The death of Canon John Redford marks the end of an era for Maryvale Institute

Canon John RedfordI’ve known Canon John Redford since I was an eleven year old school boy when he came as a curate to Holy Cross Church, Carshalton, and also worked as a lecturer in Old Testament studies at Wonersh seminary in the Archdiocese of Southwark. Fr John taught me and other altar servers to read from the lectionary at Mass, and  helped us learn to pronounce difficult biblical words. He also taught us how to project our voices so people could hear us at the back of church because our parish priest Canon Albert Ryan was reluctant to go to the expense of installing microphones and a PA system. Fr John also gently encouraged me and other boys to consider a vocation to the priesthood, arranging a coach trip to Wonersh to play foot ball.  He also ran a Youth Group where Catholic girls and boys could meet and took us away on retreats to Allington Castle, and Aylesford Priory, on the river Medway. And all the while he was working in Holy Cross parish he was commuting back and forth from Wonersh Seminary to teach the seminarians.

As I got older, and he was sent to other parishes we lost touch for awhile. Our paths crossed again when he was the Director of Tooting Bec Catechetical Centre, when he took a sabbatical at one of the Oxbridge universities to work on his magnum opus on the historical Jesus. Again our paths crossed when he was working with Rowanne Pascoe at The Universe on the Faith Alive series, which was a very popular  introduction to the Catholic Faith. It was eventually published as a successful book in various editions.

Life took us on our separate ways again until providence brought us together for our most significant and life changing encounter when my wife and I enrolled on the BA Divinity course at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, where he was the BA Divinity course director. It was during this time that I began to appreciate as an adult the depth of his knowledge as a scripture scholar, and his passion to teach the fullness of the Faith as a Master Catechist. One of his most memorable series of lectures was, naturally, on the historical Jesus, and I remember him methodically taking apart Rudolph Bultmann’s sceptical exegesis of the Gospels from the perspective not only of the Catholic tradition of exegesis but also a very South London down-to-earth reason and commonsense.

Fr John loved the Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on revelation, Dei Verbum, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  He told me once that when the bishops of the world were working on the drafts on the Catechism he was part of the team in Southwark who went through the text for Archbishop Bowen. He, and the Archbishop’s team, wrote back to Rome to say, among other things, that there was nothing in the Catechism about the Senses of Scripture. He took great pleasure in the fact that the next draft included paragraphs 115-119.

During his time running the popular and demanding distance-learning BA Divinity course, moderating essay and exam papers, mentoring students and designing and resourcing residential weekends and weeks, Fr John also made time to write books and articles. He used to get up every morning at 5am to work on his latest project, writing a series of scriptural apologetic books, ‘Mad, Bad, or God: Proving the Divinity of Christ from St.John’s Gospel (2004), Born of a Virgin: Proving the Miracle from the Gospels (2007), ‘Who was John? The Fourth Gospel Debate After Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (2008).  During his last illness he worked on and completed his final scriptural apologetic book  on the historical basis for believing that Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Church.

After he stepped down as Director of the BA Divinity course Fr John put his energies and talents into creating a new and much needed MA course in Apologetics, collaborating with modern Catholic apologists such as Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Andrew Pinsent. It had been hoped that Fr John would have been well enough to attend the 2013 Graduation Ceremony at St Chad’s so that he could see his former students receiving their MAs in Apologetics but sadly his health deteriorated during the week and he died early on the morning of Graduation day. During his final illness Fr John’s indomitable spirit enabled him to work for the Bishops Conference of England and Wales on the draft of an adaptation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for our local Church.

Forty odd years after first meeting Fr John I became one of his colleagues when I was employed in 2012 by Maryvale Institute as a member of the Catechetical team, and later Head of Diaconal Formation, working with Dr Caroline Farey and Dr Petroc Willey. One of the joys of my dream job was being able to spend time with Fr John over meals or chatting with him in his flat. When I was able to assist him at Mass as a deacon Fr John used to enjoy introducing me at the opening of Mass as his old altar server from Carshalton. Through God’s providence my life had gone full circle.

The last time my wife and I saw Fr John we spent the evening with him in his flat watching a DVD of Daniel Barenboim’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Die Walküre , accompanied by Fr John’s explanations. It was a magical evening, which we’ll never forget as we watch our newly purchased copy of Daniel Barenboim.

Canon John’s death on the morning of  the 2013 Graduation Ceremony and the resignation of so many staff and associate staff over the past two weeks marks the end of an era for Maryvale Institute. These passages from St Paul come to mind that convey something of the sadness and the consolation that is around both endings, ‘ in all our troubles I am filled with consolation’ (II Cor 7:4) & ‘If you have hope, this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying’ (Rom 12:12).

