Fr. Raby’s world never got tired or old

By  Fr. Raymond J. De Souza, Catholic Register Special
  • February 23, 2007

fr_rabyLike many Register readers, I read the news of Msgr. Tom Raby’s retirement from The Little World column with sadness. Unlike most Register readers though, for me Msgr. Raby is not only a byline and a photo; he is a brother priest in the archdiocese of Kingston, an occasional advisor and confessor, and a model of priestly evangelization in the newspaper world.

While I will miss Msgr. Raby in The Register, I now enjoy the blessing of seeing him more often in Kingston after his move from Napanee due to ill health.

When I first started writing my column in the National Post I used to describe myself to Catholic audiences as the other Kingston priest who wrote a newspaper column — it brought smiles to the faces of all who had been following The Little World of Father Raby for generations, and it was indication of my respect for the dean of the priest-columnists.

Forty years is a long time to do anything; 40 years of weekly columns is utterly remarkable. In a world when news and sports columnists become tired and repetitive after only a few years, that Fr. Raby found so much to write about in his little world is a testament to both his keen journalist’s eye and his priestly soul. It was the latter that broadened the horizons of the former.

The secret to The Little World was that Fr. Raby’s Christian faith taught him that the world is not so little. At the heart of Christian revelation is that even the smallest towns are big enough to hold their Creator. World capitals are judged by population and power, places like London and Rome and New York. But the finger of providence traces the ways of salvation in places determined by other criteria, places like Bethlehem and Assisi and Lourdes. Places not altogether different from Gananoque and Kingston Mills and Portsmouth Village and Napanee, places where Fr. Raby had the wit and wisdom to see that the finger of providence was writing still.

Fr. Raby’s thousands of columns constituted an extended meditation on a central text of the Second Vatican Council: “with the Incarnation the Son of God united Himself in a sense to each human person” (Gaudium et spes, 22). And the great good news of the Gospel is that every human person is, therefore, newsworthy. It is truly an extraordinary truth, but most ordinary newsmen miss it. Fr. Raby’s gift was to bring the newsworthiness of the Gospel to the regular news.

Vatican II and its assorted changes and challenges landed in the middle of Fr. Raby’s long priesthood, and his columns were a weekly reminder that the central drama of the church is not the confusions and conflicts, but the co-operation of ordinary Catholics with the occasions of grace that daily surround them. His quiet piety, devotion to prayer, priestly zeal in celebrating the sacraments and his delight in his parishioners — all of this kept the central elements of the faith in focus in his column, even if the headlines were otherwise.

For those of us priests who follow in Fr. Raby’s footsteps in one way or another, we can only imitate his ability to see through to the reality of ordinary things. Too often journalists pride themselves on simply seeing through things, which, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, is of limited utility if you can only see through, and never actually see what is there. The priest should see, with the eyes of faith, what is most real. Fr. Raby saw that, and helped the rest of us see it too.

His readers will remember Fr. Raby’s columns. And he, for his part, a priest of more than 60 years, will no doubt continue to remember us in his prayers and at the altar.



Thank you very much, Fr. Raby

Editor’s note: Msgr. Tom Raby retired his long-running Catholic Register column “The Little World of Fr. Raby” in February because of his declining health. Below are a sampling of the responses we’ve received from readers who send their best wishes to Msgr. Raby.

Friendship deep

My friendship with Fr. Tom Raby began as a result of reading a column about a mutual friend, Frank Gregotski. Father had written about Frank because Frank was a train conductor who witnessed to his faith by handing out finger rosaries in 1980, and this planted a seed of devotion for me which later resulted in my writing a booklet of rosary meditations called A Circle of Love.

After Frank died in 1983, Fr. Raby wrote a column about Frank and me and how he had influenced my devotion to the Blessed Mother. This column attracted the attention of a retired priest from Notre Dame du Cap, Que., who contacted me through Fr. Raby. For the next seven years, this priest, Fr. Andre Steinmann, gave me great encouragement in my faith journey, and invited me to spend several retreats at the national shrine to Our Lady, where he was in residence.

When it was time for our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband, Jack Earle, suggested we have a quiet celebration and so we visited Fr. Raby, who renewed our vows at a Mass at the Church of the Good Thief in Kingston.

When Jack Earle died suddenly, I called Fr. Raby early the next morning, asking for his prayers. A few days later I was touched by his drive through the January cold to concelebrate my late husband’s funeral.

Life is full of changes, and to have the friendship and encouragement of a dedicated priest sustains us through the ups and downs of life. His “Little World” weekly columns have stimulated and brought pleasure to thousands of faith-filled people who are struggling to follow God’s plan for their lives. His sense of humour and his devotion to truth have been a gift of hope to his readers.

In his stories of ordinary lives, we can see the signs of God’s direction and be consoled by the example of others who are trying to do their best to follow God’s will.

Thank you, Msgr. Raby, for helping me to become a better Catholic and for encouraging my creative pursuits. I feel privileged to have been a part of your “little world.” You created a “circle of God’s love” in the friends who have inspired one another and your legacy will never be forgotten.

Joan Levy Earle
Trenton, Ont.


He’s our favourite

Fr. Raby was one of our favourite storytellers of everyday events. We will miss him.

Take your vacation, Father, as you well deserve it and we will wait patiently for your new replacement (as if).

Judy and Ambrose Holmes
Arnprior, Ont.


My first choice

I have been reading Father Raby’s column since the mid ’60s when I was a teenager. His was always the first column that I turned to in The Catholic Register. I just want to think him for many years of enjoyable and thought- provoking columns.

He is in my prayers.

Teri Evangelista
Uxbridge, Ont.


Praying for him

Please relay my very best wishes to Msgr. Raby. I am praying for him. We will all miss his weekly column.

Margaret Rataj
Scarborough, Ont.


Learned much

My wife and I, long-time readers of The Register, noted with a degree of sadness your report that Msgr. Raby will no longer be continuing his column in your publication. While we did not know him personally, reading his columns made us feel that we did.

We were fortunate to know two of his companions, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Robert Clune and Fr. Norb Gignac, both of whom have had their own health difficulties. We knew Bishop Clune and his family from their early days in St. Vincent’s parish in Toronto. We last saw Fr. Gignac at the 50th anniversary Mass for Fr. Bill Scanlon at St. Mary’s in Richmond Hill, Ont., and sat with Fr. Norb just over a year ago at the annual dinner of the Catholic Civil Rights League, of which our son Phil is currently president.

We extend our prayers and best wishes to Msgr. Tom in his retirement years, and our thanks for the many lessons gleaned from his columns through years gone by.

Frank and Jeanne Horgan
Don Mills, Ont.


Urges reprints

I am a recipient of The Catholic Register and have always enjoyed “The Little World of Fr. Raby.” I was saddened to read of Fr. Raby’s health woes and, rest assured, I will be praying for him and wishing him God’s choicest blessings.

While Fr. Raby’s column will no longer appear, why not publish a reprint of any one of his previous columns, as you have done in the Feb. 18 Register. The column will always make interesting reading unless it is about a specific topic at a specific time — just a thought.

Doug Peters
Scarborough, Ont.


Recalling memories

We are sorry to hear that we will no longer be able to enjoy Fr. Raby’s column in The Register. We looked forward to it every week. We send him our very best wishes, and wonder if he remembers Dr. and Mrs. Bingham.

I am married to Richard Bingham, who was the middle son. We attended Mass with Catriona when we visited them at their home on Highway 15, and Fr. Raby was at the parish church at Code’s Corner. I don’t suppose we were ever on time, and I remember that we were usually marched up to the very front of the church.

We often remember those days in Kingston, and at Howe Island.

We will keep Fr. Raby in our prayers.

Pat and Richard Bingham
Toronto, Ont.


Read Fr. Raby first

Msgr. Raby’s column will be greatly missed by his readers, not least by myself. Every week, when The Catholic Register arrived at our home, his column was the first one I opened. I will sorely miss his words of wisdom.

Roberta Montpetit
Elliot Lake, Ont.



For many, many years I have been reading and enjoying Fr. Raby’s articles in The Catholic Register. His column is inspirational and always has a good message for me to ponder. Whenever I get my Register I turn to his article first because it lifts my spirits and also provides a chuckle as he relates the various events in his life. I often discuss the articles with family members and also with the local clergy. Needless to say, I am going to miss Fr. Raby’s column.

I would like to thank him for providing me and many others with such wonderful reading material.

Ryan Ethier
Westmeath, Ont.


God bless him

It was with great sadness that I read today in The Register about the discontinuation of Fr. Raby’s column. I have enjoyed his writing for several years with my subscription to The Register and looked forward to “Little World” each week.

After reading the column several years ago I was drawn to visit the Church of the Good Thief in Kingston when visiting the city. I enjoyed his sermons as much as the columns and was overjoyed to be in attendance during his final Mass in the church. What love overflowed the church that day for him.

Fr. Raby has earned his retirement and I hope that his health will improve enough that he is able to enjoy a long and satisfying time in Kingston. God bless him.

Donna Shaddick
Chalk River, Ont.


Read without fail

I am very sad that Fr. Raby suffered a stroke and will not be able to write his column any longer. It was the one article I read each week without fail. I enjoyed his down-to-earth approach to life and will miss him.

Please convey my very best wishes to him.

Sybil Fretz
Pickering, Ont.


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