Sunday, 5 August 2007

A Humble Priest - Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted about the late Fr Sir Hugh Barrett-Lennard, 6th Bt, of the London Oratory. Well, the Daily Telegraph published a memorable obituary of him yesterday. I've taken the liberty of including some 'highlights' here, but it's really worth reading in full. I think St Philip Neri would definitely approve!

Pursuing a busy and eclectic apostolate in Knightsbridge, he was a dedicated parish visitor, so unconcerned about his appearance that he sometimes wore odd shoes; thus attired he would knock firmly on the doors of rich and poor alike. He visited the Household Cavalry, and served as a chaplain to both the local St Thomas More school and the St Christopher cycling club, though his cassock occasionally became tangled in a bicycle wheel and had to be cut free.

For a time (until his absentmindedness with keys led to concerns about security) he acted as an unofficial chaplain at Wormwood Scrubs prison, where his masses were said to be served by two prisoners known as Hammer and Sickle. He enjoyed recalling how he had once been served at Benediction by a thurifer who was a murderer and by two acolytes who had been convicted of causing grievous bodily harm.

In addition Barrett-Lennard gave devoted service as prefect of the lay organisation, the Brothers of the Little Oratory. He accompanied its youth club to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, where he was known as the "Pope of Eigg" and was in the habit of organising hunts for an imaginary haggis, which he encouraged with high-pitched shrieks like a peacock.

Noted for his piety, he was also admired for his unshockability and flexibility. He was once summoned to a room at the Oratory to find a woman who had removed all her clothes; Barrett-Lennard swathed her in a carpet. On another occasion, during the 1950s, a woman asked for confession outside church and he held up a tennis racket to serve as a grille, so that the separation of confessor and penitent was maintained.

As a retreat-giver at the Oratory prep school in Oxfordshire Barrett-Lennard made his mark by getting all the boys up for a midnight walk through the woods. He once arrived at the senior school soaking wet - he had fallen into a fishpond on leaving a Carmelite convent in Essex.

He had the title of extraordinary confessor, and his usual practice was to dump his bag on arrival at the school and immediately set off on a tour of the houses, where he received an enthusiastic welcome; and although he mostly heard confessions in his room he was prepared to do so behind a hedge. He remembered every boy, and if he ran into an Old Oratorian on the day of the St Philip's Day Mass at the London Oratory, he would remind him to attend.

Among Father Hugh's annual rituals was a Christmas party, known as "The Happening", which would include poetry readings, sketches by Girl Guides, a demonstration of hand-walking by a fellow Oratorian priest and some vigorous hymn singing. Every December 27 he led a party to Herstmonceux church, Sussex, where he celebrated Mass at the Dacre chapel and visited his parents' graves before retreating to the local pub.



Blogger Joyful Catholic said...

What a delightful post and remembrance of the holy man of God. Bless you, Father. I have been overwhelmed with a surge of love for priests and seminarians and the toll on your lives. I recently went to dinner with a priest who's a dear friend in another state and he had to 'vent' a bit over dinner and a couple of beers. I was astounded at what he's had to deal with being a priest in a smaller town, with the gamut of emotions and complaints and the life and death issues he faced in just one afternoon. More than I'll ever face in a year!

I will pray for you. Thank you for answering the call of God,and your love for the Church and our Lord. I've been praying to Fr. Kevin Fete who passed on to glory in heaven last July 23 2006. He's a mighty prayer partner, so remember him and ask his intercession.


11:56 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thanks for your prayers. Priests certainly need them. But I always have great admiration for married couples and parents - their vocation is just as challenging, if not more so.

1:44 pm  

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