I will finish this tribute to my friend,  and mentor with a quotation from one of his last books, ‘Treasures of Dei Verbum’ (2011):

‘It is a great privilege to have lived during the sessions of a General Ecumenical Council of the Church. There have been twenty-one in the whole history of the Catholic Church during the two thousand years of its existence. That means on average one per century; and a Council only lasts on average for about ten years. So the law of averages says that each Christian has a good chance of being alive during one Council of the Church’.

But I was even luckier. Not only did I live through all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council,which met from 1961-65. Even more, the Council took place in Rome while I had the great privilege of studying for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, from 1961-1967, after which I was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Southwark. Studying theology was unbelievably exiting at that time. We were receiving weekly reports of the Council not only in the Catholic papers but also in the national press. What a change from our somewhat dry old Latin textbooks!

Fr John concluded his commentary of Dei Verbum with these words:

‘We saw right at the beginning that the Council Fathers did not just wish to defend the truth of divine revelation in this document.  They wanted to draw the whole Church into a greater awareness of the purpose of divine revelation, which is to make us sharers of the divine nature. But if, as recent Popes have emphasised again and again,the Church exists to evangelise, then the prime instrument of evangelisation is the Bible itself, to draw more and more men and women of our time into that koinonia.

Thank you for your patient reading of my commentary, which I hope will draw you more and more back to read Dei Verbum itself.  And remember of course, even more, ‘The best book to read is the Bible….’!

A prayer when you begin the reading of scripture: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”. [I Sam 3:9]. This is the response of the little boy Samuel, serving in the Temple, who heard the voice of YHWH calling him by name during the night.


24 comments to The death of Canon John Redford marks the end of an era for Maryvale Institute

  • Pedro de Luna

    My sincere condolences on the loss of your friend.

  • Ron Wylie

    Thank you Nick for this beautiful and informative tribute to Canon John. I was one of the Graduands in St. Chad’s Cathedral on Wednesday 6th November and was saddened to hear of his death at this event. At the same time it seemed fitting, as we prayed for him, that this was to be the day of his passing. I was also privileged to serve as acolyte at Mass in the Chapel at Maryvale on the residential weekends with Father John and to have briefly met a true servant of God whom I will remember always. May the Lord bless him and keep him and make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him.

    • Deacon Nick Donnelly

      Congratulations Ron on graduating with a BDvinity. Sorry I couldn’t be with you at St Chad’s but I’m ill following a medical procedure. God bless you and the other diaconal students. You capture Fr John’s spirit very well when you describe him as a ‘true servant of God’. Deacon Nick

  • Msgr Andrew Wadsworth

    I was very fortunate to have studied Hebrews and Colossians with Canon John in the first ever cohort of the Maryvale MA in Catholic Theology. He was a gentle scholar who wore his very considerable learning very lightly, always generous and kind to students – a great servant of the Church and a true priest. I am very grateful to have known him and count his influence on my life and ministry to have been considerable. May he now be rewarded for his very considerable labours and enjoy the peace and beauty of the heavenly liturgy.

  • Damian

    As an altar boy at Holy Cross Church, Carshalton, I always remember Canon Redford’s innate gentleness, humility and quiet kindness. A great loss, rest in peace Canon John.

  • Paul Burnell

    When I was one of several people made redundant by The Universe in the 1990s Fr John was a great support during a very tough time. May He Rest In Peace.

  • I was very sad to learn of the death of Canon John Redford. I had known him for nearly 8 years. He was my course director for a couple of years on the BA (Hons) Divinity and for the first two years of the MA Pastoral and Educational Studies Apologetics pathway. He always encouraged me to keep going and finish my assignments! He brought everything to life in his lectures on the Old Testament, especially Job and Ezekiel. His work on the Historical Jesus was par excellence. I prayed the rosary for him in the early hours of Wednesday morning and I am sure he will pray for Maryvale Institute as it comes to the end of an era with the loss of such fine and Catholic Academics.
    ‘Father John’ rest in peace. Amen

  • Sad news indeed and condolences. I had no idea he was curate at Holy Cross, Carshalton. I still have a good friend there and wonder if she knew him.

    I hope Maryvale can keep on the right track.

  • Patrick

    As another one who graduated on Wednesday, can I add my sense of sorrow for the loss of Fr John. He was the life and soul of Maryvale: warm-hearted, kind, with a great sense of humour. He was not just a great scholar but one who could communicate his love of Sacred Scripture with an enthusiasm that was infectious. Above all, he was a man of profound faith. I thank God for having had his counsel for the five years of my BA course. May he rest in peace.

