Nothing as trivial as a bout of pneumonia – not even one requiring hospitalisation – was going to stop the man affectionately known as the ‘people’s priest’ from attending his own Mass of Thanksgiving.
Father Bernard Hughes, 74, who celebrates his 50th anniversary in the priesthood this month, was absolutely determined he would be fit to don his white vestments for the service at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Gardenia Avenue this evening (February 26).
The Bishop of Northampton, the Rt Rev Peter Doyle, will be principle celebrant at the ceremony which will be attended by more than 20 priests, members of Father Hughes’ family and hundreds of loyal parishioners.
Father Bernard, who still has a twinkle in his eye in spite of being disabled in a recent accident and suffering from Parkinsons, said: “My twin sister will be there.
“She always said it was just as well I became a priest because no-one else would have had me.”
He came to Luton newly ordained in 1964 to discover most of his flock hailed from the Emerald Isle.
“I realised if I wanted to be any use, I’d have to get to know Ireland,” he said. “And I’ve been going backwards and forwards ever since.
“In those days people came to their priest if they had marriage problems, now they go to the divorce courts.”
He remembered visiting one home and almost being hit on the head by a shoe as he came through the door.
“I asked the husband: ‘Was that meant for me or the wife?’ and told him he didn’t have a very good aim.
“I’m pleased to say they sorted themselves out and are still together today.”
Peterborough-born Father Bernard – whose late brother John was also a priest – spent three years in Langley, near Slough, before returning to the Sacred Heart in Stopsley as assistant priest.
He was asked to co-ordinate the building programme at the Holy Family Parish in Marsh Farm which opened in 1983.
He recalled: “I had a fair amount of experience in school buildings because I’d been involved with Cardinal Newman in 1968.”
He’s also been chaplain at Keech Hospice Care, Luton & Dunstable Hospital and the TA where he came out a major.
“My father would have said ‘a major disaster,’” he quipped.
Like many of his parishioners, the people’s priest enjoys a singsong and has a pleasant tenor voice which was used to good effect on Mother Theresa – a song specially written for him by Luton musician Tommy Christie.
Tommy said: “It raised a lot of money for the hospice and was a big hit in Ireland.”
The dynamic duo will be entertaining the congregation at a bit of a do after the service of thanksgiving.
Father Bernard – a keen footballer, long distance runner and rugby player in his day – has rubbed shoulders with royalty and met the Queen and Princess Anne.
But he’s happiest in his specially-adapted Limbury bungalow where neigbours are always dropping in to check up on him.
“Luton is my home,” he said. “And I hope there’s a space for me at the Vale when the time comes.”
> Now watch Jane Russell’s video on www.lutontoday.co.uk