A huge congregation gathered at SS Alban & Stephen Catholic Church in St Albans on Wednesday, 24 January, for the funeral of Father Tom Hewitt MSC who died after a short illness on 4 January.
Born in Rugby, in 1946, Fr Tom was inspired by the values of his family, a strong faith, a firm belief in all that is good in the English tradition, and a special love for the game that is named after his home town, and, of course, not forgetting his love of cricket.
Having completed his secondary studies at Rugby School, he went to St Andrews University where he obtained an honours degree in Mathematics.
After graduation he started teaching A-Level maths at Princethorpe College, run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC). While there, he heard the call to religious life and priesthood and joined the congregation. He entered the novitiate in 1970 in Moyne Park, Co. Galway, Ireland and went on to study theology at Milltown Park, Dublin, where he acquired a Licentiate in Theology. During this time, he developed a love for long walks and bird watching. For Fr Tom, holidays consisted of two weeks' walking in the Highlands of Scotland regardless of the weather.
After Ordination, Fr Tom returned to teaching at Princethorpe College and after two years he moved to pastoral ministry in St Albans where he served for six years. He then volunteered for the MSC Missions and was appointed to South Africa where he ministered for ten years. People still fondly recall Fr Tom in the parishes he served in, for example, Ofcaloco and Johannesburg. It is especially worthy of note that he was part of the team that developed the parish of the Holy Trinity, in Midrand, and he celebrated the first Mass in Ivory Park township in a tin hut in 1990. Both parishes have since developed into large thriving Christian communities.
In 1994, Fr Tom returned to England and after a short rest he took up Parish ministry in St John The Baptist parish in Tamworth where he worked for nine years. Here Fr Tom was closely associated with the RCIA team that welcomed many into the church, and his care for the sick and the housebound was a very special part of his ministry. While there, despite the busy life of the parish, Fr Tom took a degree in English Literature with the Open University. His love of learning continued throughout his life and he later graduated with an MA from Heythrop College.
Fr Tom strived to bring the presence of Christ to all, and through his gentle personality and caring ways, he showed the loving and forgiving Christ that enabled the sick to come into a deeper relationship with the Lord. "I was sick and you visited me"; "As long as you did it to the least of my sisters and brother, you did it to me."
In 2006, Fr Tom returned to Ss Alban and Stephen and he served the parish and community faithfully for the last eleven years. The expression of appreciation and thanks that have poured in since his death bear testimony to the great work that he has done in the parish.
His smile, attention and care for each individual, his support for families in bereavement and for the sick and dying were for Fr Tom a powerful expression of God's love and he will be remembered for his care in their time of need.
While many people have spoken about the gentle ways of Fr Tom, there were times when he showed another side to his character. He could get carried away very easily when his beloved England were involved either in rugby or cricket. One Saturday afternoon, Fr Tom was celebrating the 5pm Mass in Maryland Convent and on the same evening England were playing Wales in the Six Nations Rugby. Fr Tom kept the Mass nice and short and then asked the sisters if he could watch the second half of the game in their community room. They kindly agreed, and what's more, they brought in his supper on a tray. So there was Fr Tom, watching the match with the tray on his knees, eating his supper of bacon and egg with his mug of coffee. England scored an unexpected try. Fr Tom forgot about the tray, jumped up and began celebrating. Yes, you can imagine the rest!
Rugby and cricket were two of Fr Tom's great passions, and he took special delight in the fact that Ian Bell, former test match and present Warwickshire player, had studied at Princethorpe College where he had taught.
Prayer and study were always very much part of Fr Tom's life. His faithfulness to the Divine Office, the daily prayer of the church, and daily meditation were the foundations of his faith. This deep faith enabled him to accept with great dignity the news that he had little time left on this earth, and he lived out those last weeks in an exemplary way trusting in God and asking for prayers for a happy death.
Fr Tom was a dedicated and faithful member of the MSC community and showed concern for other confreres, always willing and able to support them. However, he would be the first to admit that he was not the most practical person. He was able to laugh at himself as he told many stories against himself in getting so many things wrong.
Those of us who knew Fr Tom have been uplifted by his smile, inspired by his dedication and deep faith in bringing the Good News of the Gospel to others. We have been warmed by his friendship, his priestly ministry and his devoted services to the parishioners of Ss Alban and Stephen. We give thanks to Fr Tom and may he rest in peace.
Reprinted from the Order of Service for Fr Tom's Funeral Mass, with thanks.
Fr Tom Hewitt, MSC, Rest In Peace
19th January 1946 - 4th January 2018
Fr Tom's funeral was held at 10am on Wednesday 24th January followed by a burial at Hatfield Road Cemetery.