'Dear St. Peter & St. Michael's Parish,
We would like to thank you all for the amazing outpouring of love and kindness you showed Christopher and I, as well as all our families, on the death of our beloved brother Fr. John.
Words can never be enough to tell you, all and everyone, how much you helped us through a very painful time, it will stay in my heart forever.
God Bless you all at this very special time of Christmas.
John Alfred Gildea, the son of John and Janet Gildea, was born in Liverpool on 25th November 1937, and he was baptised a few days later at St Hugh of Lincoln, Wavertree. By the time he was of school age, the family had moved from Liverpool, so he received his early education at St Luke’s School, Whiston, before entering St Joseph’s College, Upholland, to begin his seminary formation. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Heenan in the college chapel at Upholland on 8th June 1963.
Following ordination, he served as assistant priest in several parishes across the archdiocese: St Agnes, Huyton (August 1963); St Matthew, Liverpool (August 1967); St Thomas of Canterbury, Waterloo (August 1972); Holy Angels, Kirkby (September 1974) and St Mark, Halewood (February 1978). His pastoral ministry in these years, and indeed throughout his priestly life, was marked by a wonderful rapport with young people. Many of these skills were honed through his work as a chaplain to young people on the archdiocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes year by year. Whichever parish he served in, he was always an enthusiastic and committed supporter of young people travelling to Lourdes.
In March 1982 he moved to St Charles, Aigburth, Liverpool, to assist Fr Thomas Mangan with a view to succeeding him as parish priest, which he did later that year. Over the next several years he built on the foundations laid by his predecessors, allowing the parish to flourish and grow.
After sixteen fruitful years in Aigburth, he moved to St Peter and St Michael, Woolston, in September 1998. Here, the people benefited from his tireless commitment to their pastoral care right up until the end of his life. In recent years, despite suffering a debilitating stroke, he showed great determination and tenacity in carrying on in active ministry and fulfilling his duties as parish priest.
He died suddenly, after a very brief illness, in the evening of Monday 17th October 2022. He was 84 years old and in the 60th year of his priesthood. A warm dedication was published by the Ss Peter and Michael parish council on the news of his passing and this can be found here.
May he rest in peace.
Father Gildea's Funeral
On Wednesday 2nd and Thursday 3rd November 2022, we gathered as a parish to say farewell to our dearly loved Father John Gildea. At packed services, we listened to some wonderful singing and to Louise Crossey’s beautiful eulogy, read by Deacon Jim McGraw.
Bishop Tom Williams celebrated an Evening Prayer for the Dead followed by a Vigil Mass on Wednesday, at 7p.m. and, on Thursday at 2.p.m., Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, Bishops Tom Neylon, John Rawsthorne and more than 40 members of the clergy, celebrated a moving Requiem Mass of farewell with our schoolchildren singing 'Thank You For Loving Me', one of Father Gildea’s favourites. Later we shared our many memories in St Oswald’s Parish Centre, and everyone agreed it was a fitting tribute to such a lovely parish priest that we were privileged to have lead us for so many years.
May he rest in God’s presence for eternity.
The Wednesday evening service, where Father Gildea was received into Ss Peter and Michael's church, the parish which he had served faithfully for over 20 years, can be viewed below (video is recorded 'at source' and without the lag issues experienced during the LIVE broadcast):
A copy of The Divine Office, Evening Prayer for the Dead, which includes the prayers and hymns used during the first part of the service, can be downloaded from the button below:
and a copy of the order of service for the Vigil Mass can be downloaded using the button below.
On the Thursday afternoon, we again gathered, this time at the church of St. Oswald, to celebrate the Requiem Mass in honour of Father Gildea. This service can be viewed below (video is recorded 'at source' and without the lag issues experienced during the LIVE broadcast):
and a copy of the order of service for this Mass can be downloaded using the button below.
During both services, the eulogy, written by Louise, was delivered by Deacon Jim McGraw. Louise has been Fr Gildea's closest friend for over 50 years, and latterly, after his stroke in 2017, his carer. With Louise's kind permission, this beautifully written, heartfelt and loving celebration of Fr Gildea (Gilly), the priest and the man, can be read below:
Today we are ALL gathered here for one purpose. It is out of love, respect and appreciation that we gather together to say 'goodbye and thank you' to a man who was so much to so many people. Some of you know him as John, Fr John, UJ ( that’s Uncle John! ) Curly, Ironman, and his favourite name Gilly. Scousers always abbreviate names !
I am going to use the name Gilly as I write, because that is what I called him. I am going to share with you my memories of the Priest, the man, and the friend that he was to people in his life. The numbers here tonight / today would have him GOBSMACKED – for non Scousers that is AMAZED. He would have been DEAD CHUFFED – translation DELIGHTED…. at the turn out!
So where did Gilly fit into YOUR life ?
A brother, uncle, other relative, friend, parish priest, fellow priest, Archbishop - or A.N.OTHER as the survey would suggest ! Today, I am going to remind you about Gilly the priest, and Gilly the man.
