Scottish Daily Mail
The world’s oldest altar ‘ boy’ retires... as he reaches 100
Church praises his loyal service over last 91 years
HIS faith burns as brightly as it ever did – but his knees are, alas, no longer quite as supportive of his devotion to God’s service as they once were.
Having just celebrated his 100th birthday, Peter Reilly admits age has ‘slowed’ him, forcing him to give up – at least temporarily – a duty he performed practically every day for an astonishing 91 years.
Since the age of nine, the Ayrshire centenarian from the seaside town of Saltcoats has served as an altar ‘boy’ in his church, arguably making him the world’s oldest living person to have the role.
Since 1924, Mr Reilly, who has dedicated his life to family, community and faith, has assisted generations of priests at St Mary’s, Our Lady Star of the Sea.
Apart from holidays and illness, the philanthropist, who has been honoured by two Popes, has served at Mass every day since.
However, just before his landmark birthday, marked by congratulations
‘One of my secrets for a long life’
from the Queen and Pope Francis, he began having problems with ‘balance’.
He said: ‘I was frightened I’d fall on the steps. But I haven’t given up. I hope to resume if I can get these “bally” knees going again.’
His soutane – ceremonial church robe – is being kept ready for him, said parish priest Graeme Bell.
Father Bell added: ‘In an age when it is so lacking in society, Peter is a great example of service to St Mary’s and the community.
‘We calculate that since 1924, he has assisted 30 priests, a remarkable achievement.’
It is all the more remarkable because the longest-serving altar boy known to Guinness World Records was a Lincolnshire pensioner who died at the age of 94 after 86 years’ service.
Mr Reilly is, however, not interested in records or breaking them – serving at Mass has been a labour of love.
He said: ‘It was a Father Rooney who came my mother’s door and asked if I’d be an altar boy.’
Mr Reilly, whose family ran a local butter and egg importing business, added: ‘He gave me a shilling, which I still have.
‘I have been doing it ever since. I don’t think I’ve missed Mass a day in my life. It must be one of my secrets for a long life.’
His devotion and ‘ quiet good works’ for the needy of the area, were applauded by Pope Benedict XVI who presented him with the signal honour of the Benemerenti Medal.
On the occasion of his centenary, Pope Francis sent him a personal blessing and t he Queen’s birthday card was deliv- ered by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Angela Dunbar.
Mr Reill y’ s nephew, Joe Timmons, said: ‘Sadly, so many of the Queen’s cards are given to old folk in care homes, where they’re surrounded by a few people.
‘Uncle Peter was accompanied by 200 family and friends. He is well respected, highly regarded and much loved. He didn’t marry and helped his sister, my mother Mary, to raise eight children.
‘He looked after us when we were young; now he is old, we are looking after him.’ Mr Reilly is well known around town, where his day begins with Mass, followed by coffee in Saltcoats, lunch, a siesta, and then dinner in one of the family’s homes.
‘It’s ordered,’ he said. ‘I like to go to the shops and, on Monday mornings, I am i nvolved in French language lessons.’
A regular visitor to the Marian shrine at Lourdes, Mr Reilly said: ‘One is never too old to learn. Having been to Rome seven times, I also dabble in Italian.’
Given his life-long devotion to his faith, it is a wonder he did not go into the priesthood instead of the family business.
‘I thought about it,’ he said. ‘But I don’t think I’d have been up to it. I’m happy with the way life went, although you never ever imagine reaching 100.’ And the secret of long life? ‘A healthy diet, saying your prayers and moderation in everything,’ he said. ‘Regrets? I would like to have seen more of Europe, particularly Spain. I don’t know if I’ll get there now, but you never know.’