Bishop John, whose resignation took effect on 20 May following the appointment of Bishop Ralph Heskett as the third Bishop of Hallam, is leaving for his well-earned retirement after 17 years of service to the Diocese. He leaves with the warm and heartfelt thanks of the priests, religious and laity and with our hope that he will enjoy the next stage of his ministry in the Church. It is Bishop John’s hope that, after a short break, he will step back into parish life in Liverpool, from which diocese he came and for which he was Auxiliary Bishop for 16 years. He is, and will always remain, a priest of the Hallam Diocese.
There are many dimensions to Bishop John’s leadership in the diocese and it is only possible to mention a few of them. Prominent among his contributions has been the ecumenical and interfaith aspect of his work in which, through the warmth and trust of his relationships with other Faith leaders in the City of Sheffield and beyond, he has been able to provide, with them, a united voice against extremism and have a positive and healing influence. This has extended beyond the worshipping communities, to affect the way in which Sheffield and the surrounding areas have responded to the vulnerable and voiceless with caring compassion. His legacy, in partnership with many others, is that Sheffield is a City of Sanctuary and provides all kinds of support for refugees and asylum seekers through the ASSIST charity. Bishop John has been a supporter of many other initiatives such as Church Action on Poverty and, in relation to the provision of services to the elderly and vulnerable, the Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care. In all this work, Bishop John has cemented links with other Faith leaders, particularly the retired Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nichols and the current Bishop Steven Croft.
Bishop John has a very strong sense of the universality of the Church and the need for action to help those suffering and in trouble and in his role as the Chair of the Trustees of CAFOD he has not only visited parts of the world like Liberia where CAFOD provides practical support for displaced people, but also places like El Salvador where the Church has been intimately involved with those oppressed. He has brought these experiences back to the diocese which has strong links with CAFOD and an appreciation of the importance of Justice and Peace in our communities and in the world.
At home, and near to his heart, Bishop John has tirelessly supported our parishes and their outreach, in particular the Hallam Caring Services and St Wilfrid’s Centre which provides such support for disadvantaged people in Sheffield. His support has been very practical for, as someone who is a strong and serious walker, he has ‘led the way’ on fund raising walks, sometimes outstripping those who follow; he would wait for the stragglers to catch up and then set off again just when they were hoping to get their breath back!
Bishop John has been a staunch supporter of our Catholic schools and during the transition that many of the schools have made to Academy status, he has had to spend many long hours in meetings. In this, and in many other ways, he has worked unstintingly for the good of the diocese.
Marking the New Millennium and the challenges of the 21st century, he called for a Diocesan Assembly with a Sheffield Arena celebration of the Church in Hallam, past and present, and a Big Picnic on Doncaster Racecourse. Under his guidance, the post Assembly programme encouraged the building of parish communities on a model of good deanery practice, with an emphasis on collaborative ministry. More recently, the Assembly meetings have been exploring a variety of traditions of spirituality, helping us to deepen within us what is at the heart of following Christ. And always keen to stimulate and nurture our understanding of the faith, Bishop John most recently initiated a diocesan study day on Pope Francis’s exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel’.
We are fortunate in the diocese to have many permanent Deacons, and Bishop John has supported both the priests and deacons in the diocese, also encouraging the involvement of priests from Africa, India and Poland in the life of our parishes. We benefit from their ministry and they benefit from their experience here.
Bishop John has always seemed to be very approachable and genuinely to enjoy the company of parishioners. He relishes sitting and talking over a cup of tea after Mass. He is an extremely good listener, and, as with all good listeners, he hears well what people have said and his warmth and understanding is reciprocated by the trust and loyalty that he receives.
We wish him well.