Bishop Kevin O'Brien: 'prelate of the poor' laid to rest

 History was made at Middlesbrough in North-east England today when Bishop Kevin O'Brien was buried after a Requiem Mass at St Mary's cathedral in the town. He was the first bishop of Middlesbrough to be buried in the simple 8ft deep vault since the cathedral was built in 1986. Bishop O'Brien, who was 81 when he died, was auxiliary bishop of Middlesbrough from 1981 until he retired aged 75 in 1998. In Hull where he lived he became known as the ''prelate of the poor' because he greeted homeless young men calling at his presbytery door. Among stories told by Bishop John Crowley, of Middlesbrough, during the Requiem Mass today was about one of the men helped corresponding with Bishop O'Brien from a young offenders' institution - not knowing that the priest was a bishop. In 1996, writing in Edges, magazine of THOMAS (Those on the Margins of a Society), based at Burnley, Lancashire, Bishop O'Brien told how 30 young men rung the door bell every day at St Charles, Hull. He had to restrict the visits from after 8am and before 10.30pm. He admitted he had to "learn patience" because the callers "are ungrateful and they come at the most awkward times." He said it was hard to read, write, think or pray because the doorbell kept ringing. "All we can do for them is to give them a sausage roll and 50p. They seem to find that satisfactory enough." The jovial Cork-born bishop said people asked him why he helped the callers. He said it was because he realised "how much misery there is in their lives and I think they deserve a little uplift." He said the callers were "loveable people who have been deprive of love by their families." Family breakdown was at the root of most of the homelessness which needed to be tackled more than other problems, he said. "These are the people that Jesus dealt with when he was on earth and I feel I must try to deal with them also in the same way." Mgr Anthony Bickerstaffe, who lived with Bishop O'Brien at the time, said: "He really loved these lads." He added that his five years at St Charles with the bishop were the "icing on the cake" of his 50 years of priesthood. Bishop O'Brien was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by Hull University in 1998 for his work with the young and disadvantaged. Eleven bishops and 85 priests took part in the Requiem Mass, which was attended by 600 people. The coffin was lain in the special vault for bishops of Middlesbrough near the entrance of St Mary's cathedral, Middlesbrough. It seemed very simple under and overcast sky opposite a road and a supermarket. A single bunch of plain white flowers lay alongside the vault, which was left open for people to pay their respects.

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