A tribute to Preston Moss
Msgr. Preston Moss’ first impact on my life happened when he and Sister Madene Russell advised my parents that, as a 15-year-old student, I should attend Barry College, then an all-girls Catholic college. Frequently, when I saw Msgr. Moss, he would remind me that, as a freshman at Barry, I carried the cross during a significant outdoor procession. He encouraged me, as he did others, to recall my duty to carry to the world the redeeming message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. A conversation along this line last year was my last engaging encounter with Msgr. Moss.
There are some exceptional people who leave a lasting impression on one from the first encounter. Occasionally, one finds that everyone else agrees that person is extraordinary. Msgr. Preston Moss was that kind of person.
I remember hearing adults speak, with pride and excitement, about then Fr. Moss, and other Bahamians who had been ordained to the holy orders. It was a time when it was important to reinforce that Bahamians could lead The Bahamas, in every arena. He let his light shine among people so that we could “see” how to live a godly life, including how to carry our crosses.
Everyone I’ve spoken with describes how he made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. When speaking, you had his complete attention, received encouragement and felt that he cared about you.
Msgr. Moss was an extraordinary teacher. I remember driving, as a teenager, on weekdays, from our home in Adelaide to St. Anselm’s 6:30 a.m. mass, to listen to his lessons from the Bible, as he made the Word relevant to everyday life. When the Catholic Church integrated popular music into the liturgy, Msgr. Moss was there – Sister Annie used to sing and beautifully play the guitar with others at St. Joseph’s. Young people filled the pews on Sunday.
In encounters with Msgr. Moss, whether from the pulpit, at home, in hospital, at a graveside, with family, or a chance encounter, he exuded the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’ve been present when priests have been judgmental and condemnatory about someone who they saw as “an awful sinner”. Msgr. Moss would say something loving, kind and gracious about the person – a child of God. It wasn’t that he turned a blind eye to misdeeds, his point was that we’re all sinners, and, but for the grace of God, we might be worse than the person about whom judgment was being expressed. It was his mission to show mercy and forgiveness and to encourage the person to redemption, through God’s saving grace.
As a selfless nation builder, Msgr. Moss left no stone unturned. With Archbishop Burke, he expanded Catholic churches across The Bahamas, making these sacred spaces authentically Bahamian. Catholic schools continue to play an important role in quality, values-based education –which is key to developing citizenship. He unceasingly demonstrated the power of God’s saving grace – every human being, made in God’s image, is worthy of love and respect.
By his actions, not just his words, he made clear the importance of ministry to orphans, widows, prisoners and immigrants fleeing economic and political persecution or simply looking for a better way of life. Every one of us (through ancestors) were captives in a strange land. As well as recalling how our forebears suffered, physically and mentally, we must show mercy to those now in the same position. Soup kitchens, prison ministry, youth ministries, and other much-needed outreach ministries, were established wherever he served.
He was a scholar, who many people felt should have been the first Bahamian Catholic bishop. A paragon of humility, he never sought praise. When praised, he gave God the glory and pointed to other people, to whom he gave the credit.
There was never any question in my mind that Msgr. Moss saw every person as a child of God and worthy of respect. I also felt that he accepted a personal responsibility to encourage Bahamians, and others, to develop fully our God-given gifts and potential. He saw it as his duty/responsibility to “open up” the Bible as holding lessons for us to follow, for complete human fulfillment. He wanted The Bahamas to be the best little country in the world, not because we were rich in terms of material things, rather, because we were rich in what ultimately matters – relationships with God, each other and the environment.
He was like yeast, essential for flour to become bread.
The Bahamas and the world have lost a courageous, noble and saintly man and role model. May he rest in peace.
– Allyson Maynard-Gibson