KILLALOE – After 45 years of faithful service, Fr. Grant Neville is retiring.
Fr. Neville’s journey started in his hometown of Pembroke, when he met Fr. Ken Bradley, a priest from Eganville working at Holy Name of Jesus Parish.
Fr. Neville was a teenager when he got to know the parish priest, who loved to play sports. Neville, too, had a love of all things sports and had played minor hockey throughout his life.
“I was coming to church and he threw me a glove and told me to catch,” Fr. Neville remembered.
It was the first time that he got to know a priest on a human level, Fr. Neville said.
“He loved sports, I loved sports. That was the beginning of a good friendship with him,” he said.
One night, Neville was driving Fr. Bradley home from a ball game when the parish priest was called to an accident on the highway.
“A number of people were injured and were dying,” Neville recalled.
Fr. Bradley spent the evening kneeling with people and talking to families about the tragic incident.
“I was very moved by that,” Fr. Neville said. “That got me thinking that maybe, this is what God is calling me to do in my own life.”
After much deliberation and many prayers, Fr. Neville decided to enter seminary when he was 18 years old. Eight years later, he was ordained at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Pembroke. He was the only child out of five sisters and four brothers destined for religious life.
All the while, the new priest maintained his connection with hockey. When he was ordained in 1969, he was recruited to the Flying Fathers Hockey Team, which was founded by ex-NHL player Les Costello and his colleague Brian McKee.
The priests would tour the region, playing games at local arenas.
In 1972, Fr. McKee turned the organization over to Fr. Neville, who began recruiting new priests to the organization.
“We started renewing younger priests who we grew up with and loved hockey,” he said. “We were trying to expand the Flying Fathers to other areas.”
Around that same time, Les Costello, who left the NHL to become a priest, had been hunting in Timmins and got lost for more than 24 hours. Fr. Costello was found, but frostbite forced the amputation of two of his toes.
Fr. Neville fondly remembers Fr. Costello referring to the remaining three as the, “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The whole incident attracted international media attention, including Prime Time Sports in New York City. The agency took a particular interest in the Flying Fathers group that Fr. Costello helped form.
Fr. Neville was in Deep River at the time when he got a call from Prime Time Sports, who asked to come up to the area to film a couple of games.
After the episodes aired, the Flying Fathers became famous, with stories of the team appearing in Sports Illustrated and featured on Hockey Night in Canada.
Get your June 18, 2014 edition of The Valley Gazette to read more of this story.