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Farewell Father Tom: Hundreds turn up to say goodbye to popular priest

Father Tom Forde has spent 15 years at church in Kentish Town

23 August, 2018 — By Jo Siedlecka

Camden Mayor Jenny Headlam-Wells and the retiring Father Tom Forde

THERE was standing room only at a Kentish Town church on Sunday for a farewell mass for a popular parish priest.

Father Tom Forde, who is retiring soon, has served at Our Lady Help of Christians Church for 15 years. After the mass hundreds of parishioners and friends crowded into the parish hall for a reception.

“Fr Tom didn’t want a party or presents, but we couldn’t see him go without letting him know how much we love him,” parishioner Marvin Roberts said in a speech.

One of the VIP guests, Mayor Jenny Headlam-Wells, said she has had long links with Fr Tom in her role as ward councillor involved with parish initiatives such as the welfare project SanKTus, the Sunday Club, which offers guests meals, showers and clothes, and the Winter Rough Sleepers project, in collaboration with other churches in the area.

Father Eddie Woo, who has lived in the presbytery for some years, said that Fr Tom was someone who really took to heart the Christian teaching that “All are welcome”.   “I have seen many people of all faiths and none here,” he said. “Sometimes it has felt like the comedy Open All Hours.”

Parent Mary Carson said of Fr Tom: “His legacy lies in his hard work and being prepared to listen to everyone. Because of his length of time here, he is also the only priest many of our kids have known. He gets them and they get him. He has no idea how much he will be missed.”

Fighting back tears, Jackie Roberts praised Fr Tom’s ability to communicate with young people and gave him her heartfelt thanks.  Parishioner Margaret Harvey said: “Fr Tom has been a beacon in our parish community and beyond. He is very generous with his time and has a very gentle way of listening to the many issues and problems people came to talk to him about.”

Born in Dungannon in Northern Ireland, Fr Tom came to England at the age of 12. Initially, he trained to be a British Telecom engineer, but went on to study for the priesthood at Upholland and Ushaw seminaries in Lancashire.

After his ordination in 1977 he served in Preston and Blackpool parishes before moving to London 25 years ago. He was a curate in Edmonton before being sent to Kentish Town.

Fr Tom said: “A parish is a natural community. Part of our job as priests is to spread that sense of community into the  wider world – so that we are not just inward-looking. I feel that  is what is happening in Kentish Town. It is welcoming and inclusive.  I’m very grateful for the love and acceptance I’ve felt here.”

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