Obituary: Fr Tony Bullen


Anthony Francis Bullen was born in Aughton, Lancashire, on 6 March 1924, the son of David and Mary Bullen. He attended St Mary's School, Aughton, before studying for the priesthood at Ushaw College, Durham. He was ordained at St George's Church, Maghull, on 6 June 1948.

His first appointment was as Assistant Priest at St Mary's, Woolton, from July 1948 until September 1957, when he moved for a brief period to St Benet's, Netherton. In April 1958 he went to work with the Catholic Missionary Society, based in London, but travelling the country offering missions and retreats to parishes and groups. He returned to the archdiocese in October 1959 to take up his appointment as secretary to Archbishop John Carmel Heenan and the following October was appointed Chancellor of the archdiocese. Three years later in October 1962 he was appointed to St Oswald's, Padgate, but continued to work in the curia as Vice-Chancellor.

The beginning of 1965 saw him appointed as Chaplain to St Vincent's School for the Blind, Director of Schools and Director of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Centre. It was a significant appointment in his life as he was charged with implementing the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which was just coming to an end in Rome, in the work of Religious Education in the archdiocese and further afield. His work was soon recognised, a report in the 'Catholic Herald' of 17 November 1967 saying: "Wherever Father Bullen or his colleagues go, they draw record attendances. In two recent sessions in Scotland 1,000 teachers turned out to hear Father Bullen, who insists to his audience that "people are affected more by what you are than what you say."'

They were turbulent years for the Church with many embracing the seismic changes wrought by the Council whilst others sought to resist them. Father Tony wholeheartedly accepted the challenge of change; in 1968 he said, in typically forthright manner: "I would think that when and where religious teaching has failed in the past, the cause will nearly always have been sheer boredom. Many of our children just don't see the relevance of religion to their lives. It seems to me that the principal aim of religious teaching today should be that pupils acquire an appreciation of their involvement in God's plan of salvation, more through discovery than through being told religious facts."

A prolific writer over many years his landmark Religious Education works: 'Exploring God's World' and 'Living and Believing' were written in 1969. A year later his famous, and often reprinted, 'Catholic Prayer Book' was published; it was the first ordinary Catholic Prayer Book since the Council and took Father Tony six months to compile.

He continued his work at the now renamed Christian Education Centre until October 1975 when he was appointed as Parish Priest of St Paul's, West Derby, Liverpool. In July 1980 ill health forced his resignation from the parish and in order to recover his health he left for America to serve as Assistant Priest at the Church of St Nicholas in Laguna Hills, California. He was popular and his ministry was admired by many; it was at this time that friendships were forged which would last for years following his return to England.

It was in September 1983 that, having regained his health, he returned to the archdiocese as Parish Priest of St Bartholomew's, Rainhill. Just as he had accepted the challenge of the changes brought by the Council so too he embraced the need for change in the parish and worked tirelessly using his energies to build up the Catholic community. He reordered the nineteenth century church and brought about collaborative ministry as envisaged by the Council. On one occasion St Bartholomew's was visited by a number of the English and Welsh Bishops who were meeting at nearby Loyola Hall; a few days later Father Tony received a letter from Archbishop Derek Worlock expressing their thanks for the work being done in the parish, evidence of which they had clearly seen in the extensive list of parish ministries and contacts at the entrance to the church.

During his time in Rainhill Father Tony led major celebrations: for the rededication of the church following reordering and for the 150th anniversary of the church. At the end of May 1988 he was ambushed by a group of grateful parishioners who gave him seven days notice of the celebrations they had organised for his Ruby Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood.

He will be remembered for his pastoral care and for his support of anyone in need and it was with great sadness that in the summer of 1993 his parishioners heard of his intention to retire the following October.

In retirement he returned to live at the family home in Aughton and for a number of years regularly celebrated Mass at the nearby parish of St Mary. He returned to St Bartholomew's for the celebration of his Golden Jubilee of ordination. In later years he lived in Cumbria and failing health led to a more private celebration of his sixty years of priesthood. He died on Friday 6 July 2012 at the age of 88 and in his sixty-fifth year of priesthood. May he rest in peace.

His body will be received into St Bartholomew's Church, Rainhill, at 6.00 pm on Sunday 15 July when Mass will be celebrated by the Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool. His Funeral Mass will be celebrated at St Bartholomew's on Monday 16 July at 11.00 am, followed by burial in the churchyard. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated by the Right Reverend Vincent Malone, former Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, and the homily preached by the Right Reverend John Rawsthorne, Bishop of Hallam, who worked for many years with Father Tony at the Christian Education Centre.

Source: Archdiocese of Liverpool


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