Fr. Edwards was a well known Jesuit priest who died in December at the age of 83. The best description that I have heard about him is that he had “a zeal for souls”. He did all that he could to bring back lost souls to God and His Holy Church by inspired preaching and through the promotion of the Sacraments; in particular, the Sacrament of Confession.
Fr. John was born at Bexhill-on-Sea on 2nd June 1929, and was educated at Ampleforth and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He served in the Royal Navy from 1946, serving for a time in the Korean War and achieving the rank of Lieutenant until he left in 1953 and was adtiited to the Society of Jesus in 1954. He was ordained a priest in 1964, and joined the Jesuit Mission team, spending almost the whole of his priesthood preaching Missions in parishes up and down the country, as well as retreats to religious and seminarians. He also wrote some books, the most popular being “Ways of Praying”, and just republished by Gracewing two days after his death.
Some older parishioners will remember the Mission at St. Mary’s, Ryde that he preached in 1990, and more recently the Mission which he gave in the Spring of 2009
From the pulpit he preached on various aspects of the Faith, making it meaningful to people’s daily lives. As one parishioner remarked on leaving the church; “there are not many sermons that you hear that make you want to come back again for more”. It was particularly inspiring to hear his “live” commentary on the Sunday Mass. He explained the different actions of the priest, that, quite often, we see but do not fully understand. In this way the Mass became more relevant. It encouraged the congregation to focus their attention and to unite their prayers with those of the priest.
It is hard enough to get children into church today, even on a Sunday. On a Saturday morning during the Mission, over forty children arrived to hear Father preach on the story of Fatima; concluding with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Many other parishes have their own individual stories of how Fr. Edwards touched the lives of the faithful and the lapsed through his humility, his love of Almighty God and His Church, and solid, thoroughly Catholic and completely orthodox attitude. No modern day wishy-washy, watered down form of Christianity, which was all things to all men. He spoke the Truth; the Catholic Truth; and made no apology for it; and he was respected for this approach.
Following his death, Fr Andrew Cameron-Mowat, parish priest at Farm Street church in London, said: “Fr John was greatly loved by an enormous number of people. His dynamic preaching and his mission work will live long in the memory of all who met him. He brought numerous people into the Church.
In my short time so far as parish priest it was a blessing to have his presence at daily Mass in the church, and to receive his frequent words of support and encouragement. He was a remarkable example of a faithful and compassionate priest and a generous companion of Jesus. We will all miss him very much, but rejoice that he is now in the arms of our Blessed Lord. May he rest in peace.”
A priest for 49 years, and a member of the Jesuit Community at Mount St for 32 years, Fr Edwards was known to be an excellent confessor who was very successful in encouraging people to attend Confession. He was also a devoted advocate of the practice of receiving indulgences.
During the visit of the relics of St. Therese in 2009, Fr. Edwards offered his services as a Confessor at Westminster Cathedral when it was open all through the night, hearing Confessions from 8-00pm to 1-00am.
Fr Anthony Symondson, a fellow Jesuit priest and a friend of Fr Edwards, said his death was a “perfect end to a very fine Jesuit vocation”.
He said: “He had a very attractive personality in the sense that people warmed to him. Most of his life, since about 1972, was spent trudging around the country in mission, to large churches and small churches, well-known and obscure churches. His missions took a week and ended with an appeal, and he knew how successful he was by the amount of money raised.”
He continued: “John was a holy man, a wonderful confessor. He regularly gave his Confession, he preached brilliantly, and he made the faith something worth believing in. He had a great effect on individual people, he was delightful company and most of all a Jesuit priest.”
After Fr Edwards was diagnosed with lung cancer, Fr Symondson said that he had described it as “a gift from God”. He told me: ‘I’ve just been given a death sentence, and I’ve never been so happy.’ He became radiant with the love of God. He said he never prayed so well.”
Fr Symondson continued: “The heart of John’s genius lay in his ability to make the Catholic faith attractive to people. He changed people’s lives. He had a great sense of humour, he saw the sardonic side of life… I’m going to miss him more than I can say.”
The Faith Study Group here in Ryde, meet sometimes to share and discuss their Faith. This group of Catholics would often listen to audio tapes of Fr. Edwards preaching on Our Lady, the Sacraments, Prayer, Indulgences and other aspects of the Faith. It felt as though this holy priest was indeed here in our midst preaching to us. These tapes ensure that Father’s preaching and teaching about the Faith will continue after his death.
Fr Edward’s funeral Mass was offered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street in Mayfair, London, on 20th December. It was concelebrated by 34 priests and the large church was almost full to capacity ….. so greatly was he loved and admired. Together with the late Fr. Hugh Thwaites who died in August 2012, he was one of the few Jesuits in England who offered the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Requiem Masses have been offered for the repose of his soul here in Ryde both at St. Mary’s and at St. Cecilia’s Abbey.
When one thinks of Fr. Edwards, it is Psalm 109 that immediately comes to mind – “Tu es sacredos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech“. (Thou art a priest forever, according to the Order of Melchisedech).
Fr. Edwards loved his priesthood, and he used it to bring others to the knowledge of Almighty God and His Holy Church
Requiescat in pace