  • Mark Thorne

    Dear Deacon Nick,

    With my sincere condolences to you on the loss of your friend; this is a very beautifully written tribute. I only had an opportunity to meet Fr John very fleetingly at an event in Westminster a few years ago. I had purchased “Mad, Bad or God? Proving the Divinity of Christ from St. John’s Gospel” at that time, and he was a little taken aback that I wasn’t studying for a formal qualification in divinity or theology while finding his book so interesting. He also showed fatherly concern in trying to ensure that I was fully understanding what I was reading. I felt as if I did, and bought and read his next pair of books with the same zeal; friends have also appreciated receiving copies of these books from me as gifts. I’ve read books written by several Catholic scholars, but Father John is truly the most gifted scholar I have come across at scriptural “exegesis” – drawing the meaning out of the text – as opposed to “eisegesis”, a trap that many scholars seem to fall into whereby their own biased interpretations are read back into the text. May the Angels speed him to his eternal rest and reward.

  • Thank you for making a public declaration about the end of an era at Maryvale. My daughter, who recently received two degrees from the Institute, was very appreciative of Canon John Redford’s contribution to her studies. May those who recently left find the Lord’s provision and ongoing strength to continue the tremendous catechectical tradition that had been established at Maryvale.

  • Stephen

    As the former Publishing Director of St Pauls Publishing, it was an honour for St Pauls to publish his books.

  • Nick– a worthy tribute to a great man. Well written sir! We will all miss Fr. John very much. One of the greatest men it has been my privilege to know.

  • Deacon Malcolm Turner

    Fr John came to speak to our Diaconal on-going formation day at Sidcup in his home diocese. It was at the time of the publication of “Who was John” , in October 2008, and he was genuinely pleased that I was reading it, so he asked me to promote it to our gathering. It was a privilege to do so. His subject for the day was the Eucharistic words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and the Bread of life discourse from John 6. It was a wonderful day made all the more memorable by something that happened before the event. My wife Chris asked Fr John if he would like a tea or a coffee, he decided on coffee, and when she returned she tripped and manage to tip it over him. He was most gracious about it. I always think of that morning whenever I dip into his books. Thank you for your tribute Nick. May he rest in peace.

  • Catherine

    Thank you Nick, you have so beautifully voiced both the thoughts and feelings of many Maryvale aluminii and their relationship with Fr John. So many of us have ancedotes to tell :) and I am so delighted to hear that when Fr John was asked what kind of memorial he would like at Maryvale, he replied that he would like the Student Lounge named after him – The Redford Bar. And yes it is indeed the end of an era, in so many different ways, I too as a Maryvale graduate and more recently an associate member of staff rejoice in the grace of receiving so much from Fr John, Mgr Paul Watson, Dr Petroc Willey, Dr Caroline Farey and so many others. I mourn too the passing of an era as many of us move on. Deo gratias for the blessing of having known and been taught by Fr John. Eternal rest grant unto him.

  • Melanie

    When I was studying for my CCRS at Maryvale, Fr John taught me to bow my head at the Gloria Patri : I had been ignorant of this gesture of reverence until then. So I will always remember him now every time I pray this prayer.

  • Bob Hayes

    Thank you Deacon Nick for your warm, personal tribute to Canon John Redford. It was a privilege to meet Fr John, albeit briefly, during a couple of residential weekends at Maryvale. His intellect and enthusiasm, his warmth and humanity shone through his homilies and in his celebration of Holy Mass.

    May he rest in peace.


    Fr John supervised me during all my studies at Maryvale between 2002 and 2013 on the BA DIV then MACT and MA (Apologetics pathway).I was at the graduation at St Chads shame he could not make it.All i can say is that We have lost a legend.

  • katherine

    Dear, beloved Fr John – you will be missed but you so deserve the rich rewards waiting for you.

    May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

    Deacon Nick

    Thank you so much for your moving tribute to a truly great priest of Holy Mother Church.

  • Kath

    Thanks for this Nick. I too have fond memories of Fr John teaching us about Dei Verbum shortly after his big toe was amputated, and all we wanted to know was what had happened to the toe! He was very patient with us and had a laugh, the firmly briught us back to the topic. Brilliant man!

  • Miss Sharon Wicks

    Requiscat in Pace – And I wish you a speedy recovery

  • The terrible sadness when I was informed on the death of Fr John Redford was nearly like losing a dear friend one knows for a life time. He was in the right place at the right time for my studies at Maryvale from 2004 to 2013. A true priest for the true church. My last contact with Fr John was when he gave me his blessing in his rooms at Maryvale in Feb 2013 which still remains with me as a testimony to his life’s work. We seem to know we would never meet again on this earth. We parted with the hope we will meet again and this meeting was not a goodbye. Thank you Fr John for your faith in up lifting my studies at certain moments when we all falter a bit. May you rest in peace in The Lord you loved so much. Maryvale for me will never be the same without your wisdom.

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