Bishop O'Brien, R.I.P.
Some of my recent posts have been to do with death, I know, but I feel I should note that two retired English bishops have died in the last week: on Good Friday, James Joseph McGuinness, Bishop Emeritus of Nottingham, and yesterday, James O'Brien, retired Auxiliary of Westminster. Please pray for the repose of their souls. Bishop O'Brien had special responsibility for Hertfordshire (and, since part of my youth was spent in that county, he confirmed me back in 1990). He was one of the 'memories' of the diocese, always lightening up meetings with his collection of witty anecdotes about his early years as a priest or his time as Rector of Allen Hall seminary. When I last saw him in May 2006, at a gathering of young clergy, I recorded one of his stories on this blog. He also had a great love for walking, gardening and bee-keeping (!) and was a familiar figure at London Colney, where he lived in the grounds of our Pastoral Centre.
Bishop 'Jim' carried the cross of ill health for many years, though this did not stop him from an active life as bishop - in fact, he was gravely ill at the time of Cardinal Hume's last illness (1999) and many were surprised that the Bishop out-lived the Cardinal. More recently he wrote to the clergy and people of Hertfordshire:
I am even more grateful to God for the wonderful life with which he has blest me. Fifty two years in the priesthood, over half of which were spent as a bishop in Hertfordshire, have given me great joy. Despite many human weaknesses, you and the parishioners have shown me consistent kindness and love, and not least during my various illnesses. Illness can have many benefits. It gives one a chance to reflect – to realise one’s dependence on God and the love of others and to recognise that God’s Grace is everywhere… Please continue your prayers now that God’s holy will may be done so that He may be glorified in all things. In the end, that is all that really matters.
His funeral is scheduled to take place at Westminster Cathedral on 20 April, at 12 noon. An on-line book of remembrance has been set up here. Requiescat in pace.