Fr Jeff writes…
I was born in North Shields in October 1965 and grew up in the Wallsend and Howdon areas. I have a sister called Tracy, who is four years younger than me. I was blessed with a happy childhood, and after Sixth Form ‘A’ Levels had my life planned out, or at least that’s what I thought! I was keen to study biology at university and then teach, but God had other ideas and was asking me to consider becoming a priest. At age eighteen to keep my parents happy, I filled out an application form to begin an apprenticeship as a Design Ships Draughtsman at Swan Hunter’s Shipyard in Wallsend. This was not what I had planned! Surprisingly, I got the job! Four years at Swan’s with wonderful colleagues allowed me to grow and develop as a person. Work was like being with my family each day with lots of support and challenges from men many years my senior. Robson Green, the local actor from this part of the world, worked in the same drawing office just opposite my desk. Little did we know that we would follow similar but different paths later in life!
In 1987, I began six years of training and formation at Ushaw College, Durham. My desire to become a priest deepened with study and placements in local parishes within Sunderland. I was ordained a priest on the 26th June 1993 in St Mary’s Cathedral by Bishop Ambrose Griffiths. I returned to serve the people as an Assistant Priest at St Mary’s Church, Sunderland. The next three years saw me involved in various chaplaincy work at Sunderland University, the Oaklea Sisters of Mercy Convent and in the primary and secondary schools. The daily city centre 12.05 pm Mass was often well attended and helped me to grown in confidence as I am naturally a shy person. Other appointments have been in parishes at Peterlee, Newcastle University Chaplaincy, Consett, Gateshead and Stockton. Thirty years have now passed and I now find myself in Northumberland, serving as Parish Priest and as an Episcopal Vicar. I look forward to getting to know the area and understand the unique ministry that rural work brings. Over the months ahead with joy, we will share our time, our gifts and talents as we build the Kingdom of God. I am sure you will see me around with my little dog Jamie who is a miniature poodle. You will find we are most definitely a double act and always ready to say hello!
Northumberland has been a land of many Saints over the centuries, and we constantly seek their friendship and heavenly prayers. May we become Saints together in this beautiful, but needy world we live in. May God continue to bring to fulfilment the good work he has begun in us. You are assured of my daily prayers as we begin a new chapter in the life of our parishes.
Fr. Jim writes ...
I was born in January 1948 (yes, that long ago!) and grew up in the Wallsend & Howdon areas of what is now North Tyneside (then, Northumberland). I went to St Cuthbert’s Grammar School in 1959, then, after ‘A’ Levels in 1965, I entered the senior seminary at Ushaw College. During my six years there, I spent three at Durham University. Those were six years of enormous change at Ushaw, the Church in general, and in all of our society. I was ordained in the old church of St Aidan, Willington Quay, on 30th October 1971.
In January 1972, I was appointed as curate at Houghton-le-Spring in Co Durham. In September 1972, I was sent to teach at St Cuthbert’s Grammar (later High) School, Newcastle, where I remained until the Summer of 1989. By then, I was the last priest-teacher in the diocese. Full-time teaching, with laypeople as colleagues, and later, as ‘boss’, had a huge impact on my relationships with the laity in the Church – I see us as collaborators in one single purpose.
The Summer of 1989 saw me move to be parish priest at St Patrick’s, Consett, then the biggest congregation in the diocese (about 1250 at Mass). I was there for 11 years, leaving in 2000, to go south to Newton Aycliffe. Then unexpectedly, I was moved at short notice to Sacred Heart, North Gosforth, in February 2008, a month after my 60th birthday.
Although the move was a shock, I easily settled in. Many of the parishioners knew me from my teaching days, and I quickly became involved as a school governor of St Oswald’s Primary School, and of the Sacred Heart Girls’ High School. I’ve been very happy these last 12+ years: the parishioners are kind, gifted and involved. We have succeeded in getting young people to serve at Mass, and, from Year 5 up, to join the adult Sunday reading teams.
