Welcome to Our New Assistant Priest: Fr James Dunne
(also known as Fr. Jim)
After Fr. Christopher’s letter to all parishioners, circulated on Friday 5th June, you will be aware that in September, our parishes will welcome Fr. Jim Dunne. Fr Christopher will continue to serve as Parish Priest, whilst Fr. Jim will minister as an Assistant Priest in Bellingham, Haydon Bridge, and Hexham, but will reside at Saint Oswald’s, Bellingham.
As a brief introduction, Fr Jim has kindly written a summary of his autobiography for us:
I was born in January 1948 (yes, that long ago!) and grew up in the Wallsend & Howdon areas of what is now North Tyneside (then, Northumberland). I went to St Cuthbert’s Grammar School in 1959, then, after ‘A’ Levels in 1965, I entered the senior seminary at Ushaw College. During my six years there, I spent three at Durham University. Those were six years of enormous change at Ushaw, the Church in general, and in all of our society. I was ordained in the old church of St Aidan, Willington Quay, on 30th October 1971.
In January 1972, I was appointed as Curate at Houghton-le-Spring in County Durham. In September 1972, I was sent to teach at St Cuthbert’s Grammar (later High) School, Newcastle, where I remained until the Summer of 1989. By then, I was the last priest-teacher in the diocese. Full-time teaching, with laypeople as colleagues, and later, as ‘boss’, had a huge impact on my relationships with the laity in the Church – I see us as collaborators in one single purpose.
The Summer of 1989 saw me move to be parish priest at St Patrick’s, Consett, then the biggest congregation in the diocese (about 1250 at Mass). I was there for 11 years, leaving in 2000, to go south to Newton Aycliffe. Then, unexpectedly, I was moved at short notice to Sacred Heart, North Gosforth, in February 2008, a month after my 60th birthday.
Although the move was a shock, I easily settled in. Many of the parishioners knew me from my teaching days, and I quickly became involved as a school governor of St Oswald’s Primary School, and of the Sacred Heart Girls’ High School. I’ve been very happy these last 12+ years: the parishioners are kind, gifted, and involved. We have succeeded in getting young people to serve at Mass, and, from Year 5 up, to join the adult Sunday reading teams.
The main feature of North Gosforth parish has been the growth of new housing: the Newcastle Great Park is now a town-in-itself; other areas north of Newcastle (mostly in the parish) are also being greatly expanded. This has given many new parishioners but also needed a big expenditure of energy. That’s been the problem. Since I turned 70, the parish has gradually become too much for me, with a greatly increased number of baptismal enquiries, and First Communions (32 were meant to be done this summer). Some months ago, Bishop Robert, aware of this, asked me to go to one of the smaller Northumberland parishes, and “help out” the priest in the larger hub; this turned out to be Bellingham, helping Fr Christopher there, as well as in Hexham and Haydon Bridge.
Despite my age (72-and-a-half), I hope I can offer something to your scattered communities. I do have health issues with asthma and arthritis - plus deafness! But (thank God) I am still mentally fairly alert, and I’ve kept the sense of humour that got me through awkward times in teaching. On my Tuesday day-off, lay friends and I usually walk in Northumberland & North West Durham – we were in the North Tyne Valley last Autumn, so I’m used to the roads in the area. The photo will show me as a big, bald bloke – so if you see me around, do stop and say hello. Please be assured that, whatever I still have, I’ll do my best to give it to you.
Fr Jim Dunne