First the priest.
His priesthood was the most important thing in his life. He had a simple prayer life… saying his Daily Office prayers and celebrating Mass each day. Gilly was a pastoral priest – he thrived being with and among people. Pope Francis would have loved him because “ he smelt of the sheep “ – he was alongside his people. He was the Harry Kane of Priests… he was one of us. No airs and graces, no looking for power, control, prestige, titles or need of importance. His parishioners grew to understand that they should work together, share and use their talents – get people involved, both the young and the old. He believed that is how communities grow and progress. He was not a lover of administration work or meetings, but he was efficient and organised in both those departments. Although Helen, the Head Teacher, did suggest he should go on holiday when Ofsted came in, as he would try to end meetings early and tell them what a waste of time certain things were! Always spoke his mind – not always tactfully!
With parish funds he was financially shrewd - not a penny was wasted on non essentials. But he was not mean or tight fisted. At St Peter’s, the Church, the building of The Millennium Room, the creation of the Memorial Garden, and the house garden itself, are testament to that. He didn’t hog the garden privately – he shared it with the Parish for BBQ’s, May Processions, family birthdays, after Mass tea / coffee, Bonfire Night etc. He always claimed he did his best pastoral work at these functions – he would go round with a beer or a whisky and sit and chat at tables – afterwards he would often say things like – "I’ve got to help sort 3 marriages out, baptise 2 babies, hear a confession next week and 1 person wants to become a Catholic." He met the people where they were. He sat amongst them.
He loved preparing his special liturgies – he was meticulous in preparation. His argument was why have liturgy if it is not meaningful to the people attending. It had to be relevant, challenging and enjoyable. "Services were for the people not the clergy" he’d say. He had an eye for detail. Sometimes he was irritating because of this but it was always for practical reasons! A favourite of his was “ Someone will kick those flowers over if you leave them there ! "
Before he had his stroke nearly 5 years ago now, his Penance Services / Christmas and Easter Services especially, were so popular you had to come half an hour early to get a seat! Bit like today! Also, not forgetting The Paschal Meal for The Eucharistic Ministers at Easter time. All liturgies were full of prayer, music, challenge, symbolism, reflection and involved as many people as possible…again young and old. He especially loved children and young people. He always involved them as soloists, readers , musicians and let them include drama and dance at times to express their faith. Mind you, he did make mistakes. The funniest was when he wished everyone a hearty "Happy Christmas” …. unfortunately it was Easter Sunday !!
He never had a shortage of altar servers. His record of altar servers was 35, in St Charles parish. In those days only boys. He didn’t want girls or 'serviettes' as he called them. He wasn’t sexist – he just simply said … "If we bring the girls in, the lads will leave!! They will take over – it is in their nature!" He inherited girls here at St Peter’s but he grew to love them !
Gilly was one of our Chaplains on the first Youth Pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1975. He travelled on the coach with the young people and he did so for many many years. He was very popular with the young people - many now grandparents !!! He was a big asset to The Youth Service.
Gilly would have celebrated his 60th anniversary of the priesthood next June. Very sad he never made it. He loved being a priest and he once wrote “In every parish I found wonderful people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of my priesthood.“
You will notice that the priests are all wearing white chasubles – white for The Joyous Resurrection. Gilly wanted a white funeral. Jesus said “ I am The Resurrection and the life and anyone who believes in me will have eternal life.” This was the basis of Gilly’s strong faith … no doubt about that. The message was so important to him. … "Anyone who believes in me will have eternal life.” That is the whole point and purpose of the gift of life that God gave us.
Now Gilly the man.
Gilly was a one off. He was a man with a strong social conscience. Not publically but he was always powerful in any discussion group. In his St Matthews days he formed a dynamic Young Christian Workers group. Many are still in touch with him. Deep down he was a loving and very generous man – not many people knew this but every month he wrote several cheques for charities …Mary’s Meals, Aid to the Church in Need, HCPT, The Sally Army, Medical Mission, Mouth and Foot artists and not forgetting Louise’s holiday fund ! He never told anyone about them. I only found out because in the last couple of years I had to write his cheques out for him.
He was a talented DIY man – he won’t be in heaven just yet as he will be fixing the broken lock on the pearly gates of heaven or maybe painting the outside fence or busy changing the oil on St Peter’s motorbike. He never bought anything new until after checking it was TOTALLY unrepairable. After his stroke over 4 years ago, he got very frustrated because he couldn’t work with his hands. But he never gave up. He was tenacious and determined. He attempted 20 minute jobs that often took him 2 hours – it broke my heart watching him struggle.
