Skip to comments.Fr Sir Hugh Barrett-Lennard, Bt — obituary
Posted on 08/03/2007 7:22:33 PM PDT by dighton
Father Sir Hugh Barrett-Lennard, 6th Bt, who has died aged 89, was a greatly admired if highly eccentric priest of the London Oratory.
Pursuing a busy and eclectic apostolate in Knightsbridge, he was a dedicated parish visitor, so unconcerned about his appearance that he sometimes wore odd shoes; thus attired he would knock firmly on the doors of rich and poor alike.
He visited the Household Cavalry, and served as a chaplain to both the local St Thomas More school and the St Christopher cycling club, though his cassock occasionally became tangled in a bicycle wheel and had to be cut free. For a time (until his absentmindedness with keys led to concerns about security) he acted as an unofficial chaplain at Wormwood Scrubs prison, where his masses were said to be served by two prisoners known as Hammer and Sickle. He enjoyed recalling how he had once been served at Benediction by a thurifer who was a murderer and by two acolytes who had been convicted of causing grievous bodily harm.
In addition Barrett-Lennard gave devoted service as prefect of the lay organisation, the Brothers of the Little Oratory. He accompanied its youth club to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, where he was known as the Pope of Eigg and was in the habit of organising hunts for an imaginary haggis, which he encouraged with high-pitched shrieks like a peacock.
Noted for his piety, he was also admired for his unshockability and flexibility. He was once summoned to a room at the Oratory to find a woman who had removed all her clothes; Barrett-Lennard swathed her in a carpet. On another occasion, during the 1950s, a woman asked for confession outside church and he held up a tennis racket to serve as a grille, so that the separation of confessor and penitent was maintained.
As a retreat-giver at the Oratory prep school in Oxfordshire Barrett-Lennard made his mark by getting all the boys up for a midnight walk through the woods. He once arrived at the senior school soaking wet - he had fallen into a fishpond on leaving a Carmelite convent in Essex.
He had the title of extraordinary confessor, and his usual practice was to dump his bag on arrival at the school and immediately set off on a tour of the houses, where he received an enthusiastic welcome; and although he mostly heard confessions in his room he was prepared to do so behind a hedge. He remembered every boy, and if he ran into an Old Oratorian on the day of the St Philips Day Mass at the London Oratory, he would remind him to attend.
Hugh Dacre Barrett-Lennard was born on June 27 1917 into an unconventional family with two mottoes: Pour bien désirer (To wish well) and La bondad para la medra (Goodness through improvement).
The baronetcy was created in 1801 for Thomas Barrett-Lennard, an MP and the illegitimate son and testamentary heir of the 17th Lord Dacre. The 2nd baronet was a High Sheriff of Essex who - to his servants distress - used to put down water for the rats at his house; he dressed so scruffily that, on leaving Brentwood mental hospital where he had been chairing a committee meeting, he was marched back inside by a constable who mistook him for an escaped inmate.
Young Hughs father was a soldier and colonial judge who, on returning from his honeymoon, was said to have forgotten that he was married and tried to climb into bed in his old chambers, now inhabited by another judge.
Hugh went to Radley, and converted to Roman Catholicism with his mother in the 1930s before becoming a master at St Philips prep school, Kensington. He was on the brink of entering the Oratory when war was declared, and joined the London Scottish as a private; he was then commissioned and switched to the Intelligence Corps before transferring to the 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment. Arriving at brigade headquarters on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in 1944, he recognised the soldier carrying his bags as a waiter who had once spilt soup down the dress of his dinner guest at the Dorchester and had been immediately fired.
Before going into action Barrett-Lennard was told by the Catholic padre over a cup of tea: You may be dead tomorrow, so you had better come to confession. The confession duly took place in a nearby barn.
During one early morning patrol as intelligence officer, Barrett-Lennard took his Jeep so deep into enemy lines that he saw the Germans packing up to leave. On being challenged by the local mayor he replied: Je suis lArmée Britannique. Back at headquarters he reported enemy movements to his superiors, but his driver told everyone else: Lieutenant Barrett-Lennard is bonkers. Barrett-Lennard - whose casual manner of dress did not win the approval of NCOs - was known in the regiment as the Dean, and earned widespread admiration for his resolution in going out to rescue the wounded. He himself was shot in the hand by a German who feared that he would be executed when he was interrogated by Barrett-Lennard.
Later, in Holland, he was conducting arms practice with some fresh troops when one man dropped a grenade; it exploded, and a piece of shrapnel remained in Barrett-Lennards head for the rest of his life.
Continuing with the regiment over the Rhine, he set up a school for soldiers in Berlin after the armistice and went on retreat at a nearby monastery before returning home to be discharged in the rank of captain with a mention in dispatches.
After joining the London Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, Knightsbridge, in 1946 Barrett-Lennard studied at the Beda college in Rome and was ordained at the basilica of St John Lateran alongside a German whom he had shot at when the man had leapt from his tank near a wood in Normandy.
He was unaffected when he inherited the baronetcy from a kinsman in 1977, but was exasperated when Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper took the title Lord Dacre of Glanton.
Among Father Hughs annual rituals was a Christmas party, known as The Happening, which would include poetry readings, sketches by Girl Guides, a demonstration of hand-walking by a fellow Oratorian priest and some vigorous hymn singing. Every December 27 he led a party to Herstmonceux church, Sussex, where he celebrated Mass at the Dacre chapel and visited his parents graves before retreating to the local pub.
Hugh Barrett-Lennard died on June 21, and is succeeded in the baronetcy by Peter John Barrett-Lennard, a tobacco company executive born in 1942.
Sounds like a character. May he rest in peace.
No one does eccentricity like the Brits (I’m half a one myself). Great read!
What an amazing life!
Here is another one you might enjoy. I would say that nobody can write an obituary like the Brits!
There is something missing from the world when we cannot celebrate someone like Fr. Sir Hugh. He seemed to have a lot of guts when he was young, before he was called, sounds like an interesting fellow.
Another English life that no one could invent.
LOL! My late Dad used to tell me of a couple of his friends who he was sure were going to survive the war because they were too crazy to die. (He was right, BTW.) One can say a lot about this fellow’s life, but one cannot say he was cheated.
Nobody does eccentricity like the English.
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Dang, the man had some Dumbo ears! God Bless him and may the good Father rest in peace.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.