Michael Lee – 1921-2004

<p>Father Michael Lee died peacefully at Barnet General Hospital on the morning of Monday March 22nd. He had been admitted to hospital from Nazareth House, Finchley, 10 days earlier, with a severe chest infection. In spite of all the medical care and attention he received during that time, and the daily loving presence of his sisters Mary and Nancy, he did not respond to the doses of antibiotics he was receiving, and spent most of his time asleep. This was the final stages of a relentless deterioration in his health which had begun well before he retired from pastoral ministry at St Joseph’s, Luton; in the summer of 2002. He certainly had a holy death for he was accompanied on his final journey by the prayers of a holy group of people – Fr Tom O’Brien, Sister Agnes, the Catholic Chaplain, Sister Margaret from Nazareth House, the Anglican Chaplain and various members of Fr Michael’s own family.

Michael Lee was born in Taghmon, County Wexford, Ireland, in January 1921. Soon after that his family emigrated to England and, in common with several other Irish families, settled in North Hertfordshire. Michael attended the parish school in Baldock and later went to St Michael’s College in Hitchin, There he came into contact with the Assumptionists who not only had charge of the College and the Parish in Hitchin but ranged far and wide in North Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire supplying in parishes and at Mass-centres. It is not surprising that when the young Michael felt attracted to the priesthood, he thought first of all of the Assumptionists and he entered their novitiate in Nottingham in 1940. He is remembered from those days as a slim, athletic, _young chap with a mass of wavy black hair who enjoyed nothing better than racing down the right wing with a football at his feet. With the exception of one year in France, he completed his studies for the Priesthood in England and was ordained at Our Lady of Grace, Charlton, in August 1947.

His first appointment after Ordination was to the teaching staff at St Michael’s College but he did not stay in the classroom long. In 1949, he was appointed assistant priest in Rickmansworth, then an Assumptionist Parish. This was the beginning of a long, practically unbroken life of pastoral ministry which only came to an end when he left Luton 53 years later. During that time he served in the Assumptionist parishes in Rickmansworth, Hitchin (17 years), Brockley (12 years) and Charlton. When he retired as parish priest in 1984, he was permitted to offer his services to the Westminster Diocese and then Northampton. During this time he helped at Feltham, Upper Holloway, Bedford, Kettering, Winslow and most notably at St Joseph’s, Luton, where he stayed for 10 years.

Maybe this was one of the happiest periods of his life for he was freed from administrative responsibilities of being a parish priest to do what he most wanted to do, the bread and butter work of pastoral ministry, visiting the sick and the house-bound, comforting the troubled and bereaved, celebrating the sacraments and, of course, preaching the Gospel. Fr Michael was not a brilliant preacher but his homilies were invariably practical and down-to-earth, couched in a language that people could understand, and mercifully short. In his spare time he kept up his interest in sport (especially football and horse-racing) and his hobby of gardening. But the important thing for him was the pastoral work as a priest, and his priestly ministry touched very many lives. He was a priest through and through.

But he was a member of a Religious Order. It would have been easy for him to drift away from the Order especially during the time he was living independently of Assumptionist Communities. But being an Assumptionist meant a great deal to him and he made constant efforts to keep strong his links with the Order — attending meetings and celebrations, visiting the nearest community to where he was living, and generally taking an interest in what was happening in the `family’. He even read the circular letters sent out by Provincials and other Superiors in the Order.

Another strong bond in Michael’s life was that of his own family and his friends. He gained much support from these human relationships. He was blessed in being a member of a large family and in having many friends. Towards the end of his life he turned increasingly towards his family, especially when he decided to retire to Baldock.

Father Michael was an independent., even private man and he did not find it easy becoming increasingly dependent on others, but he endured his disabilities and all the indignities that go with medical treatment without complaining. He never gave way to self pity nor did he consciously attract the sympathy of others. Perhaps for this reason he did attract care and affection from others, not least from the Sisters of Providence at Baldock and the Sisters of Nazareth House in Finchley.

Of course, from the time when he was a young priest with his dark Irish good looks and his shy unpolished charm, he had never found it difficult to attract others. Now may he attract our gratitude to the Lord for his life among us and our prayers for his soul.

Robert Henshaw a.a.