Church carries on its sparkling celebrations

Father James Doherty pictured after the service to celebrate his 60 years at St Robert's Church in Morpeth.

Father James Doherty pictured after the service to celebrate his 60 years at St Robert's Church in Morpeth.

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FROM silver to diamonds, the sparkling celebrations keep on coming at a Morpeth church.

Last month parishioners at St Robert’s Church in Oldgate were joining in a special anniversary as parish priest Fr Lawrence Jones marked 25 years of service.

But no sooner had the silver jubilee bunting been packed away when an even bigger milestone came into view, with fellow clergyman Fr James Doherty celebrating 60 years in the priesthood.

Once again, the community was determined to mark the anniversary in suitable style and a diamond jubilee event was organised, with a Mass and party.

Fr Doherty said: “The Mass was wonderfully attended by many parishioners, especially young families. It was lovely to see so many families with children there. It was a packed church.

“It was very heart-warming and very affirming.”

The occasion was made all the more moving for the priest as he was able to celebrate it in his home town.

Fr Doherty was born in Newcastle, but came to Morpeth at the age of three when his father, also James, became Headmaster of St Robert’s School.

The family was well-known and James senior served as Mayor of Morpeth from 1945 to 1947.

After spending a happy childhood in the town, his son left at the age of 12 to go to Ushaw College seminary in Durham to train as a priest, but throughout his years of service Fr Doherty has always looked on Morpeth as home.

He was ordained on July 22, 1951, and was posted to St Mary’s Church in Alnwick as assistant parish priest, where he served for three years.

He then went on to serve in the same role at St Philomena’s in West Auckland, St Michael’s in Houghton-le-Spring, St Mary’s in Stanley and St Cuthbert’s in Crook.

Fr Doherty’s first position as parish priest came in 1972 when he was appointed to St Chad’s in Witton Park, near Bishop Auckland.

Five years later he moved to St Pius X in Consett, where he remained for 26 years before retiring to Morpeth, where his sister, nieces and nephew still live.

“It is always hard moving from one parish to another because you get very close to people and it was especially hard leaving after 26 years at St Pius X, but I was delighted to retire to my home parish of Morpeth,” he said.

“I still knew some people from when I grew up in the town and it was a joy coming back and meeting those people again.

“I was very pleased to be back in my childhood surroundings because I was here since the age of three and Morpeth was always home to me.”

Though officially retired, the 85-year-old has not given up all of his duties and continues to say Mass in St Robert’s on Sundays.

He also recently accompanied parishioners and Fr Jones on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, fulfilling a life-long ambition.

He said: “I have never been a missionary and travelled in that sense, but I have been on pilgrimages to Lourdes and Rome many times.

“I went to the Holy Land for the first time this year. I had always wanted to do it and it more than lived up to my expectations.

“It was marvellous and very faith nourishing.”

The jubilee Mass took place at St Robert’s on Saturday.

Hundreds of people crammed into the church to share in the service, and about ten members of the clergy took part in the Mass, including Fr Jones and former parish priest Fr John Cooper.

Then it was on to a party in a marquee in the grounds, with food prepared by parishioners and two handmade cakes.

Fr Doherty was presented with gifts and a Papal Blessing.

Looking back on his years of service, he said: “It has just been a joy to serve people — to be part of their families, sharing in their joys and sorrows.

“You are there for births, marriages, sickness and deaths, sharing family life at all those critical moments.”