Canon Jack died peacefully on Friday 16th December 2016.
Father Jack was born on 26 September 1939 in Ballaghadareen, County Roscommon. His father had been a member of an Garda Siochana and was one of the last people to have seen Michael Collins alive before Collins was shot in August 1922. Jack was educated at St Nathy’s College in his home town, where he distinguished himself in Latin and Greek. He also became a fine sportsman and in one year, with others, helped St Nathy’s to win the All Ireland Colleges’ Football Final. He played football for County Mayo and would have become a regular member of the team if he had not progressed to All Hallows College in Dublin to train for the priesthood.
At that time this seminary was the major institution in Ireland for training priests for places seen as ‘missionary territories’, which of course included England. In his final year he was senior student; this time at the seminary was marked by the exciting years leading up to the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Jack was ordained in June 1963 in Dublin ’for England’ and more specifically for the diocese of Southwark. The heart of the diocese in south London in those days was strongly Irish and the diocese for many years had a vocations director for Ireland whose job it was to recruit men to work here. Jack’s first posting as a priest was to Holy Cross, Catford, where the wonderfully named Fr Ned Fagan was Parish Priest. Many still remember him from that time and many of his experiences there were formative for him.
His love of sport continued and he became a keen supporter of the greyhound races in Catford. After some years he was appointed to run the Kent Travelling Mission. This job involved travelling round villages in Kent which lacked a Catholic Church to say Mass on Sundays and Holy Days for the small number of Catholics in a particular area in village halls or more often, from the back of a specially constructed trailer containing an altar. The model for this ministry had been the work of the Catholic Missionary Society pioneered by the future Cardinal Heenan in the late 1940s and Jack always looked back on this period as the happiest of his priestly ministry. As missioner he could concentrate on meeting people and ministering the sacraments to them, free of anxieties about church buildings, paperwork or raising money. He was generally saddened some years after he ceased to be a missioner when the mission was discontinued, partly because advances in ecumenism enabled Catholics to use Anglican parish churches for Mass.
He was then appointed Parish Priest of St Joseph’s Shooters Hill. He was happy here as well and for the first time took on major responsibilities in education as Chairman of Governors of Notre Dame School. This was not an ‘easy ride’, and in the 70s and 80s parish priests were always in charge of the governing bodies of schools and had far greater responsibilities than they do now. Father Jack fulfilled these very conscientiously, working closely with diocesan authorities and ILEA.
In 1989 he came to Beckenham where he remained until his retirement last year. It is not easy to summarise briefly his ministry here: he had to manage many significant changes, such as the closure of the old Convent, significant changes in both the Catholic schools in the parish (to both of which he was devoted), maintaining the rich and complex fabric of parish life, initiating the ministry of permanent deacons and working with a variety of priests as colleagues. For much of his time here he was also Dean of Bromley and in due course became a Chapter Canon of our cathedral. He combined all this with being one of the finest clergy golfers in the country (he led the diocesan team to win the national trophy in the late 1990s) and a shrewd racing man (do you know why the priests here have their personal phone extensions? It is because when he was out his curates couldn’t answer requests for tips which came through on the parish line).
We all have our precious memories of Father Jack. Many have commented on his gentleness, his commitment to ecumenism, his deep sense of pastoral care, his reluctance to believe ill of anyone, his kindness and generosity. For me as a fellow priest he was also unfailingly loyal – although he liked his curates to fight their own battles if possible – and when I came here with my family in 1996 he became a true and supportive friend from the very beginning. He combined all his pastoral gifts with a resilient sense of humour – he rather liked being known as ‘Father Jack’ when the TV series Father Ted became popular.
Father Jack was a fine priest whom we were privileged to know – may he rest in peace and rise in glory.
CANON JACK’S FUNERAL
Canon Jack’s body is being received into the church on Monday 2nd January at 4.00p.m at which time there will be a short service. We know that it will be difficult for some to attend the funeral on Tuesday so there will be a Vigil Mass at 7.00p.m. on the 2nd, which is open to all. We hope this might make it less crowded and more comfortable for the funeral itself.
Before the funeral there will be sidesmen helping to seat people; please follow their guidance. It is for the safety and comfort of all. We will need to reserve places for the family, visiting clergy and invited guests. Please be understanding of this. Will the more able-bodied please see that older parishioners do not have to stand during the Mass.
Canon Jack’s family have asked that instead of flowers donations be given to the Jesuit Refugee Service UK Hurtado House 2 Chandler Street London E1W 2QT