The main feature of North Gosforth parish has been the growth of new housing: the Newcastle Great Park is now a town-in-itself; other areas north of Newcastle (mostly in the parish) are also being greatly expanded. This has given many new parishioners but also needed a big expenditure of energy. That’s been the problem. Since I turned 70, the parish has gradually become too much for me, with a greatly increased number of baptismal enquiries, and First Communions (32 were meant to be done this summer). Some months ago, Bishop Robert, aware of this, asked me to go to one of the smaller Northumber-land parishes, and “help out” the priest in the larger hub; this turned out to be Bellingham, helping Fr Chris there, as well as in Hexham and Haydon Bridge.
Despite my age (72-and-a-half), I hope can offer something to your scattered communities. I do have health issues with asthma and arthritis - plus deafness! But (thank God) I am still mentally fairly alert, and I’ve kept the sense of humour that got me through awkward times in teaching. On my Tuesday day-off, lay friends and I usually walk in Northumberland & North West Durham – we were in the North Tyne Valley last Autumn, so I’m used to the roads in the area. The photo will show me as a big, bald bloke – so if you see me around, do stop and say hello. Please be assured that, whatever I still have, I’ll do my best to give it to you.
Fr. Luke writes ...
Hello everyone and welcome! I’m Fr. Luke Wilkinson the new assistant priest across our parishes. It’s wonderful to be with you all and I look forward to getting to know you, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself. I’m relatively local, from ‘down south’ in Winlaton and I’m a convert to the faith. For me my journey towards our Blessed Lord didn’t get off to a great start. I was baptised in the Church of England, but this was only in that ordinary, everyone gets baptised sort of way. It held little significance for me, and beyond a Christmas Carol concert here and there, I didn’t darken the doorway of a Church until my teens.
I’m an only child and was a fairly introverted and bookish teenager (less introverted now but still rather bookish); RE was my favourite subject at school and I was blessed with good teachers, but it wasn’t until my mam happened to be in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI was elected that my curiosity for the faith was truly peaked. She brought back stories and photos; books and museum guides. Among them were two things that would end up being greatly significant for me. One of Pope Benedict’s books, and a museum guide containing an image of the Crucifixion of St Peter by Caravaggio. Through these two things the Lord opened for me the doors of faith.
In the book, I honestly can’t even remember which book of his it was as I’ve since picked up so many of them, in it I found the faith dealt with seriously. I found in Pope Benedict a great mind engaging with difficult truths. Here the faith was not presented in an overly simplistic way, it was not the easily dismissed, kids-version bible stories I’d picked up in passing. It was authentic, it came from one who wrote with authority, not only because it was the Pope writing because it was truth written in charity.
The painting showed me something else, St. Peter; the fisherman, the Apostle, the first pope - hanging on an inverted cross, suffering a most brutal martyrdom because he would not deny The Lord. Peter’s story invited me to consider seriously the reality of Jesus’ claim. Here was one who claimed not only to be teacher or even prophet, but God Himself walking among his children. Peter’s martyrdom was a death for love. He would not deny the truth of Jesus’ divinity. It was an act of charity lived for the truth.
In book and image I saw head and heart connected. Truth and Charity exemplified. It was difficult then not to follow up on this awakening. I was 14, and my dad was rather surprised when I asked him to take me to the local Church, St Anne’s Winlaton, but it was there that I entered in a community, the living Church, where head and heart, could be brought together.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel the first inklings of a call towards that altar, I read, I served, I was the parish master of ceremonies, and yet Our Blessed Lord was calling me to an even deeper participation in the life of the Church. I put this call off for a bit, but it was never far from my mind. I read theology at university and then trained to be a teacher down in York. As much as I enjoyed teaching I knew there was something else I was being called to. After I finished training I applied to our Diocese to begin formation as a priest. I studied at St. Alban’s Royal English College out in Valladolid, Spain for a year before completing my studies down in Birmingham at St Mary’s College Oscott. I was ordained on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul in June and celebrated my first mass at my home parish of St. Anne’s.
I’ve been on placements across the diocese but this is my first parish appointment as a priest, and I look forward to living the beginning of my priesthood with you all!
My Favourite Saints: Our Blessed Lady, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.
My Favourite Feast: The Solemnity of Christ of the King.
My Favourite Book: Father Elijah – An Apocalypse by Michael O’Brien.
Vicki joined us as Parish Secretary at St. Mary's in June 2022.
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