Committed pastor and tireless worker for ecumenism

Peter Barrett: February 8th, 1956 - October 28th, 2015

 

Peter Barrett, who has died aged 59, was Church of Ireland bishop of Cashel and Ossory and one of the outstanding Christian pastors of his generation in Ireland.

It was perhaps unfortunate that news reports of his death focused to a great degree on the circumstances of the breakdown of his marriage, which led to him resigning his episcopal office. Certainly Barrett had endeared himself well beyond the congregations to which he ministered directly and made very notable contributions throughout his career to ecumenism and civic life.

Having taken a master’s degree in theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics in 1984, Barrett worked consistently at outreach to other Christian communities, being honoured by a civic reception when he retired as rector of Letterkenny in 1990, a symbol perhaps of the regard in which he was held by people of all faiths in Donegal. During his time there (1986-1990) he made a memorable joint visit to Tory Island with the Catholic bishop of Raphoe, Dr Seamus Hegarty.

He reached out in a special way to the Old Catholics of the Netherlands, a religious denomination which separated from the Roman Catholic church in the nineteenth century after its members rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility.

The current leader of the Old Catholics, Archbishop Joris Vercammen of Utrecht, said that Barrett was “as an enthusiastic pleader for the relationship of the Anglican communion with the communion of the Union of Utrecht”.

“I remember Peter as a devoted and thoughtful bishop who tried to pay attention to his fellow Christians … we still are grateful for all efforts made by him and which are still bearing fruits. That now an Irish bishop … the Rt Rev Michael Burrows, is the representative of the archbishop of Canterbury with our communion is one of these fruits.”

Northern postings

Following Letterkenny, he was rector of St George’s in Belfast, a parish with a strong Anglo-Catholic and musical tradition. The current rector, Brian Stewart, said that “Peter found aspects of life in Belfast very difficult”, it being much more sharply divided on sectarian lines than Derry. “He was greatly distressed one summer when he witnessed a huge bonfire with a Tricolour on top of it – the flag of his own country being burned.”

Earlier, in 1991, an IRA bomb, intended for the Police Authority headquarters near St George’s, caused the church’s ceiling to collapse and destroyed its windows.

Whirlwind

The current Bishop of Connor, Alan Abernathy, a close friend since both men’s days as divinity students in Trinity College, Dublin said: “Peter had a great gift as a pastor. He was wonderfully caring, with huge sensitivity to people in pain”, adding that “he enriched me spiritually beyond measure, helped me to be who I was”.

Barrett was later (2002) to publish a book of spiritual reflections for Holy Week, The Measure and the Pledge of Love (Columba Press), and to contribute in 2003 a chapter giving an Irish perspective on Anglican spirituality to Love’s Redeeming Work, a collection part-edited by Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury.

After Belfast, Barrett spent four years as dean of residence (chaplain) at Trinity, from which he had graduated in 1978 with a degree in history and political science, and where he was instrumental in the introduction of both music and sports scholarships for students.

Following his appointment as dean of Waterford in 1998, he was once more innovative in the wider community, working with the Roman Catholic diocese and the Church of Ireland’s diocesan architect, Martin Tritschler, to set up the John Roberts weekend, a cultural festival honouring the architect of the city’s two cathedrals, which still flourishes, and opening up Christ Church Cathedral for lunchtime concerts.

Peter Barrett was one of four children of Alec and Kathleen, who operated a guest house in Dún Laoghaire, where he was educated at the Kingstown and Avoca Grammar School (now Newpark Comprehensive). He excelled at hockey, captaining the Irish Senior Schoolboys and the Leinster Schools in his Leaving Certificate year. At Trinity, he played on the senior hockey team and gained an Irish Under-22 cap. A vice-president of Monkstown Hockey Club, he was its captain in the 2000-2001 season.

He is survived by his widow, Anne (née Davidson), and the couple’s three children, Clare, Alec and Patrick, and also by a son-in-law, Fergus, his sister Hilda Salisbury, and his brothers William and John.