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RIP – Hubert SSF

Brother Hubert SSF died on 28 February 2003 in hospital in Dorchester and his funeral mass was at Hilfield Friary. He was aged eighty-four years and in the thirty-eighth year of his profession in vows.

A sermon preached at his funeral, by Brother David Jardine SSF

I don’t think Hubert would want this to be a sad occasion. In fact I think he would want it to be the opposite, a celebration. Not a celebration of his life, he was far too humble a man for that, but a celebration of the fact that he has gone to be in the nearer presence of God, so much closer to God than we could ever be in this life. Now that is something worth celebrating.

Hubert was born in 1918, just at the end of the First World War (he always claimed that there was a link between the two events). For many years he worked in the British Museum, in the coins and medals department. He was a leading expert in Presbyterian Communion tokens.

He joined SSF when he was made a postulant on Christmas Eve, 1960. He made his final profession on August 15, 1968. Hubert served for one year in Cambridge, four years at Hooke School (quite an achievement), eight years at Hilfield during which time he was priest-in-charge of Hilfield and Hermitage, and then sixteen years in Belfast. He left Belfast in 1992, going to Scunthorpe for a year before moving to Hilfield, where he remained until his death.

Hubert was trained for the priesthood at Ely Theological College and I know at least one brother who would attribute his vocation to contact with Hubert at Ely.

Hubert came to Belfast in 1976. It was the heart of the Troubles and the Brothers lived in the Shankill Road, an area which had seen more than its fair share of violence. But tough as it was Hubert handled that situation well, and that led me to believe something that has been confirmed many times since – Hubert was a man of courage. He did not give up easily, even when the going was tough. He worked in four different parishes in Belfast, all of them very different both in churchmanship and the area in which the parish was situated. Hubert got on well in all of them, and that showed me something else about his character – he was adaptable.

He always claimed to be Irish, and that was indeed where much of his family background originated from. He was proud to be Irish, but I am sure you will understand that with his rather posh English accent it took some time before I was convinced.

One of Hubert’s main spiritual interests was meditation and, indeed, he was an enthusiastic member of the Fellowship of Contemplative Meditation. I would say that his little booklet on meditation is as good as I have read on the subject.

His love for cats is well known and this often came out in his pronunciation of words like catastrophe and Magnificat, never failing to put the accent in the right place.

One of the qualities that I admired in Hubert was that he never held grudges. No matter what had been said or done he never held grudges. Just recently Sir Alex Ferguson was in the news when, after a match that Manchester United lost, he kicked a boot in the dressing-room and hit David Beckham above the eye and cut him. There was a furore in the press. For three or four days Alex Ferguson said nothing. But then he said something that Hubert would have approved of – ‘It’s time to move on’. When something unpleasant happened Hubert did not dwell on it. He moved on as quickly as possible.

I found him to be a very loyal person, loyal to the Rector of a parish he worked in and loyal to the Guardian of the house he lived in. He was also a faithful religious. Hubert’s entry into the Society was delayed because of a family commitment. But once he entered he was very faithful to the Society and to the living of the vows.

I have many memories of Hubert. I remember when I joined SSF in 1973, at the Sunday morning breakfast, a talking breakfast, he asked me to pass him the salt. I obviously was not moving quickly enough for him because he immediately reached across me, pushed me out of the way and grabbed the salt for himself. Needless to say, I was not too pleased. A few minutes later, when breakfast was over, I ran into Hubert in the corridor. He told me that there was a message for me in my pigeon-hole. It was from Hubert – ‘Please forgive my Irish temper. Hubert SSF’. I respect that. Some people seem to find it very difficult to say sorry, but not Hubert.

One of the stories that has gone into the folklore of the Society is that occasion when Michael was Minister-Provincial. He rang the Friary at Hilfield. Hubert answered the phone. ‘This is Michael here.’ ‘Is Michael here?’ Hubert replied, ‘No, he’s not.’ Phone down immediately. He was quick, and sometimes abrasive.

Hubert also loved jokes. He had a plentiful supply of them. Some of them were very good. My favourite was the one about the man who had a parrot. Afraid that the parrot might be lonely the owner put a little budgerigar in to keep him company at night. Next morning the owner came in and found the budgerigar dead. That night he decided to put in a bigger bird, another parrot, but next morning the same thing happened – the parrot was dead.
‘I’m going to put the fear of God into this parrot,’ the owner said. So he went out and bought a great big vulture and put it in the cage that night. Next morning the vulture was lying dead, the parrot had no feathers on and looking up at the owner said, ‘I had to take my coat off for that one.’

I have never told a joke at a funeral in my life before, but jokes were so much a part of Hubert’s life that I felt it might be appropriate for this occasion. All of Hubert’s jokes were family entertainment.

What does the Gospel say at this time? As usual, a great deal. It says that this life is not the only life. There is life beyond the grave in the nearer presence of God. ‘If you are faithful unto death I will give you a crown of life.’ And for me it is this dimension of life after death that helps to put suffering in this life into perspective. Some people and some families seem to be handed more than their fair share of suffering. I would not say that this was so with Hubert, but there was suffering at various points in his life and those last few years were not easy for a man who had always been very active. But the Gospel assures us that in the nearer presence of God Hubert is not suffering now and his body and his spirit are as free as a bird. Revelation 21 assures us that he is in a place where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. After the faithful life he has lived Hubert deserves to be there. May I just leave the last word to St. Paul. ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ Romans 8.18. f