Of your charity, please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Geoffrey Hilton, who has died suddenly in his presbytery at the age of 60. Please also pray for his family and all the shocked parishioners in the church and school at St. Osmund's parish in Breightmet, Bolton.
Although we never actually met Fr. Hilton, we had been advertising a number of the Traditional Latin Masses that he offered in his church, as part of our regional listings for the big feast days.
Fr. Hilton was born in 1956 and received into full communion in the Catholic Church in 1981. He had become a police cadet in Lancashire at the age of 16, before going on to serve as a police officer from the age of 18. He answered God's call to the sacred priesthood at the age of 26.
In 1982, he thus went off to train at the English College, at Valladolid in Spain. After two years studying philosophy there, he transferred to Campion House in Osterley, and then went on to the Beda college in Rome for his final years of seminary studies. In 1989, he was ordained to the priesthood in St. Peter's Basilica by St. Pope John Paul II.
As well as being a spiritual man, Fr. Hilton was also a gifted and energetic sportsman.
As a youth, he played soccer at the schoolboy level for Bolton Wanderers, and also took part in Rugby League. He went on to become a rugby referee for student international games; even being involved as a referee in several Rugby World Cups, at the student level. Whilst at Valladolid, he was given permission to fly home in order to take part in the national Badminton championships; where he reached as far as the men's finals.
Having played Crown Green Bowling with his father in his youth, Fr. Hilton continued to play that game at the league level for around four decades; even winning the Classic in 1997 and 2011. The following summer, Fr. Hilton was interviewed at the famous Waterloo Hotel bowling stadium in Blackpool, wearing his Roman collar and black cassock, by Talking Bowls TV and Radio.
The combination of his priesthood and sporting prowess caused him to be chosen to serve as a Roman Catholic Chaplain at the Olympic Village, during the British Olympics in 2012.
In terms of his regular service as a priest, Fr. Hilton served as an assistant priest at St. Bernard's in Burnage and St. Ann's in Stretford; as well as acting as RC Chaplain to Trafford General Hospital. He subsequently served as parish priest at St. Teresa's in Blackburn, St. Augustine's in Burnley and, finally, at St. Osmund's in Breightmet, Bolton.
Fr. Hilton was highly regarded by his loyal parishioners. In 2010, he was left confused and bewildered when he was suspended from active ministry, due to an accusation of child abuse. After separate investigations by both the police and the diocese of Salford, he was cleared of all wrongdoing and enabled to return to his parish duties. During the time of his suspension, he had been grateful to receive messages of support from people back in the parish. They were grateful to have him back, when his name was cleared.
Indeed, after his name was cleared, Fr. Hilton gave an interview to This is Lancashire. He said that, whilst he had been worried about what people would think, ''there is no point in being bitter about it, because that does nobody any service at all.''
Speaking of service, many Catholics are grateful for the fact that Fr. Hilton provided the Traditonal Latin Mass at St. Osmund's parish.
Here is just one example of that gratitude: after news broke that Fr. Hilton had died suddenly in his presbytery on Thursday 9th March, the local representative for the Latin Mass Society in Leeds Diocese posted up the following tribute: ''As a family we were able to attend our first (Christmas) midnight Mass in the Extraordinary Form several years ago when Fr. Hilton broke the mould by offering this Mass publicly anywhere in the north of England for some years.''
It is worth remembering that Fr. Hilton was already providing this Traditional Latin Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve way back in 2009; that was long before the region was blessed with the ICKSP shrines at New Brighton and Preston, the FSSP shrine in Warrington, and the various other parishes whose priests began to offer the Traditional Latin Mass on such big feasts in recent years.
Indeed, we came across Fr. Hilton's ministry through posting up adverts here for the Traditional Latin Masses being offered in this north west region of England on those big feast days; most recently Fr. Hilton's Mass was featured in our list for the Feast of Candlemas in February. God bless him, Father had also planned to offer a Low Mass at St. Osmund's for tomorrow's great feast of St. Joseph.
Fr. Hilton's death will understandably come as a great blow to Traditional Catholics who had been travelling to Bolton especially for these Masses; as well as for the flock we have mentioned in his own parish. Please do keep them all in your prayers at this time of shock and grief.
Apparently, Fr. Hilton often advised his flock: ''Don't pray for what you want; pray for what is best for you.''
That sounds to us like a piece of straightforward, yet wise and deeply profound, spiritual advice to keep us all going in these tough times. In common with Fr. Hilton's sudden death, it also reminds us that God's ways are not our ways; and that we need to remain ever close to God in the state of grace.
Alas, another good priest has gone from us. May he rest in peace.
Fr. Hilton's body will be received into St. Osmund's Church, Long Lane, Breightmet, Bolton, BL2 6EB at 7:30pm this coming Thursday, 23rd March. A (Novus Ordo) Mass will then be offered. The following day, at 12:30 on Friday 24th March, Bishop John Arnold will offer a (Novus Ordo) Requiem Mass for Fr. Hilton. The ceremony of Burial will follow at St. Mary's Cemetery in Wardley.
Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Hilton, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him; and may he rest in peace. Amen.
St. Osmund - Pray for us!