Father John Sherrington RIP - A Hidden Life

Father John Sherrington was a designer, Passionist priest-worker, street sweeper and trade unionist, anti-apartheid activist and domestic carer, friend of Catholics and other Christians living with HIV and AIDS, Passionist Provincial and finally a good neighbour in Byker estate, Newcastle. He was gentle, sensitive and quiet. He was also a passionate, determined and radically prophetic presence who inspired and challenged many of those he encountered. His faith fired in him a total commitment to the God of justice, present for, with, among and in the poor. In his final years he was living with Parkinsons disease before his death on February 4th.

Baptised Peter John, he was born into a working class Catholic family in Blythe, Northumberland, in 1947. His father was a miner, but their son was a creative artist and designer who went to art school and worked as a designer before joining the Passionists in his 20's.

After joining the Passionists in 1974 John was influenced by another well known Passionist, Fr Austin Smith cp. Austin had been a key figure in leading Passionists and others to respond to the call for an 'option for the poor' emanating from the Second Vatican Council, liberation theology, and the French worker priest movement. These had led Austin and Fr Nicholas Postlethwaite cp to found the Passionist Inner City Mission (ICM). In 1971, they moved to Toxteth, Liverpool, the area that became notorious for the 'Toxteth Riots' in the 1980's. Along with Michael Bold, John started 'ICM London' counterpart. However, whereas in Liverpool the ICM had a community focus, John and Michael followed the lead of the worker priests into the world of low paid manual work.

John found a job as a street sweeper for Islington Council, despite his future colleagues warning about the boredom they and he would share. At the same time, John and Michael lived in and ran a project providing accommodation, support and life skills for young homeless people in New North Road, Islington. During the 1980's, their home was the top secret drop address for mail coming in from around the world for the South Africa Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF), as revealed in the Channel 4 programme "Secret History". Each day the mail would be picked up by IDAF reps. John was a link in a chain of support for families of political prisoners in apartheid South Africa that was a vital part of the struggle for justice there.

In the 1980's, John became first of all NUPE trade union shop steward, then a local union organiser on advocating and negotiating on behalf of his colleagues with local management. Through these connections, he became actively involved in solidarity for the miners during the year long confrontation with Margaret Thatchers' Conservative government.

After some years, due to reorganisation of street cleaning, John moved to work as a carer in an Islington Council residential care home, then as a home carer for the same council for people with HIV and AIDS. He also became involved with LGBT Catholics, being on a rota for celebrating the Soho Masses while living on the Pembury Estate in Hackney, and involved with the community there. John also became involved with a different community, Catholics with HIV and AIDS, particularly through the charity Catholic Aids Prevention and Support (CAPS). After another reorganisation, John took redundancy from Islington council, and later moved back up to Byker in Newcastle to be near his mother in her final years.

John's multifaceted ministry included many years involvement with vocations and formation ministry with his Passionist Province. In 2009, against his own inclination and desire, John was elected Passionist Provincial. During this time, he initiated what can be described as 'a new way of being Passionist', the 'Community of the Passion', a Passionist group open to all who share the desire to 'keep alive the memory of the Passion' by their commitment to 'the crucified ones of today' at 'sites of suffering', as well as 'the Crucified One'. However, after four years as Provincial John was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2013, at the age of 66. He continued all this time to be a faithful presence in his inner city neighbourhood, continuing the ICM spirit, including by being a good friend to members of the local refugee and asylum drop in centre run by Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.

With the progression of Parkinson's, John found himself the beneficiary of the very same home care he had given others in their hour of need. After some time in Newcastle Royal Infirmary, he transferred to the same St Joseph's Home his mother had died in, and to which he had offered support in a Chaplaincy role, where he died after a finally rapid decline. His requiem Mass will be at Minsteracres Passionist Retreat Centre at midday on February 19th. May he rest in peace.

Fr John Sherrington
Born: 28th March 1947
Professed in the Passionist Congregation 5th January 1974
Ordained: 14th July 1979
Passionist Provincial: 16th April 2009 - April 18th 2013 Died: 4th February 2020

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