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Fr John Tomblin Photograph:  JFR

Fr John Tomblin
Photograph: JFR

Fr John Tomblin, who retired as Parish Priest of St Joseph, Wath-upon-Dearne on 30 June, 2006, died peacefully at home on Wednesday, 29 October, 2014.

Fr Tomblin was born on 26 December, 1923.  He studied for the priesthood at Ushaw College and was ordained on 16 April, 1950 at Leeds Cathedral. 

He spent his years as a curate in several parishes in the Diocese of Leeds, with a period also as Chaplain to Overseas People during September, 1959-February, 1962, before becoming Parish Priest at St Joseph, Kendray, then St Joseph, Wath-upon-Dearne in August, 1978 and remained there when it became part of the Diocese of Hallam in 1980. 

At his funeral service on Friday, 14 November at St Francis of Assisi Church, Sheffield Mgr Bernard Bickers, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart and St William parish in the Diocese of Leeds, spoke movingly about his friend, JT.

In his letter to the Romans St Paul writes: The life and death of each of us has its influence on others, if we live we live for the Lord and if we die we die for the Lord, so alive or dead we belong to the Lord.  With these words in our minds and hearts in the quiet of this church I invite you to bring Fr Tomblin to mind, think of the influence he had on you as a relative, a friend, a companion, a priest.  Thank God for him and pray for him – it was what he asked for most after he had been diagnosed with cancer.  In time share those memories, some will bring a tear, others a smile, they will be different but all are precious because they will remind us of when our lives met with his and we came away enriched.

There is a certain irony in JT, I can’t call him anything else, asking me to give the homily today because on the 16 April 2010 he celebrated his Diamond Jubilee here in this church of St Francis of Assisi and he had asked me to preach.  There was only one problem, at the time of the Mass I was stuck on the motorway, so I made sure I would be on time today albeit four and a half years late.

On Boxing day last year JT celebrated his 90th birthday and for 64 of those 90 years he had been a priest serving in English Martyrs, York, Our Lady of Lourdes, Haworth, St Joseph’s, Kendray, twice, The Holy Rosary and St Augustine’s in Leeds and St Joseph’s, Wath.  He spent 11 weeks in York and 28 years in Wath with varying periods of time in the other parishes.

He was ordained on the 16th April 1950 having studied at Ushaw College, Durham which in those days had more in common with the 16th than the 20thcentury.  He emerged into a Church and world very different to the present.  Pius XII was the pope and in the November of 1950 he infallibly defined the dogma of the Assumption.  The Second Vatican Council was unimaginable.  If we look back over those 64 years, the changes that have taken place and the speed with which they have taken place has been a major factor in all our lives, and we know from our own experience that people react differently to change.  It is to JT’s enormous credit that he adapted to those changes, even the ones he found most incomprehensible, while remaining rooted in the Tradition of the Church and true to his own God given gifts which were many.  The music chosen by JT is an example of his adaptability, some old, some new, mainly English with a nod to Latin and definitely no drums.

In the first reading JT chose for today St John invites us to Think of the love that Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children.  There is something magnificent about the word lavish, it speaks of an over abundance, an unstoppable outpouring of God’s love which goes on for ever, is unconditional and unique to each individual because each individual made in God’s image and likeness is unique.

It was as a child of God, chosen to be a priest, lavishly loved by God that JT lived out his priestly ministry, lovingly caring for those he served, conscientious in all that he did, sharing God’s love in so many ways but perhaps especially in the celebration of the sacraments from baptism to that final anointing which he himself received from Bishop Ralph in the presence of Mgr Kilgannon, Fr Kevin (Thornton) and Nellie on the night he died.

It was in responding to being lavishly loved by God that over 64 years he rejoiced with those who rejoiced and mourned with those who mourned, was silent when no words could be a substitute for simply being present.  It was in responding to being lavishly loved by God that he sat in the confessional encouraging those who came and lifting their burden with the assurance of God’s forgiveness, that he celebrated Mass, breaking God’s Word day by day and week by week, bringing Good News not only in words that people could understand and take to heart, but also by the way he showed his love by his care for those he served.

In the Gospel he chose for today, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time he will no longer be with them.  The first thing he tells them is: There are many rooms in my Father’s House, a reminder to us that it is never for us to judge another person because we can never know the whole story, only God knows that and the God revealed by Jesus is a God of infinite love and compassion.  Jesus then says, I am going to prepare a place for you and when it is ready I shall return and take you with me so that where I am you may be too.  We know from Thomas’ reaction that the disciples didn’t have a clue what he meant at the time.  They would have to go through Jesus’ own death on the cross and burial in the tomb first.  And we need to remember that they expected him to remain dead and buried.  But they experienced him in such a way after his death that they remembered what he had told them, that he would suffer and die and rise again and it would be the same for all who believe in him.

JT believed in Jesus, risen from the dead, and in his dying he said his final YES to the Lord he had served as a faithful and faith filled priest, and our prayer is that he is even now in that place prepared for him so that he will be like Christ and see him face to face.  His life changed not ended, recognising that death brings an end to life as we experience it here on earth, but is also a passing from this life to eternal life, seeing God in a way that we can only imagine.

But life is also changed for those who will miss him the most and we pray for them.  For John, JT’s nephew, the son of Kathleen his sister and her husband Bernard.  For Bishop Ralph, his predecessor Bishop John and the clergy of the dioceses of Hallam and Leeds who will miss his gentle humour, his outlandlish claims to being almost a scratch golfer, but most of all his example of being a truly pastoral priest and a faithful friend.  The many Religious, especially the Sisters of Mercy and parishioners whose lives he touched.  And most especially for Nellie who for 47 years and two months has been housekeeper and homemaker, diary keeper and prompter, confidant and latterly nurse, but even more importantly a true companion and soul friend, big enough to share him with her family who embraced JT with their love.

The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.  Thank you JT for all you did but most especially for who you were and will continue to be in our hearts and minds.

Eternal rest give to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace.