Tributes paid to 101-year-old priest Mgr Augustine Hoey

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Tributes paid to 101-year-old priest Mgr Augustine Hoey

Monsignor Augustine Hoey, a priest of the Diocese of Westminster, who lived in Walsingham for some years to pray for and support the work of the Shrine and for unity among Christians, has died at the age of 101. He was a well known and loved figure in Walsingham. Fr Denys Lloyd pays a personal tribute.

The words of the Short Chapter at None, as Fr Augustine spoke them in the Community Church at Mirfield in probably 1962 or 1963, have been with me ever since: "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ."

I was then a student at the College of the Resurrection and those words have been a compass to my ministry ever since. I am sure it was then and always has been the depth of his prayer and closeness to God that again and again lent to Fr Augustine's words a penetrating power and authority.

When I was a member of staff at the College of the Resurrection ' from 1969 until I was received into the Catholic Church in 1990 ' I spent substantial parts of many college vacations at the "House of Prayer' Fr Augustine established – first in a flat in Hulme, Manchester and then in a redundant vicarage in Sunderland.

Fr Augustine's remarkable, and in a sense quite ruthless, dedication to God showed itself in his attention to fine detail, not only in the creation of the carefully typed and indexed office books we used, but also in the very simple, but uniformly elegant dcor of both the flat in Hulme and also the house – "Emmaus' ' in Sunderland. But that was achieved in Hulme by his first spending many days on his knees, scraping off from the sitting room floor a recalcitrant layer of chicken droppings ' the previous owner having used the room as a run for his poultry'

Fr Augustine's manner of celebrating the Eucharist, spoke eloquently of his wonder and awe before the majesty of God. Occasionally in the 1960s he was invited to be the celebrant at the College Eucharist – every move, every gesture was done with a striking grace. Even in his old age, his back remained ram-rod straight when he genuflected. It was not for nothing that his mother had been on the stage.

And years later, when, as a Catholic, he was living the "life of prayer' in Walsingham and he was approaching his 100th birthday, he still concelebrated daily at the Church of the Annunciation in the village. When it was his turn to read the Gospel, it was evident that, without a shadow of doubt, for him this truly was "the Word of God' ' even though it did not go unnoticed by the congregation that, when he read, it added several minutes to the length of the celebration.

When I needed to find a new confessor, once Alan Williams became Bishop of Brentwood, Fr Augustine agreed to take me on. By then he was in his later 90s but no less searching than he had been when he used to hear my confession as an Anglican. "But are you really grateful to God?" he frequently asked. We often talked for quite some time and he was a mine of information about what was going on in the church and in the Diocese ' partly because of the constant flow of visitors and penitents from all parts of the country.

He also used from time to time to come to lunch in Sheringham, brought by a mutual friend – he was always glad to have a second "G&T' while I completed things in the kitchen; he then enjoyed a glass or two of wine with the meal and after all that still managed to glide with great elegance down the staircase to the front door, as he would have done 60 years before.

I owe Fr Augustine quite a lot of credit for such skills as I have as a cook. At Emmaus, the Sunderland House of Prayer, I was cook during some Sabbatical leave I had when I was College Vice-Principal. When I mentioned I was somewhat uneasy at the length of time I was spending in the kitchen, Fr Augustine totally dismissed my qualms of conscience: hospitality, he said, was of great importance ' taking trouble with a meal is doing something for God. And, as part of his "things should be done well', he told me only peeling off only one layer of onion skin was a false economy, because it would spoil the finished product!

One of my last memories of Fr Augustine, like my first, is of how his words resonated with an extraordinary, penetrating power. What he said at the end of the Mass for his 100th birthday in the Reconciliation Chapel at Walsingham was his "last word' on his passion for the restoration of Christian unity.

Before the blessing, he moved forward from his place as a concelebrant, and with a voice that for the moment seemed as strong as it had been when he preached parish missions in the 50s and 60s, he expressed his horror at the "scandal' that shamed the place he loved so much ' the scandal of separation and disunity at Walsingham: Mary still being honoured at two separate Shrines. This scandal must cease! – we must pray'