When Fr Adonis Rancho announced at a Sunday morning Mass on March 26 in Whanganui that Fr Des Levins had died, there were exclamations of disbelief.
Fittingly a minute of silence was held as a sign of respect and Mass was offered for this well known and much loved pastoral priest.
He had died peacefully at Nazareth Rest Home the afternoon prior.
As the many stories were shared at his vigil rosary, expressions like “gentle giant”, “affectionate”, “caring”, “sometimes challenging”, “compassionate”, “respecting everyone equally”, “Vincentian”, “Irish wit”, “zealot for souls”, “encourager of the Catholic faith”, “likeable” and “good sport” were common.
At the launch of a fundraiser cooking book in 2009, Fr Levins exchanged his Roman collar to wear a frilly apron and chef’s hat to demonstrate how to make an Irish trifle, the proper way.
He explained in that distinctive Irish brogue to the large crowd of spectators that the Kiwi custard trifle shouldn’t be confused with the genuine Irish trifle.
When he told a parish housekeeper (whose name was not disclosed!) that he didn’t want a custard trifle anymore, she told him to do it himself! Since then, he was in charge of trifle making — the Irish way.
His dessert afforded him a grand round of applause to which he responded with a deep bow!
Born in Dublin he was the youngest child of his family. He grew up always wanting to be a priest.
After ordination at All Hallows College in 1966, he made his way to New Zealand serving in Wellington, Palmerston North, Hastings, Pahiatua and Whanganui where he spent the last 25 years.
His eldest niece and god-daughter Rosemary O’Gribbin had travelled out from Ireland for his funeral and spoke about the affection New Zealand had shown to him.
“Uncle Des on his return journeys home to Ireland, always spoke how the people in all the parishes he served opened up their homes and showed great love reminding him of the scriptural verse about the stranger being welcomed. Thank you all from the bottom of the family’s heart for the warmth you have shown him,” Mrs O’Gribbin said.
“Wouldn’t change a thing,” Fr Levins said on his golden jubilee of ordination as a priest in June last year. “I have no regrets. I would make the same decisions all over again.”
The requiem Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Bishop Peter Cullinane with Emeritus Bishop Owen Dolan and 20 priests on April 1 in a packed St Mary’s church in Whanganui. Fr Levins was buried at Mangaroa Cemetery in Hastings the following Monday afternoon.