Saturday, August 22, 2009

RIP Father Edward Houghton

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get an amazing priest in your parish. For me, it was Father Edward Houghton who died yesterday at the tragically young age of 40. He was killed in an road traffic accident in North Yorkshire.

Father Edward, who was born in Preston, was the assistant priest at Our Lady of Grace and St Edward in Chiswick. He'd only been with us for about a year but we knew he was someone very special. For one thing, Father Edward was just so sweet. He was a shy, unassuming man, quietly spoken and very gentle.

The other thing is that Father Edward, who used to teach English and RE at St Charles Sixth Form College in Ladbroke Grove, was very bright. Priests are usually learned men but I don't think I've ever heard more intellectually substantial homilies than the ones he would give. And the newsletters he would write were equally stimulating. One he wrote not long ago - I wish I'd kept it - explored the theme of work but what it was really about was alienation and how humans are frequently alienated from the work they do, which he contrasted with the Christian notion of work as freely given and amply rewarded.

Father Edward Houghton was a lifelong socialist and a Labour man to his marrow, though he was dispirited at the rightward direction the party was taking. Like so many of us he was deeply concerned about the rise of fascism in this country. But Father Edward was an inately charitable man; sections of the white working class were being tempted by fascists because Labour had let them down, he insisted. In truth, he was right about that.

Father Edward Houghton was kind, gentle and self-effacing but he also had guts. In December last year, distressed by Israel's invasion of Gaza and the awful toll of fatalities resulting from it and infuriated by the BBC's disgraceful censorship of the DEC appeal he put a notice in the parish newsletter requesting donations to the DEC for Gaza. There were some who didn't approve of this, complaining that Father Edward was "imposing" his politics on the parish. Stuff and nonsense. Father Edward was tender-hearted and courageous. He stuck a note up on the church door telling parishioners that if any of us wanted to go on the Gaza demo to join him at 11.30 on the day and he'd take a party of us up to Central London to protest the Israeli government's actions.

Justice 'n' peace types are sometimes sniggered at for their ostentatious goody-goodiness and overwheening political-correctness but Father Edward Houghton was nothing like that. He just was justice and peace and embued those values but without any kind of showing-off or priggishness. He couldn't help being politically engaged because his character was the opposite of insular. Rather he was outward-looking, a natural internationationalist and political leftwinger. But this shy and charming northerner was also orthodox in his faith and deeply committed to his priestly ministry.

The parish of Our Lady of Grace and St Edward is in mourning. We have lost a man of God and a true pastor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his brothers and sisters.

Requiescat in pace.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a long-standing parishoner of Our Lady of Grace and St Edward's I was very saddened to hear of Father Edward's death at this morning's mass.I extend my sincere condolences
to his family for what will be a deeply felt loss. His politics and mine were and are poles apart, but his deeply felt sincerity was there for all to see. May he rest in peace.

Edward Sutherland.

8/23/2009 4:28 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Thankyou, Edward Sutherland, that was a lovely message.

Just in case you haven't seen it, the condolence book for Father Edward is on the left hand side of the altar, just past the statue of an impressive looking saint in Roman costume.

Father Edward was a lovely man and a wonderful priest. I think we're all going to miss him so much.

8/25/2009 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Holy Souls Chapel in Westminster Cathedral there is a photo of Father Edward with a candle burning - he is being prayed for by so many.

8/31/2009 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got to know Fr. Edward (who was the just simply "Ed") while living at Allen Hall from 2003-2004. I am an American, a Catholic and a political conservative (the type who supported George W. Bush twice.)

Simply put, I have rarely met anyone with whom I agreed less on politics, and I have perhaps never met anyone with whom I had more friendly, earnest and honest conversations about politics than Ed.

Not all, nor perhaps even most, of our conversations were about politics, but I remember those especially for the rare civility and frankness that were their hallmark.

I suspect that what made our disagreements so amiable was our shared faith. The human drama that plays itself out (in part) in what we call "politics" is a drama whose central figure is Jesus Christ.

Politics was never big enough to hold neatly within it the REAL human drama. On that I think we agreed.

For Ed, as it should be for all of us Christians, Christ was truly the beginning and the end. He was where our conversations began and it was toward him that our conversations always led us.

I will miss Fr. Edward. And pray for him.

Steve White
Washington, DC

9/01/2009 10:26 AM  
Blogger Joana said...

I'm one of those who today googled for Father Edward as I've just found out that he passed away and I felt I needed a picture of him. That's how I found your blog. I met father Edward a year ago when I started going to Our lady of Grace and St. Edward's Church. He's or was in fact the priest who my husband was going to see every monday to learn about catholicism and getting baptised. I am very very sad about this news and he's going to be seriously missed! Rest in peace... He used to tell my husband that he knew he was going to spend a long time in purgatory because heaven is not big enough for all the souls!

9/08/2009 4:54 AM  

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