Father Anthony Austin Duffy
5/02/1939 – 12/08/2020
Anthony Austin Duffy was born in Tweedmouth, on the 5th of February 1939, the third born child of Annie Margaret and John Austin Duffy, the younger brother of Anna and Gervais and later the older brother of Frank.
In 1944 the family moved to Blackhill in County Durham and it was from that new family home, in September 1949, that the ten year old Tony left to go to the junior seminary at Ushaw College. After thirteen years of education, training and formation for the priesthood at Ushaw Father Tony Duffy was ordained priest in his home parish church, St Mary's Blackhill, on Trinity Sunday, 17th June 1962.
After a short holiday in the summer of 1962, during which Father Tony made his first visit to Lourdes, the Bishop asked the newly ordained priest to take up a "temporary appointment" on the teaching staff at St Cuthbert's Grammar School in Newcastle.
It was during his time at St Cuthbert's that Father Tony's practical skills and his reputation for making and mending things came to the fore, especially in his back- stage role in many school productions.
There are many ex-pupils from St Cuthbert's who have fond memories of school holidays in Scotland with Father Duffy. It was during these many trips to the highlands that Father Tony's cooking and catering ability developed. A pastime that lasted and he enjoyed most of his life. Each and every batch of home-made jam was eagerly awaited and always the first thing to sell out at parish fundraising events.
It was also during his time at St Cuthbert's that Father Tony became involved in Scouting. Between 1963 and 1984 he held many roles in the Scouts in Newcastle including Chairman of Newcastle Scouts and District Commissioner.
After almost twenty five years Father Tony's "temporary appointment" at St Cuthbert's came to an end at the end of the 1986-87 academic year but it was not the end of his involvement with Education as the Bishop asked him to take up an appointment as Assistant Director in the Diocesan Education Service, nor was it farewell to St Cuthbert's as he continued to live in St Cuthbert's House for a further year.
Father Tony was appointed parish priest of St Joseph's Birtley in August 1988. Two parishioners from St Joseph's who were making discreet enquiries about their newly appointed PP were told "he doesn't drink and he has two chain saws". One of these two statements was not true but Father Tony did have two chain saws in his extensive tool kit.
Father Tony's appointment to Birtley was combined with his role in education at both Diocesan and National level including being the chair of the National Catholic schools Commission from 2002 until 2005. Among his many achievements in his school work was the building of the new Cardinal Hume school as one of the path-finder projects under the Government's Building Schools for the Future programme.
The year after moving to Birtley Father Tony made his second visit to Lourdes, over twenty five years after his first. Since then, Lourdes has become an important part of his life, often making two pilgrimages every year. Travelling with a group of stagiaires (volunteers) to work for the Hospitalite in Lourdes and on the annual Diocesan Pilgrimage. In his many years travelling to Lourdes, Father Tony built a reputation as being one of the lads who rolled up his sleeves and worked as part of a team at the railway station or airport welcoming and assisting sick and disabled pilgrims at the beginning and end of their pilgrimages to Lourdes, but also when the work was over he was there for the group and other English speaking stagiaires as a priest to say Mass for them and to be there to respond to individual needs as a chaplain.
His last visit to Lourdes was with the Diocesan Pilgrimage in 2019 and those present will always remember his joy at concelebrating Mass and distributing communion at the Grotto.
During his time in Birtley one of Father Tony's great wishes was that the parish church should be open and accessible to anyone who wants to spend time in quiet prayer. The church was therefore open from first thing each morning until dusk, accessible and available to everyone in the community.
Father Tony's personal approach to his ministry could also be summed up by the two words accessible and available. During his time in Birtley, Father Tony has been constantly available to the people of the parish, and the wider community, sharing their celebrations and their sadness, being available as a pastor and a friend, accessible in the church, presbytery, the schools and the Parish Centre.
Father Tony was parish priest at St Joseph’s until the end of April 2018, when, due to increasingly poor health, he reluctantly retired.
He remained in Birtley as part of the parish family in retirement and how fitting it seems that the day he died was the day St Joseph’s church re-opened after the Covid shut down.
God bless you Father Tony, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.