Preston Moss restored our souls and defended our dignity
Catholicism has deep roots in The Bahamas, and nowhere more so than in the Family Islands. The church was real, it was visible and it was relevant in the lives of out islanders.
As transgenerational Catholics, many of us were raised to respect the clergy, the nuns, deacons and lay people who dedicated their lives to spreading and, more importantly, living the gospel.
There was a buzz in the 1960s when parents and grandparents were delighted that some of “our boys” had been called to the priesthood. Bonaventure Dean, Charlie Coakley, Prosper Burrows and Preston Moss were among the freshman class of new priests for whom thousands of prayers were offered up.
Many people knew of Preston Moss long before they met him. He was a true folk hero. A gentle man with a quick smile and much charisma. From the late ‘60s on, you could not help but hear good things about Father Moss.
While others left the religious order for personal reasons, which eventually came to be respected, Father Moss persevered in his simple mission to serve others. He greeted everyone with the same salutation: Beloved. In church he would use the more glorious adjective to honor the space he was in; then everyone become “Dearly Beloved”.
This was long before Toni Morrison’s book by the same name, but was just as touching. His greeting conveyed love. It showed respect, regardless of age, status or even denomination. It was de facto recognition and validation.
Years later, after he was elevated within the church to the rank of monsignor, he was asked how he would prefer to be addressed.
“I am just a priest,” he said. Many respectfully thought of him and even greeted him as Monsignor, but felt him in their heart as simply Father Moss. He never changed.
This humble priest had a unique ability to make an entire church full of worshippers feel he was talking only to them. He connected. He spoke in simple, easy to follow narratives, whipping out his characteristic smile to punctuate his homilies. He welcomed the muck-a-mucks to his church as a group but the humble servants of the parish he called out by name.
Yet his Sunday sermons from the pulpit were only the tip of the iceberg. Below the water line was a man who worked himself to a frazzle meeting and exceeding everyone’s spiritual, emotional and even psychological expectations.
Christenings, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, hailing shut-ins, administering to immigrants, going to schools and prisons, the Hardecker Clinic, even death row — he was everywhere, up and down the archipelago, and was always in high demand.
His life’s work was to touch our souls, but along the way he awakened our imaginations and made us feel good about ourselves. It was inconceivable to him that the Bahamian spirit could ever again be caged.
Of all people he would not want a fuss made of his death just as he shunned the limelight and the trappings of life.
As he faced his own mortality, those who knew him best believe that he must have summoned the strength to say to his carers in the U.S.: “Thank you. Bless you. You’ll worry about me too much. Please take me back home to The Bahamas.”
Even a chance encounter with Fr. Moss in the street ended with him saying: “I am proud of you, you know. Peace be with you.”
How ironic, therefore, that of this gentle giant of a man the whole Bahamas could not be prouder. Peace be with him.
— The Graduate