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Fr Robert Rutledge celebrates 70 years of Priestly Ministry
It’s not only Her Majesty the Queen who is celebrating a Platinum Jubilee this year.
Here in the Diocese, our very own Fr Robert Rutledge marked 70 years of priestly ministry on the 31st May, the Feast of the Visitation. He was ordained for our diocese at St Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina in 1952. Over the years he has served in Scunthorpe, Nottingham, tried his vocation at Mount St Bernard Abbey and then continued to serve as a secular priest at Mansfield, back to Scunthorpe, Grantham and Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Fr Robert served the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ashby between 1975 and 1988, before returning to Ashby in 2014 in his retirement.
It was at Our Lady of Lourdes that Bishop Patrick celebrated Mass to mark the occasion of Fr Robert’s Platinum Jubilee, on Tuesday 31st May 2022. Fr Robert was joined by a number of priests, family, friends and former parishioners, including his cousin Fr Mícheál Comer who had come from Ireland. Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool and previous Bishop of Nottingham, sent his greetings for the occasion. It was a joyful Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by celebrations in the parish crypt.
Fr Colin Patey, preaching on the Visitation, opened by relating Mary’s care for her elderly cousin Elizabeth to Fr Robert’s care for his parishioners.
‘Fr Robert has shared with me on numerous occasions his belief in the importance of the priest visiting his parishioners, and I know from many of those parishioners here in Ashby that he was always faithful to that task. Why did Fr Robert visit so faithfully? He has constantly told me that he could not bear the thought of any of his parishioners failing to get to heaven through any neglect of his. Indeed, I remember a dramatic expression he once used. He told me that a priest’s purgatory would include being told what more he could have done for the salvation of the souls of his people.’
Speaking of Fr Robert’s longing for eternal life, Fr Colin said,
‘I have often felt, that for Fr Robert, the next world is nearer to us that than Measham or Coalville. He has often talked about the joy of being reunited with loved ones and parishioners he has helped on their journey to God. I guess it’s the most important thing I have gained from him since he returned to Ashby eight years ago. He speaks, too, of Blessed Cyprian Tansi, whom he knew well at Mount St Bernard. Sometimes he has wondered why Blessed Cyprian hasn’t yet come to take him home to God. I’m sure that Fr Robert will ask him why he took so long when they meet again in the choir of heaven!’
Biography by Fr Colin Patey and Marie Allen
Father Robert was born in 1928. His, mother, who should know, told him his birthday was 3rd July, but the state records show his birth as 12th July. He was baptised on 5th July, so presumably mum was right!
When he was thirteen, he entered St Muredach’s College, Ballina, the Killala Diocesan Junior Seminary. At the end of his third year his father died suddenly making life very hard for his mother, Robert, and his siblings, Violet, and Francis. At eighteen he moved to St Peter’s Seminary, Wexford. He describes it as being a bitterly cold place both in temperature and in discipline. During his philosophy studies, Bishop Ellis accepted him for Nottingham Diocese and sent him a message to proceed to Oscott for theology.
He arrived at Birmingham station having no idea where to find St Mary’s College. A friendly passer-by put him on the right bus, paid his fare, and asked the conductor to put him off at the college gates. The welcome and the regime were so much warmer than Wexford that he initially feared he had turned up at an Anglican College by mis- take! He continues to speak of Oscott with the greatest of affection and is proud of its links with St John Henry Newman and the “Second Spring Sermon”. During his time there, Mgr Ronnie Knox gave a retreat, and young Robert served Mass for him one day. Mgr Knox put his stole on with such enthusiasm that he managed to lasso the young seminarian behind him in the sacristy.
He was ordained for our diocese at St Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina on 31st May 1952. He was a curate at Holy Souls, Scunthorpe and then St Augustine’s, Nottingham. He tried his vocation at Mount St Bernard where he and Blessed Cyprian Tansi served Mass for each other. It became clear that the Cistercian life was not for him, though he still speaks affectionately of the Abbey and has stayed in touch with some of the community. He moved on to St Philip Neri, Mansfield, but contracted TB and was ad- mitted to Ransome Sanatorium. Then he was sent back to Scunthorpe, this time to St Bernadette’s, and from there to St Mary’s Grantham. He received his first appoint- ment as parish priest in 1961 and moved from the plains of the East of the Diocese to the hills of the West at All Saints, Ashbourne. In 1975 he moved to Our Lady of Lourdes Ashby-de-la-Zouch. His health was never good and in 1988 Bishop McGuin- ness gave him permission to retire. He returned to his home village in Newtown- Cloghans, Co Mayo.
In 2014 he moved back to our diocese and initially lived independently in a flat in Ash- by-de-la-Zouch. During the first lockdown in 2020 he gave up his flat and moved in with Marie and Bill Allen, not far away. He regularly celebrated the Saturday evening Mass at St Charles, Measham until the first lockdown and celebrated or con- celebrated the weekday Masses at Ashby until his stroke in January 2021. After some time in hospital, he moved to a nursing home in Ashby, where he remains at the time of writing. At the time of his Golden Jubilee, he quoted some words of Pope Leo XIII in the Year Book: “Why set limits to the providence of God?”. He said he looked forward to his 75th Anniversary. Only five years to go, Father. Ad multos annos!
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