Fr. Bernard Woods RIP
When Fr. Bernard preached at the funeral of Deacon Peter Williams in Our Lady and St. Edward’s, Fulwood, Preston, just five weeks ago today, he acknowledged the shock people felt upon Peter’s sudden death. We acknowledge the same feelings today upon Bernard’s sudden death as we unite in prayer with his sister Mary and their family and friends.
In the days after the announcement of Bernard’s death a phraise came to mind from St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who wrote in the second century: ‘The glory of God is man fully alive; and the glory of man is the vision of God.’ Bernard was a man who was fully alive in every sense – so active. The motive for his life and activity was the vision of God. We offer the Holy Mass for Bernard in which the death and resurrection of Christ become present for us, praying for his eternal salvation – that he will see God face to face.
The Paschal Candle, which burns at every funeral, reminds us of our hope in Christ’s resurrection. The scripture chosen supports our prayer for Bernard today. St. Paul in the first reading takes us to the core of our faith; to all that we celebrate in the Mass: ‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus’. In the Gospel reading, Jesus on the cross, speaks to the man next to him who we call ‘the good thief’. This man, like Bernard, had a loving heart which was open to Christ. Jesus says to him: ‘I promise you today you will be with me in paradise.’ In faith, we can apply these words of Our Lord to Bernard.
There will be many people who knew Bernard better than I did, and over a longer period of time. Some of his contemporaries from seminary days at Thistleton, and Ushaw, and for a short time in Rome at the English College and the Greg, called him ‘Ben’, as in ’Big Ben’! I got to know him in 1997, when as a seminarian, I was on placement with him for a whole term at Our Lady and St. Edward’s. Even though I could not keep up with Bernard’s pace of activity, he didn’t put me off! On the contrary, I was inspired by the faithful way in which he served people of all ages and how well he knew them. He was kind and a great host. Bernard had a special gift for working with young people who felt so at home with him. He had done some training in this area and his involvement went beyond the diocese to the YCW, Impact, and the International Youth Festival. He returned recently from this year’s Easter gathering in Finland.
In recent years Bernard and I have been part of the same Priests’ Emmaus Group. Bernard was invariably late for our gatherings and entered the meeting room like a whirlwind, complete with rucksack! However, when it was his turn to lead the Lectio Divina at the start of our meeting, he would usually be there on time with a thoughtfully chosen piece of scripture. His contribution to the group was excellent. He was really in touch with the pastoral reality of peoples’ lives and his good humour and genuine interest in others was much appreciated.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary carried Jesus within her and touched the life of her cousin who was pregnant with John. Fr. Bernard touched the lives of others because of his knowledge of, and love of Jesus Christ. This was so in all the parishes and schools where he served and in the many other roles he had.
Bernard’s first appointment was as assistant priest to Fr.Paddy O’Dea in Keswick, along with Lakeside House, and later Castlerigg. As parish priest he served at St. Mary’s, Kells, Whitehaven; Our Lady and St. Edward’s, Fulwood, Preston; St. Cuthbert’s with St. Margaret’s, Blackpool; and since 2009 here in the parishes of St. Columba’s’, Walney, with St. Patrick’s, and Sacred Heart, Barrow. His other roles included Barrow Catholic Youth Centre, staff member in the Junior House at Ushaw, Director of Castlerigg Manor, and Director of the Catholic Caring Services.
Bernard was brought up in the faith in his family home and in the parish of St. Bede, Carlisle, where he was ordained priest in 1968. His father John died when he was 12 and Mary was 10. Their Mother Norah lived much longer and made her home with Bernard at the Presbytery in Fulwood where she died. Mary relied on Bernard’s support, not least on his practical abilities. Before he went to visit her in Carlisle, he’d ask her which tools he should bring with him! For Bernard, his faith was expressed in a simple, no-fuss, life-style. Mary received a call the other day from a parishioner enquiring about what to do with Bernard’s clothes. She said: ‘just take them to a charity shop’. Afterwards she realised that most of them came from a charity shop in the first place! Bernard was a life-long supporter of Carlisle United. Once he was offered tickets to watch Manchester Untied. He appreciated the opportunity to see a premiership side but he didn’t enjoy it as much as watching his home team of Carlisle!
We will all miss Fr. Bernard. He would want us to pray that any sins and faults will be forgiven. And we want to thank God for such a good and faithful priest. He died in his chair having celebrated the Mass of Pentecost in his parishes. This solemnity completed our celebration of Easter. May the vision of God now be a reality for him. A pupil at one of his schools said: ‘He was just like my Grandad’. A younger pupil wrote: ‘Hope you are having a nice time in heaven’. With such warm and affectionate thoughts we pray:
Eternal Rest grant unto him O’Lord……
Fr. John B.Winstanley, 31/5/2013