He had a great sense of humour and loved an argument especially over a whisky deep into the night. He was a great sportsman – winning the sack race aged 70 …..PAUSE….. oh sorry aged 12! He was a good golfer - though his favourite quote was “I hate this game! ” He was an accomplished skier and taught many to ski. Less than 12 months after his stroke he was skiing down a 300 metre slope in The Alps. He was a good footballer – a Billy Bremner he told me - a hard tackling midfielder. He always played footy with the kids on the playgrounds and ran a few teams for them in the parishes. His passion was motorbikes – riding around the parish taking Communion to the sick parishioners, giving kids rides, camping holidays through France and Spain with his much loved sister Janet. He was noted as a very 'Cool Priest' because of his 1000cc BMW bike
"Lord … we know it was his time to go home to you. Look after him for us ... he likes porridge, lamb chops and mushy peas!!! ... and I’ll email up my herbal gravy recipe. …Oh…and don’t worry he’ll load the dishwasher."
Gilly was my best friend and soul mate for over 50 years. I will miss him so much. I thank God he came into my life but you all know the saying “ Behind every great man is …..PAUSE …..an AMAZED woman.“ …. That was me ! ... and luckily for him there was a few of us. He claimed he was a better priest because he had women in his life as friends. Women who could put him straight on female issues. I can still hear him though – What …the hoover’s not broken again ! …. Women are so heavy handed he’d shout ! No-one dared tell him that 3 of the cleaners were men !!!
"Gilly, I know you are busy now skiing the clouds, or playing golf with Frs Brendan Rice, Pat and Peter Kelly again but here’s a message from us - I hope you can find a few minutes to stop and look around here in this church and see all the lives you have touched, brought closer to God and made better !"
His legacy was Christ’s message that we should try to live a SIMPLE life - full of Christian love and compassion for others. Be generous with our time and give money to those in need. Be humble in our roles of work. I pray in his memory we will keep our faith, try to spread it, and then through belief in the Resurrection we will all meet up with him again ….…We know where but THANK GOD we don’t know when!
I was with him when he died! What a privilege! I held his hand till he very gently breathed his last breath. I now understand the phrase “He died peacefully." He died where he wanted in his own bed and not on a corridor on his own, in a hospital. His last words to me was, when I said help was coming were……….wait for it.. "Shave me!” Typical ! Our last big laugh together. You don’t want to know the mess I made of his face !
The last words I said to him were “I Love you” ….. I said it on behalf of us all who loved him.
The most popular messages I have received this week were “ He was a wonderful priest and a wonderful man” but the best quote I heard was “ They don’t make ‘em like that anymore Lou !"
Liverpool Archdiocese can be proud of you Gilly – you served us well.
"See You in heaven !!!"
The whole of Ss Peter and Michael's parish, alongside Fr. Gildea's family, friends and the archdiocesan clergy, contributed to make both masses a fitting farewell from everyone whose life he enriched.
The masses demonstrated the ethos of parish teamwork that is Father Gildea's legacy. He built us, he prepared us for this day, and he would want us to continue in that vein.
It only remains for us to thank those who were instrumental in making sure the two events were a tribute to Fr. Gildea, his life, and his work. We recognise:
Deacon Jim McGraw - who worked tirelessly to make sure that the services were organised, appropriate and a tribute to the man whom we all loved and who had lead our parish with a firm but gentle hand for over twenty years. How he managed to deliver Louise's eulogy twice without some kind of emotional break is a complete mystery.
Louise Crossey - Fr. Gildea's life-long close friend and latterly carer, who provided us with the most beautifully written eulogy which ensured there wasn't a dry eye in the house, for both services, but which was written with such love and respect, it's not difficult to gauge just how much he will be missed.
The clergy - to Archbishop Malcolm, Bishop(s) Tom, Bishop John, Father Dave and Father Austin, who delivered on the most beautiful services with respect, to honour Fr. John's memory. Also to the Bishops, priests and deacons who made the Requiem Mass a thing of beauty and a memory to behold. There cannot be many occasions where over 40 clergy have attended the memorial Mass for one of their own, a testament to Fr. Gildea and his life of service.
Our soloists - Lauren Glynn, Olivia Greene and Alan Saunders all performed beautifully over the two events and we must not forget the students of St Peter's Primary School who kept the happiness level up, just as Fr. Gildea would have wanted.
Our Parish Council - Many members of the parish council worked long hours to ensure the services went without a hitch.
Parishioners - both services were 'sold out' and that is a testament to our parish, and parishioners from Fr. Gildea's previous parishes but, most importantly, a reflection on the great regard in which Fr. Gildea was held by all, for whom he gave his life of service.
We all know about Fr. Gildeas love of the youth of the parish and we absolutely know he would be tickled by this. It was written by a St. Peter's Year 3 student .... Out of the mouth of babes ..... says everything else we could possibly need to say!
Fr. Gildea was a force of nature. His passion for the priesthood and his strength of character, guided his life, his parish and us, his parishioners, for over twenty years. All of this guided by his love of God and his unwavering commitment and belief in his pastoral responsibilities. He will be sorely missed.
Fr. John Gildea 1937 - 2022 RIP