Fr Peter Jones
On his name day, his birthday, and the anniversary of his ordination.
With two very young children, Pauline and I didn’t attempt to go to Coventry Airport in 1982 to sing for Pope John Paul II, so we missed the first outing of Peter Jones’ Coventry Gloria. Soon after that I discovered the SSG Composers’ Group and began to get to know some of the ‘names’ in UK Catholic music. However, it wasn’t until I attended a St Thomas More Group weekend at the Park Place Pastoral Centre in Portsmouth that I met Peter Jones. I found him in what I later discovered to be a characteristic pose: sitting on a wall, smoking. I plucked up courage – he was a formidable character, even then – and introduced myself. Looking back now, 25 years later, I’m glad I did, though it must be said that it was a friendship that required some hard work at times!
Shortly after that, Peter went, as late vocations did, to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood. His ordination on 29 June 1991 coincided with his 40th birthday and with the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. From time to time on that date in recent years, he would gather a small group of singers and descend on his good friend, Fr Brian Doolan, parish priest at St Peter and St Paul, Lower Brailes in South Warwickshire, to sing Evening Prayer in the historic chapel in Friars Lane. Peter would often avail himself of Fr Brian’s hospitality when a day off came along.
Life at St Catherine’s, the first of his Birmingham parishes, was not always so idyllic, and Peter was badly beaten up once in a nearby subway. Another spell in hospital ensued when he suffered an early heart attack. I wasn’t the only one to urge him to stop smoking – you could never actually tell Peter to do anything – and for a while he did – but he relapsed quite soon after. (However, when his lymphoma was diagnosed, he stopped overnight and never went back.)
Shortly after he went to Our Lady and St Pius X, Kidderminster in 1996, I resigned as Director of Music at my home parish, leaving me free to go and play the organ there. It was in Kidderminster that Peter and I (or ‘Smith and Jones’, as he often called us, referring to a popular TV programme) made our first attempt to deliver the Preliminary Syllabus for Church Musicians. Our guinea pigs were remarkably tolerant: the Syllabus brought out the teacher in Peter, and he thought nothing of delivering two one-hour lectures each time, leaving me just 15 minutes or so to tackle the more practical aspects of parish musicianship. A second series in Wolverhampton was rather better balanced, even if the highlight of each evening was a stop at the KFC on the way home.
Peter had long been recognised by his peers as the go-to priest for musical advice and support, so it was a logical move in 1999 for Vincent Nichols, then Archbishop of Birmingham, to establish a Diocesan Centre for Formation in Pastoral Music and Liturgy and appoint Peter as its Director. He, in turn, selected me and a handful of other diocesan pastoral musicians to form the Music Committee. Together, right up until his last illness, we have all worked together to promote good music and liturgy throughout the archdiocese, on such occasions as the annual Rite of Election, the Ordination of Deacons, the annual Mass for Religious, semi-annual Diocesan Masses for Parish Musicians, and, of course, the Papal Choir that sang so wonderfully at Cofton Park in Birmingham on Sunday 19 September 2010, when Pope Benedict declared Cardinal John Henry Newman Blessed. When Pauline and I visited Peter in hospital the day before he died, she reminded him of that great day, and also of the marvellous week the three of us had spent together in Rome in 2009, staying at the Beda. I thanked him for all the opportunities he had given me to work with him: the liturgies, the workshops and the courses, our joint publication Glory to God, but, above all, that memorable morning in Cofton Park when I conducted the 500-strong children’s choir on the right of the sanctuary while he conducted 500 adults and the Schola on the left.
May he rest in peace.
Sunday 30 June at 10.00am Opening hymn Into a world in darkness (L371) Glory to God A Parish Mass (Peter Jones) Responsorial psalm From all my terrors (Alan Smith) Gospel acclamation Paschal tone Preparation song God has chosen me (Bernadette Farrell) Holy. Holy In Pace (Christopher Walker) Memorial Acclamation II In Pace (Christopher Walker) Lamb of God Aston (Peter Jones) Communion song Be still, for the presence of the Lord (L720) Recessional hymn Church of God, elect and glorious (L825)