions.
Then principal Mary Catherine Brisco, who spent six years working with Fr. Neville, said he would certainly be missed, noting how the kids always got to chat with him during his regular visits.
“He can talk to the kids at their level, and he has such a way of explaining things and he is able to share his knowledge and his faith with the kids,” she said at that time. “It’s unbelievable.”
She shared that whenever the students attended Mass, he would pay great attention to the content of his homily to catch their attention. She added he was very involved with the students preparing for the various sacraments of the church, be it First Communion, First Reconciliation, or Confirmation.
“Everything he does is very meaningful,” she had said.
She said the school staff were also very appreciative of how comfortable they felt in being able to talk to him.
“He’s humble and he’s non-judgmental. Those are the two words I think describe him best,” she noted.
It was an emotional day for him too, choking back tears initially to tell the gathering how much he enjoyed his time there after his arrival in 2005. He shared how it was Eganville native, Fr. Ken Bradley, who was parish priest at Holy Name when Fr. Neville was a teen, that inspired him to pursue his vocation. He said, like himself, Fr. Bradley loved sports and one day after Mass, he threw Fr. Neville a ball and glove and invited him to play catch with him.
“He loved sports and I loved sports, so that was the beginning of a good friendship with him,” he noted then.
Fr. Bradley eventually invited him to join a baseball team he coached. One time when he was driving him home after a game when was summoned to an accident scene, so a young Grant Neville had to tag along. He said a number of people were injured and dying at the scene and he was very inspired by watching Fr. Bradley anointing the victims, saying prayers and talking to family members.
“I was very moved by that, and it started getting me thinking that was what God wanted me to do with my life. So, I prayed about it and a year or two later I entered the seminary.”
He was ordained in May 1969.
Health A Factor In Decision
At age 72 when he retired, Fr. Neville told the Leader at the time his health factored in the decision.
“Usually, you go at 75 but it’s more health issues for me,” he shared. “So, I’m feeling it’s better to get someone in here that can do more for them.”
He admitted the ceremony was a very emotional day for him as it was put on by the kids, many of whom were just starting school when he arrived. He added while it too will be emotional, he looked forward to celebrating the upcoming graduation with the Grade 8 students and their families.
“It’s been a great parish with great people and they’ve been very supportive here,” he stated.
He said the parish had people of great faith, believing that boded well for the children because the world was full of challenges.
“If they have that hope and that strength that comes from their faith, that will be a light and that will really give them strength and guide them. If I helped them to be better, then I feel good about it.”
He said he took great joy in administering the sacraments, noting there were cases of where he baptized people, celebrated their marriages, and then later baptized their children.
Hockey A Huge Part of His Life
His passion for hockey led him to play at Waterloo University and his career choice opened the door for him as a member of the internationally famous Flying Fathers hockey team which he joined in 1969. The team travelled across Canada and the U.S and internationally, raising money for charitable causes. After three years with the team, he assumed the manager’s role from Fr. Brian McGee and he was instrumental in recruiting some younger players to the fold to join the legendary Fr. Les Costello, who had won the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs.
The team combined hockey skills with on-ice pranks, often at the expense of the opponents or the officials. Their rise in popularity landed them exposure in print and on TV and the subject of a possible movie deal was discussed at one time, but never materialized.
One of Those Really Good Ones
On Monday, Mrs. Brisco called her late friend, a “really great guy”.
“Fr. Neville was a great friend of Catholic education and friend of the school,” she said. “Whenever we turned to him, he was always there for us and the kids.
“He was always welcome of everyone, no matter what,” she added. “His door was always open.”
She said he truly loved working with the kids, noting they loved seeing him there during his many regular visits.
“He was at the school a lot. He and Fr. Mac (Brady McNamara), Fr. Quinn and Father Isaiah (Rice), they were all buddies and were all like-minded. He was really good to the principals and the teachers.”
She said he would help anyone in the community, regardless of their religion or their social status.
“He was one of those really good ones,” she said.
Fr. Pat Blake and Fr. Neville grew up on the same street, chose the same vocation, served in the same parish and were both members of the Flying Fathers.
“He was just a great, all-around guy,” he said. “Very approachable, so helpful and kind in so many ways, and his parishes would attest to that too.
“He was just and exceptionally good guy,” he added.
He said Fr. Neville were stationed together in Arnprior for seven years together and they shared many happy memories from that time as well.
Recalling their time with the Flying Fathers, he recalled how Fr. Neville’s teammates used to say he had a “gifted shot” because of his heavy wrist shot.
He recalled one time the team was playing in Germany and because they were both at the same parish, Fr. Neville remained at home.
“However, there was a mix-up in the schedule and there was also a game in the Hamilton area,” he recalled. “So, he went down to that game.”
He said the parish priest at the time was dealing with some health issues in Toronto and he called back to see how things were at the parish and he spoke to Fr. Pat Shane, an Oblate priest, who they had left in charge.
“When he asked where Fr. Neville and Fr. Blake were and was told Fr. Blake was in Germany and Fr. Neville was in Hamilton, he told Fr. Shane to check to see if the church was still there,” he recounted.
Fr. Blake noted when Fr. Neville retired, he wanted to return to his home in Pembroke to assist some other members of his family who had some health issues at the time by driving them to appointments, etc.
“He was very helpful,” he remarked.
Father Tim Shea was one of the original members of the Flying Fathers who first met Fr. Neville at St. Augustine’s.
“I met Grant in 1967 and he was just great guy. He seemed like the all -round person, really good in sports but also really good as a people person, inclusive.
“Everybody was his friend,” he added.
Fr. Shea said when they got invited to play for the Flying Fathers, Fr. Neville was known for his hard wrist shot, which he said was compared to Wendel Clarke. He noted then when Fr. Brian McGeee resigned as team manager, Fr. Neville assumed that role.
“We just went on to bigger and better things. He just seemed to have a great way of recruiting players, making arrangements for games, and everybody loved him.”
Fr. Shea said the fact the proceeds from their games went to charities was very important to Fr. Neville and he was responsible for vetting the huge number of requests that came in.
“At one point he was getting requests for about 300 games a year but we were only playing 25 or 30. So he’d be very careful in trying to pick the places where the need was the greatest for the charity.”
He said Fr. Grant knew some families had perhaps spent money they really couldn’t spare to take their families to the game and Fr. Neville always wanted to ensure they got their money’s worth, with a blend of hockey and comedy the Flying Fathers were noted for.
A Special Person
Paul Neville said since Fr, Grant’s passing the family has received a flood of offers of condolences come their way.
“We’ve had a lot,” he noted.
“He was such a giving person in his life,” he added. “He was the type of person who thought about everybody but himself sometimes.”
Mr. Neville described his brother as being very unselfish and as someone who worked very hard for the youth groups.
“He would take large groups of kids and bring them up to my brother’s cottage for a weekend,” he recalled. “He was a special person, that’s for sure.”
Mr. Neville said his late brother took great enjoyment out of his role with the famed Flying Fathers as well, not only because he loved the sport but mainly because the monies raised were going to charities wherever the team played.
The late Father Neville was predeceased by his parents, Harry and Lila, and sister, Harriet (Roland) Gagnon. He is survived by Harry Jr. (the late Faye) Neville, Roland Gagnon, Lorne (the late Theresa) Neville, Lianne (Bruce) Clark, Maureen (Billy) Belland, Kathy (Dave) Neville, and Paul Neville.
The Rite of Reception begins today (Wednesday) at Most Holy Name of Jesus church, Pembroke, with the Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday at 11 a.m., followed by internment in the family plot.