Bishop John Jukes talks to Nicholas Fitzherbert about his life and work as a Franciscan and his current involvement with World at Work
My Lord, you were educated at the primary school, Eltham, and at the grammar school of St Joseph's, Blackheath. Were these formative years for you?
I think I should say that I was educated at Miss Faggs school in Eltham. I have a memory of a little private school and then I went to St Joseph's at Beulah Hill, and then later went to St Joseph's, Blackheath.
They are a distant memory but were undoubtedly formative years, narrowed perhaps towards the end by the outbreak of the war which then focused all of my generation on to what was going to happen to us.
Where did the outbreak of war find you?
It found me on the beach at Bexhill filling sand bags. We had been on holiday, we rushed back home at the end of August and were equipped with our gas masks and little bag and pushed into a train at Blackheath, not knowing where we were going and to our great surprise, after two hours we found ourselves at Bexhill where we had relatives living at the time and actually, on that Sunday morning, I was filling sand bags.
Was your home influence very strong, especially as I believe your mother was a convert?
My mother was a convert before her marriage to my father and my recollections of my home is that it was a solidly Catholic home. Of course a strong influence, extremely stable and loving home. We had tragedies to face because in 1936 my father, who was then in his early 40's had a very bad cerebal hemorrhage which resulted in impairment of speech and movement which he slowly partially recovered but this affected the family fortunes. It was the time of the depression anyway, the family business was going through a great deal of stress so we had to learn to manage.
Can you tell me how old you were when you first thought of trying your vocation?
You mean trying my vocation to the Franciscan Order. Yes, I was 23. I had no thoughts of a priestly vocation before that. I left home and was doing a degree in Agriculture and was required by my University to spend a year working as a farm labourer basically and towards the end of that year, on Romney Marsh, I was changing minds and directions and had originally thought of equipping myself with a degree in Agriculture and Estate Management, basically to go overseas to serve what I thought of as a starving world.
I suppose a life of quiet and prayer on Romney Marsh made me think of spiritual needs and so it was in the summer of 1946 that I first thought of becoming a Friar and the implications of becoming a priest. I went home to tell my father.
I cycled home because I was too poor to travel otherwise 60 miles and he seemed very disappointed at this until I challenged him and then he said that he was very pleased but he didn't think I was good enough.
You prepared for the priesthood as a member of the Franciscan Conventual Order at the Liverpool Seminary and Rome before being ordained in 1952 at St Antony's, Liverpool. Can you tell me something about these years?
Yes„ and my first experience of religious life was in Liverpool, where the Noviate of the Order was located. Having taken my vows in January, 1948, the Order had a small seminary there for the study of philosophy and I stayed there until later in that year when I went to Rome to complete my philosophical studies at the Gregorian University and then to study theology at the Pontifical Faculty of my own Order entitled St Bonaventures Faculty in Rome.
I didn't like Rome. The physical conditions were extremely exacting. It was the postwar years in Italy. Food was short. The college in which we lived had no heating whatsoever. I've never been so cold in my life as I was in Rome. So I asked to be ordained in England rather than in Rome and came back here for ordination at what was then the mother house of our English province.
I returned to Rome for another year of studies after that. Now, what about those years. In Rome, an enormous experience of being with and meeting with people from all over the world.
I studied in an international college, many of my contemporaries were from Eastern Europe. They had escaped from the Communists, often at the risk of their lives, so we were conscious of this spread of vision and there were also Americans, and on occasions, individuals coming in from China at the time of great turmoil.
We were also conscious that a member of our college had given up his life in Germany during the course of the war and there was talk then that he might eventually be beatified. In the event, he was canonised and that was J T Maximilian Kolbe.
We rather lived if you like in the sight of that student who had lived at the college about thirty years before I got there but it was rather, in retrospect, that this was at the back of our minds that perhaps we might in our turn have to make a similar sacrifice.
From 1953 to 1959 you were Rector of your Order seminary in North Wales. Does the formation of vocations remain as one of the high points of your priestly life and was it unusual for you to have this post as a first one?
Well, an element to keep in mind is that when I joined my province in England, actually it wasnt's a province but at the intermediate stage of becoming a province, we were conscious that we were the heirs of the ancient Grey Friars province of England and we were also conscious that we had received a new foundation in the Twentieth Century by Friars from Malta and from America, but now there was a body of native Friars that was starting to build the life of the Province. I joined the Order at a time of a great flourishing of vocations and so the Province had to deal with the prospect of a group of students coming in each year.
The Superior at that time decided that it was inopportune to send students overseas so on my return from a further year of studies in Rome, I was appointed at once as Master of Clerics, as it was called in those days, and was told to found a seminary in North Wales.
We had there a very large house that we had bought about four years beforehand. It was intended as a noviate house but it was much too big for that purpose so I started by teaching philosophy and eventually founded a full seminary there.
It was a great and very exciting experience to do that and I received there then the taste I have always preserved for the care and training of the Franciscan way of life and also for the priesthood.
How old were you when you were appointed? I was 30.
This appointment was followed by ten years as a parish priest in Manchester and London. What did you enjoy most during this time?
