Obituary: The Right Rev Owen Swindlehurst

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The Independent Online
Owen Swindlehurst was Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle for over 18 years, and also Bishop of Chester-le-Street, with pastoral responsibility for most of the area between Tyne and Tees.

He was born in 1928 at Newburn, then in Northumberland. A youthful conviction that he was called to priesthood led to junior seminary at Ushaw College, near Durham; and his outstanding talent ensured a place at the Venerable English College in Rome in 1948 to read philosophy and theology. After ordination into the priesthood by Cardinal Traglia in 1954, at Rome, he followed a postgraduate course for a Doctorate in Canon Law; probably his shyness made him avoid publishing a thesis he had publicly defended in Latin and so he technically also avoided the doctorate award.

Italy draws many away from England; Owen Swindlehurst's 10 years there gave him a great love for the country and for the city of Rome, but left intact his lifelong loves of north-east England, and an even deeper love of his solid Catholic faith.

He returned to England in 1958 and successfully combined parish work, in Ponteland and later Newcastle, with diocesan work, mainly as a personal secretary to the Bishop for 10 years, then more in the specialised canon law of marriage. He always balanced accurate legal knowledge with pastoral sensitivity. This was recognised by his fellow priests who regularly chose him to represent them at diocesan and national levels.

After becoming parish priest at Holy Name, Jesmond, Newcastle, in 1971, he led the parish into the developments of the Second Vatican Council. In particular, his understanding introduction of celebrating Mass completely in English helped those who felt sad at the loss of Latin; it has proved a sound preparation for today's high standard of parish celebration with singing. He founded a consultative parish council which was instrumental in his commissioning of a compact parish centre. Also, his friendship with local Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Church clergy started a custom of joint weekly prayer in Holy Name church.

Appointed Auxiliary Bishop in 1977 and given pastoral care of most Catholics between Tyne and Wear, he was regularly seen in Catholic parishes and schools but also worked with the other churches: the Anglican/ Roman Catholic St John and St Patrick's joint church school in Sunderland was established in his time. His fellow bishops often used his expert knowledge in pro- life issues, not least in the Joint Bio-Ethical Committee shared with the bishops of Scotland and Ireland.

Working with him was a joy, especially for his good judgement and keen sense of humour. Once, after I had spoken in English the traditionally wordy thanks to a high Vatican official who had greatly helped us, I saw the twinkle in his eye as he translated it into the impossibly brief and formal, "His Excellency is grateful" ("Sua Eccellenza e molto contento").

While he was still fit for long walks and strenuous squash, lung cancer took away first his voice then the fitness. In his last press interview, he spoke much less about his illness and more of his love of Italy, Rome and the Church. His devotion to Newcastle United lasted to the end.

; Hugh Lindsay

Owen Francis Swindlehurst, priest: born Newburn, Northumberland 10 May 1928; Assistant Priest, St Matthew's, Ponteland 1959-67; Assistant Priest, St Bede's, Denton Burn, Newcastle 1967-72; Parish Priest, Holy Name, Jesmond, Newcastle 1967-77; Roman Catholic Bishop Auxiliary of Hexham and Newcastle 1977-95; Titular Bishop of Chester-le-Street 1977-95; died Sunderland 28 August 1995.