John Pridmore, who sums up his life story in the phrase, “from gangland to promised land”, must be one of the most unique celebrities in the world. Now an international star since he addressed 400,000 young people at World Youth Day in Sydney, he is to share his story once again at an open day on 27 June in Waterford, Ireland.
Pridmore was born in the east end of London. At the age of 10 his parents got divorced and he says at that point he made “an unconscious decision not to love any more.”
At the age of 13 he had started stealing and by 15 had his first spell in prison. “When I left home after having been released, my only qualification was stealing, so that’s what I did.”
“At 19 I was in prison again and because the way I dealt with my pain was with anger, I was always fighting. They put me on 23 hour a day solitary confinement and I came out of there even more angry and bitter.”
He was big and strong so he started working as a “bouncer” around the east end and west end night clubs of London. He liked fighting so he thought he might as well get paid for it. This led him straight into London’s gangland, working with the guys who ran most of the organised crime in the city. Massive drug deals, protection rackets and vicious crime of all sorts were part of his daily – or more likely, nightly, – routine.
“I had what I thought was everything,” he says. “Money, power, girls, drugs, the lot.”
Then one night, everything changed. He got into a fight outside a night club and left someone for dead. The man wasn’t dead but, John says, “after nearly taking that man’s life, something incredible happened and my life began to change.”
He had reached a fork in the road which divides the road to perdition from the road to redemption. He took he latter. “I began working with ‘at risk’ youth showing them there is another path than the violent one I took. Within a few years I was full time speaking in parishes, schools and prisons around the U.K. and Ireland to tens of thousands of people each year. The latest stop on that road is at Waterford where he will speak at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s special celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life.
Sr Mairead Regina and her colleagues in the order decided to invite other religious and the public to an event marking this special year in which the Catholic Church is celebrating this way of life. Very quickly the new Bishop of the local diocese of Waterford and Lismore, Dr. Alphonsus Cullinan, gave his support and will also address the conference.
“We are inviting young men and women from all over Ireland to come to this one-day event to hear presentations on religious life and meet a number of religious and talk to them, Sr Mairead Regina says. “We are looking for vocations of course, if that comes out of it great, but really we are inviting everyone, even young families, to come because not too many young people know about religious life or they think it is gone and done away with which is not the truth at all,”
She is a young Sister of just 35 and says that religious life is still out there and offers “so much joy and happiness”. Her story is a good deal simpler than John’s, less dramatic but just as radical in its consequences.
She was working in a coffee shop when her friend invited her to a life-changing event. She found her vocation when she went on a weekend visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor.The friend subsequently found the religious life was not for her, while Sr Mairead felt at home from the minute she arrived in the convent. She has just spent two years in the novitiate in the USA.
She added, about this Waterford event, “I just want to share the story of happiness that I have found being a Little Sister of the Poor. This event that we are hosting on 27 June is just the beginning of what I hope will be a revival of consecrated life in Ireland.”
The first Little Sisters arrived in Ireland from Brittany and based themselves in Waterford in 1868. Their foundation at Manor Hill was completed in 1874 and their work continued there for over 130 years. They moved to a new home at Ferrybank, a little outside the city, in recent years.
The event is on 27 June 2015 from 10am-5pm at the Little Sisters of the Poor, Abbey Road, Ferrybank, Waterford.