St Peter-in-Chains, Doncaster are very much looking forward to a celebration on Wednesday, 1 February when one of their parishioners, Sir Patrick Duffy, will be invested with the Order of Knight Commander of St Gregory.
Patrick Duffy is one of four children born to the late James and Margaret Duffy, Irish immigrants who settled in Wigan, Lancashire. He was born in 1920. His father was a miner. At the age of five his family moved to the coalfields of South Yorkshire, where new pit shafts were being sunk to the depth of seven hundred metres. The risk of accident and death haunted miners every day. Margaret Duffy was determined this would not be the fate of her sons.
Education was the only avenue open to poor people at the time, if they could manage without a child’s wages from the pit. Patrick attended the local school. The nearest Catholic Church was 10ks away. There was no public transport. A priest came every Sunday. Mass was celebrated in a local school and at the age of seven Patrick became an altar server. This was a major step on the avenue of future success. The priest taught him Latin. It helped him acquire at an early age a taste for reading and an understanding of language, literature and history. He travelled with the priest, (a wounded veteran of WW1), to other schools in other mining villages.
While still a teenager WW2 broke out and he joined the Armed Forces, the Fleet Air Arm. On one of his missions his plane crashed and he received serious burn injuries, especially to the upper part of his body. Since then at regular intervals he requires corrective plastic surgery to his face. Perhaps the wartime surgeon did not expect him to live for too long. He eventually returned to duty and left the forces in 1946 with the rank of Commanding Officer, Naval School of Air Radar; at that time a new and experimental department in the Navy.
Patrick gained a Degree and a Doctorate in Law from the London School of Economics and the Columbia University, New York. He started as a Lecturer at Leeds University, was always interested in politics, local and national and fought a number of parliamentary elections. He was elected as a member of the Labour Party for Colne Valley in 1963; he lost the seat in the 1966 election. He stood for Sheffield Attercliffe in 1970, won the seat and remained in Parliament until 1992.
In the 1970’s he was Minister of the Navy, President of the NATO Assembly in the 1980’s. In this latter capacity he had a private audience with Pope St John Paul 11 on 9 October, 1989. He led the Delegation to the Warsaw Pact and was the first western leader to take a Delegation to the Kremlin in 1991. He was a major force in bringing the Cold War to an end, for which he received a Knighthood from HM Queen Elizabeth 11.
He was also Deputy Chair of the Atlantic Council. He currently serves as a member of the Advisory Boards of the Centre of Defence and International Studies, Hull University, and the Universities of Lancaster and York Defence Research Institute.
Life after Parliament was and still is very full and busy for Patrick Duffy. Throughout his public life he has always acknowledged his Faith. He has fought with great vigour for the Rights of the Unborn Child, even voting against his Party Whip. And has given, and still willing to give, Seminars throughout the country on the Right of the Unborn.
Welfare and Social Justice remain of great interest to him. He has been a Champion of Peace, especially in Northern Ireland and worked hard in the early days to contribute to, what eventually became, the Good Friday Agreement. He has led many Summer Schools on Peace and Cooperation between nations at numerous Universities across North America. As the son of immigrants he is keenly interested in supporting the present day immigrants.
He has always been an active and devout member of the Parish of St Peter in Chains and has never made a secret of his Catholicism. He remains a great example of a Public Figure witnessing to the Faith by his numerous Pilgrimages, not least El Camino Santiago. His autobiography ”Growing up Irish in Britain” and “British in Ireland” was published in 2013.