Perhaps you would like to hear how I got appointed. I received a telephone call in April of 1959 from the Provincial who asked me to go to Manchester where the Order had its biggest parish. I thought he was asking me to go up and preach a sermon or do some particular job and he rather shattered me when he told me he wanted me to go as parish priest and I said, 'well I'm the Rector of a Seminary and I have a school programme going on', but he said 'it doesn't matter, go anyway'.
When I said 'when', he replied 'tomorrow'. With no parish experience, I was suddently put into the job of being a parish priest of one of the very largest parishes in the Diocese.
A new church had just been built, in fact, it was just finishing.
It had a whole range of schools, both primary and secondary, and there was something like 6,000 Catholics in the parish, and a Mass attendance of about 2,500. It was a most awe-inspiring challenge and a great experience, because the Catholics of Manchester are so friendly and warm in the Faith, it was a privilege to serve them. During my time, the parish eventually grew to over 7,000 Catholics and a Mass attendance of some 3,000.
In 1964 I was sent, again after a rather brief interview, to London, to Waterloo in the Southwark Diocese, where the Archbishop of Southwark had offered the Order a foundation and so again, almost overnight, I was transformed from a parish of over 7,000 to one of 500 on the banks of the Thames.
I must say I found the same kind of warmth and welcome and down to earth living the Faith which I found very enjoyable indeed.
One of my major roles in Waterloo, a totally different experience on this occasion, was as Apostolate to those who were without homes and many of whom were suffering from alcoholic abuse.
From 1969 to 1979 you were lecturer and vice principal at the Franciscan Order Study Centre, Canterbury. Can you tell me of the nature of your responsibilites there.
The background to the Franciscan Study Centre at Canterbury is that my own Franciscan Province decided in 1966 to change the practice of sending students overseas for theology and to co-operate with the other Franciscan families in this country in trying to establish a common centre of studies.
We also decided, if possible, that this centre of studies should be associated with British Centre of learning, preferably. After many hours of discussion with our fellow Franciscans, eventually the Friars Minor and ourselves decided to continue to persue this particular project and I was appointed by the two Franciscan families to act as the negotiator with the universities concerned.
Eventually, on behalf of the Order, we negotiated an agreement with the University of Kent and Canterbury and decided that at the University we would build a modern seminary which is what the Franciscan Study Centre is. Later, other families of religion joined in, notably the Redemptorist and the Friars Minor, Capuchin.
My own responsibilities between 1969 and 1973 were that I was to oversee the actual building of the Study Centre which opened its doors in 1973. During my time of living in Canterbury, I had the privilege of living as a lodger with fellow Friars in an Anglican Theological seminary which was founded in the town in 1969.
Part of the time I was thought of as an unofficial member of staff. It was a most extraordinary ecumenical experience. In the Study Centre itself, I was responsible for time tabling as vice principal, etc. but my main responsibility was as lecturer in Canon Law which I had done from 1966 anyway to the students of the Friars Minor province and of my own province.
In addition to these responsibilities, I was one of the planners of what we call joint courses on a number of matters which have to deal with the preparation of the church student to be a priest in the modern era, particularly in areas of marriage and pastoral practice.
From 1973 to 1981 you were Vicar Episcopal for the Diocese of Southwark, you have moved around the country a great deal. Does this reflect the fact that you belong to a religious order rather than being a secular priest?
If you are a member of a religious Order, you are liable to appointment in more than one Diocese because the prime mover in your appointments is the Provincial. In my case, I served in Liverpool Menevia, in Salford and in Southwark, for substantial periods of time.
I also did a fair amount of work in other dioceses. I was vicar for religious in the Southwark Diocese.
This was a great challenge because at that time there were more than 1,200 religious sisters in the Diocese, spread into about 110 communities. It was a totally new post in the Diocese and needless to say, I had to spend much time visiting these houses.
I also spent a great deal of time using something of the knowledge I had acquired as a lecturer in Canon Law, to advise religious orders on the revision of their constitutions which had to take place as a consequence of the Second Vatican Council.
Within a year of being appointed Minister Provincial of your Order, you were appointed an Auxilliary Bishop of the Diocese of Southwark. Do you enjoy being a Bishop?
Can you tell me about the Committee of the World at Work of which you are Chairman?
The Committee is one newly founded in the reorganisation of the hierarchy secretariat structurers in 1982/3. Its purpose is to promote the understandingof work being a place where the Gospel is lived and indeed preached by example to others. It is an initiative of the hierarchy to underline and to promote the insights of the Church in what is generally known as social teaching with particular application to work.
The Committee itself works basically as a very small group, myself and a secretary, but in order to make sure that there is a wide ranging involvement of the Church in this country, we have held two national consultations to which every Diocese has been invited to send representatives and a number of the nonDiocesean organisations have also been invited.
A third consultation is in prospect. Two working parties are operating at the present time and we are hoping to present papers, one on Trade Unions and the other on Justice and Contracts of Employment, for study by the Bishops of England and Wales.
In addition the Committee, of course, does a great deal of work representing the Church to worker movements and other areas of interest to the Church in this country.
I, as Chairman, tend to represent the Bishops on overseas gatherings which do with the World at Work. I am off in three weeks time, for example, to Switzerland to represent the Church at the European conference on this matter.
Can I ask you, as a last question, what do you think is our priority in importance for the Church in this country at the present time? I think it is to promote the selfawareness of all the Baptised as to their mission in and with the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.