Daily Express Saturday July 12 1958

The Monk in the Red Beret

by Donald Seaman

GOING to church tomorrow? From the blazing heat of the great paratroop base in Cyprus, piled high with all the accoutrement of war, I bring you the story of parachutist-extraordinary Peter Desmond Moloney.

I think it may help you, whatever your denomination, when you and the family face once more that awkward Sunday question which nags secretly at so many of us.

Second Lieutenant Peter Moloney is unique among the many varied types who wear the Red Beret.

He was formerly a Trappist monk, and went direct from the monastery to National Service in the Army.

Think of that for a moment. Two years in silent Order, two years of devout service to God, two years of rising at 2 a.m. for prayer, and then, still shaven bald, straight to the tender mercies of a parade ground sergeant major.



I FOUND Peter Moloney in the grinding heat of a Cyprus summer evening lying ill in his tent with suspected dysentery.

As I walked in he was reading a book, "Saint Bernard and his Monks," by Theodore Maynard.

"You see," said this’ remarkable young man. "I am still a monk at heart."

His once shaven head was now covered with hair of crew-cut length. On his broad chest the identity discs of the soldier replaced the crucifix he used to wear.

It was hard to imagine anyone less like the traditional monk. His was the appearance of a tough parachutist, but his words were the words of the dedicated priest.

"I thought and I still think," he said, "that the finest thing any man can do is devote his life to the love, the knowledge and service of God."


THEN he told me how he came to join the paratroops. In 1953 he was a student at Liverpool University, a brilliant linguist and the university’s champion debater.

He volunteered to spend his holidays helping to build Santa Maria, the Trappist abbey at Nunraw, south of Edinburgh.

He knew at once that this was his calling, went to the guest master and told him: "I believe I have a vocation to enter the service of God."

"After one month as a postulant I took the habit and became a novice," he said. "I had been a novitiate for 20 months and was entirely happy when I was called one day to the Lord Abbott.

"The Lord Abbott said gently to me that he thought my vocation lay elsewhere, outside the service of God. I had to leave the abbey! I was heartbroken at the thought.

"’’My Lord Abbott,’ I asked, ‘what can I do out there? How can I now face the outside world?’

"He said to me simply: ‘Go in peace, my son, and remember Vaughan’s crossing."’

There in the tent, ill as he was, Moloney’s face lit up at the memory. "I didn’t know what he meant," he confessed with a broad grin, "and I had to look up the reference after I left the monastery. Now I commend it to all. Remember Vaughan’s crossing!’

With a gun

I ASKED: "How can you reconcile your religious teaching with your duties as a parachutist? Suppose you were told to take a gun in your hand and use it on your fellow-men?"

"That’s it," he said. "Vaughan’s crossing! It is, in fact, a reference to the celebrated Jesuit, Father Vaughan, who, when he first became a Jesuit, was asked by his friends how he felt about it".

His reply was: ‘It doesn’t matter what I do, if it’s the will of God. I would not have minded if I had become a crossing sweeper! But if I had become a crossing sweeper I would have swept my crossing so well that people would have come from miles around to see Vaughan’s crossing.’

"When I entered the Army I thought: ‘If it’s God’s will that I shall be a soldier for two years. I consider it my duty to be as good a soldier as possible, and in the best possible regiment.’ That is why," he pointed to the faded red beret, "I am wearing that."


WHEN next I saw Moloney he was still sick and thought he was alone.

He was kneeling by his "bed", his blankets on the sand.

He was praying, just as he would have done at home in Liverpool. I can tell you one thing: Second Lieutenant Peter Moloney is a very happy man.


Going to church tomorrow?


January 2003 Peter Moloney writes:-

It is good to note that, half a century on from this ‘Monk in the Red Beret’ article’s first appearance in the Sunday Express, the members and supporters of Sefton RUFC remain as savvy, sophisticated and cultured as ever! Since its appearance on the website some informed Seftonians have corrected the Christmas aberration of spelling ‘Sancta’ as ‘Santa’ and informed me that my mistaken attribution of my Lord Abbott’s aphorism to the Jesuit Father Vaughan should have been to the famous Redemptorist convert and Hymnologist Father Henry Vaughan.

They are probably correct.

If not, and anyone knows of Vaughan Franciscans Dominicans, or Carthusians keep it until next season.

Happy New Year.

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