Obituary: Prebendary Norry McCurry

Norman Ernest (Norry) McCurry, priest: born Belfast 18 April 1919; ordained deacon 1946, priest 1947; Vicar, St Edward's, Holbeck 1956-63; Perpetual Curate, then Vicar, St Bartholomew's, Armley 1963-73; Rector, St Dunstan's with All Saints', Stepney 1973-85; Prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral 1980-85, Prebendary Emeritus and honorary priest, St James's, Piccadilly 1985-93; married 1961 Ruth Hawker (two sons, one daughter); died London 4 June 1993.

ON FIRST acquaintance - and we met when I was an ordinand in search of a curacy parish - Norry McCurry seemed slightly larger than life. He was tall, it is true, but he had large brown eyes and the gift of giving you his whole attention. If he was the driver of the car in which you were travelling, this could be disconcerting; but mostly it signalled a single- minded attention to whatever he was concerned with at the moment, which was usually other people or God.

With almost anything else he would lose interest after a bit. It was not that he was bored: it was that he was always eager for what was to happen next, and longing to meet your friends or read your new books. This restlessness (as it would appear) manifested itself in sudden enthusiasms and some impatience. Unlike many people who accept the world as it is and wring their hands over it, Mc=Curry, when he found the world not as it should be, set out to put it to rights. Surprised by the response to a Lonely Hearts advertisement in his parish magazine, McCurry founded a club; taken aback by the absence of what he regarded as good RE teaching in the schools, he organised withdrawal classes in every school in the parish.

Norry McCurry was born in Belfast in 1919. Brought up in pre-war Oxford by his mother, the widow of an extremely Protestant Ulster clergyman, Norry went to St Edward's, and later to St Edmund Hall. His mother had taken to the delights of High Church Cowley, and Norry's past always sounded exactly like Brideshead Revisited. After a tough spell as a sailor on the North Atlantic convoys, first as a seaman and later as an officer, he went to Chichester Theological College and served a first curacy in Staveley and a second with Fr Peter Mayhew at St Aidan's, Leeds. Moving to be priest-in-charge of St George's, Sands, near High Wycombe, and then as Vicar to St Edward's, Holbeck, Leeds, he fitted naturally into a celibate company of merry young Anglo- Catholic priests.

On a holiday in Greece with his friend Fr Gerard Irvine and his sister, McCurry met a young Cambridge undergraduate, Ruth Hawker. After some hesitations on both their parts - 'a simple gospel service' is how Norry had described Benediction to Ruth before she had come to it for the first time - they were married and soon after moved to a new parish in Leeds, St Bartholomew's, Armley, where the great blackened church rose above the streets of back-to-back houses, and the McCurrys found themselves with a young family and several curates to train. The move to Armley and the stirrings of the Second Vatican Council were factors; but the mainspring in Norry's development was his marriage to Ruth. To Norry's flamboyant energy was now harnessed Ruth's critical eye, analytical skill and practical common sense. The enthusiasms and insights were harnessed and put into practical projects.

There were the great Stations of the Cross through the streets in Passiontide in both Armley and Stepney, with casts of hundreds and watched by thousands of spectators. And - always looking for ways to communicate with the parish - the parish magazines, the Armley Messenger and, in Stepney, Kindle. (Like Queen Victoria, McCurry wrote short, vivid sentences, and used a lot of underlining.)

In Stepney, more demands were made on him; there was the historic building to care for, and the Deanery to organise. But McCurry's skills as both a trainer and a spiritual director were becoming recognised, and he began to serve on the Advisory Council for the Church's Ministry and the governing bodies of theological colleges and courses. He was in demand for individual counselling and direction as well as retreats, and at the end of his ministry this led Archbishop Runcie to invite him to look after clergy in particular difficulties, while at St James's, Piccadilly, he enjoyed conducting the services of the well-known as much as chaplaining the staff of the Ritz.

As a priest he had a disciplined but unfussy life of prayer. And while the relics of the past - a photo of Padre Pio, who had received the stigmata (and whose signature McCurry had tried to secure), or a Breton figurine of Our Lady - were treated with affection; it was the now which was important. Perhaps that is why the theatre bored him rather: the real-life dramas which constantly gathered around him seemed so much more exciting. But most important of all was his gift for making you feel twice the person you were: he could transform a simple meal, and his hostess's confidence, with an extravagent but wholly sincerely meant 'That was the best dinner I've ever had'.

On the last Sunday of his life, though tired and in pain, he walked to the altar rail to receive the sacrament unaided, and then brightened at meeting the clergy for a drink. And on the day he died, when his daughter had flown back in haste from Kuala Lumpur, he said one last, biblical word: 'Mary'. It was these people - his family, his friends and those among whom he ministered - who were his life, and who at his funeral found that there was only standing room when they came to say farewell.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing