Welcome to Saint Mary’s Church, Harborne, Birmingham, UK.

Order of St. Augustine.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”  St. Augustine.

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Your Priests at St. Mary’shttp://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/priests.html
“Mini Mary’s” Sunday Gospel for Childrenhttp://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/minimarys.html
Today’s Mass Readingshttp://www.universalis.com/mass.htm
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Sunday Children’s Liturgyhttp://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/Organisations/childliturgy.html
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A few more pages and links...http://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/morelinks.html
Daily Prayershttp://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/prayers.html
(For Fr. John Reid’s Homilies 
please click this link HERE.)http://www.saintmarysharborne.org.uk/homily2.html

Fr. Benignus O’Rourke. RIP.

Father Ben, 90 years old, Augustinian Friar and Priest, began life in the UK at Austin Friars School 1957 firstly as an English Master, then as House Master, then Head Master. From 1989 to 1997 he was here at St Mary’s as Parish Priest, taking over from Fr Stibbles, then as Parish Priest at Clare Priory, 1997 to 2005, staying on at Clare until transferring to St Joseph’s Home a year ago. In a sentence he has touched the lives of many now, here, -and is touching hundreds more through his book on silent prayer.

In 1963, at Austin Friars, at the start of the Spring Term, he asked me: “What are you going to do with your life?” “Teach, or maybe Atomic  Energy at Calder Hall?” “Have you thought of being a priest?” “No!” “Would you like to talk about it?” “Yes.” And I would join the queue of boys on stairs up to his room. Other priests has queues for the cane. At one session, he said: “John, when you come to know the love of Jesus….”

What contribution did he make to St Mary’s Parish? “Well, he changed my husband’s life, completely, - by inspiring him to find his hidden treasure…”  How many more were changed by Fr Ben? And how did he do it? Yes, by his lifelong study and practice of silent prayer. But above all it’s his person that did it: lovely, gentle, endlessly kind, “a calm and a peace in him that draws people to him.” He didn’t talk at them, rather he listens, just a few words. As Fr Bernard Rolls says: “It’s not what he said, it’s what he did, - it’s from his presence: holy, you could tell.”

His years of experience, of his listening to you, to me and to countless others, - but above all to God, - bore fruit in “Finding your Hidden Treasure”, finally published in his eighties. Every page of its 64 chapters, each only two pages of A5, tells you who Fr Ben is. He doesn’t teach you any set way to pray, no set place or time, no set words or prayers, - but I open it and within a page, I put the book down: a line has inspired me to be silent in God’s silence. It is to be stressed, Fr Ben was inspired lifelong by St Augustine’s Confessions and back in 1995 he published Return to your Heart, a smaller than A5 booklet with one quote from Augustine on each page, - each drawing you to be still and ponder. And then, again in his eighties he produces a wonderful translation and readable presentation of the Confessions. Reads like a page-turner.

Fr Ben, released from teaching English, freed from the shackles of discipline and curriculum, brought his presence here to St Mary’s. As Parish Priest he wasn’t a ‘doer’, - he always needed a friar or a visiting priest to be the action man. Rather, Ben brought along his listening presence to St Mary’s parish: a conviction that the Church is not the priests, bishops, monsignors etc: the Church is you, the people. Along with inspiring people to deeper prayer, he had the knack of spotting your ability and your willingness, - whether to be Catechist, do music, flowers, - or priest. He was a Master of Delegation. As one of you said: “As you saw him walking towards you, you knew you were going to be asked, and you knew you were going to say ‘yes’!” If you offered him an idea regarding a group, or “why not do this, Father? “, he’d listen, take you by the elbow, say a few words about your relevant ability, - and you’d find yourself propelled into the job, willingly. Thus did I find myself investigating the haunting of Austin Friars. He was creative of a living and alive community.

And parishioners in droves would  make an appointment, knowing they would be welcomed, would be listened to, not judged, and would come away with a new peace and a way forward. For example through the Church’s rules and regulations regarding marriage, Ben’s concern was your happiness, your union with Jesus Christ. It was ‘counselling’, it was his attentive listening, with ears, eyes and heart that helped you to find your way forward and filled you with peace.

While still Parish Priest here  and at Clare, and especially afterwards at Clare and St Joseph’s, Ben had a daily ministry of phone and email, - an extensive ministry with names logged in his diary: at what hour he would call. This was all the more valuable when he developed Parkinsons in Clare. He phoned one dying lady: she said “It was like having a blanket wrapped round her.”

We associate be with the finer things of life: poetry, classical music, literature, - a few weeks ago he finished Jane Austin for the 10th time. His walks in the countryside, lifelong, were his daily mainstay, - apart from Jesus Christ, - 4 miles even in his eighties with Parkinsons, to Rockliffe daily at Carlisle, then at Clare to Lower Hardwick Cottage daily. No radio, no i-phone, Ben, with head up, eyes roving , would drink in Nature.

Here at St Mary’s and Clare Priory you experience Ben set free from Austin Friars. Bernard Rolls and myself as pupils at Austin Friars remember Ben’s scathing comments on Bernard’s essay and on my superficial assessment of Hamlet. Another ‘old boy’ of AF remembers “a stern flinty presence” and was shocked to find that in Parish life he was seen as a “tender counsellor of bruised souls.” Those coming to his Retreats would be told: “the most important journey in your life is the journey inwards, a journey beyond words and images  into silence. The silence allows the restless mind to become still, and in the stillness we realise we are in union with the source of life and love itself.”

To end, a graphic image Ben used during a one-off talk on prayer in St Joseph’s Church, Broomhouse, Edinburgh (not the beautiful Edinburgh as on TV).  He recounted that prior to the talk, he had joined myself and Leo the Labrador in St Joseph’s kitchen for a DIY sandwich, Leo sitting between stove and table. As Ben took bacon from the fridge, as he took 2 slices of Tesco white loaf, as he put the rashers on the grill, Leo’s head and eyes never lost focus. Again, Leo pointed nose and eyes solely at the fragrant grilling, then as Ben put bacon on bread on plate next to the grille and Ben carried them to his chair, Leo’s head, eyes and nose swivelled to follow the sandwich into Ben’s mouth, attending to each mouthful. Not a whimper, no body movement, no begging, just one still clear focus and hope.  Ben: “And that is prayer.”

Eulogy by Fr. John Reed OSA at St Mary’s Harborne Requiem

(Died at St. Joseph’s Home, Harborne, Birmingham on 25th August 2019.)