Father Tony Whale – a tribute by Mike King Tuesday 6th June, 2016
I would like to say just a few words on behalf of the parishioners of St Michael’s, expressing our gratitude for Father Tony and the time we were allowed with him.
My, how we were lucky to have Father Tony for our parish priest these last seven years – what did we do to deserve that…someone in the parish must have been very good indeed.
Father Tony was passionate about St Michael’s. He was proud of and enormously grateful for the many, many parishioners who contributed to the life of our parish, never recognizing that it was his own quiet and humble service to our community that inspired that support.
He was enormously proud of our two schools and the huge cohorts of first communicants and confirmands. He was a significant presence on the board of governors of St Peter’s where his quiet wisdom and unfailing compassion was invaluable.
He was endlessly supportive of the parish team and its efforts and activities and was the prime mover and shaker in the preparations for celebrating the 50th anniversary, next year, of the consecration of our beautiful church.
But above all, Father Tony was passionate about his flock and the wider community. He was the perfect example of the servant leader; a priest who saw his role to be devotedly serving the parish and who, by doing so had the entire parish devoted to him.
Many parishioners will have their own “Father Tony” stories of how he touched their lives; always concerned and compassionate, always with a smile and a prayer and a blessing. He had a special place in his heart for the elderly, the bereaved, the sick and the housebound and over the years he must have walked thousands of miles as he criss-crossed the parish in his tireless visiting, ..…a common sight around the village with his brisk stride and golf umbrella.
As you might imagine for one so loved, we have received many letters expressing deep sadness at the news of his passing; I would like to read you one which is addressed to the parishioners of St Michael’s:
“….I came to know Father Tony after my mother was admitted to a nursing home in Ashtead. Father Tony visited her regularly over the fourteen months she lived there and he told me ‘…we became friends…’.
“(He)…was also good enough to visit her in hospital where he administered the last rites. She was in fact able to return to the nursing home where she survived another fortnight.
Father Tony visited her there and stayed in touch with me, (and) ...was also kind enough to allow us to have her requiem Mass at St Michael’s, which he conducted. This made it so much more personal. He also joined us in the pub afterwards.
He was also extremely supportive whilst we prepared the service and phoned me several times despite being busy with parish affairs and I will never forget his kindness. He told me I was welcome at St Michael’s any time and I am glad that I was able to come to several weekday Masses…
Unfortunately, we are away during the week of his funeral but I will be thinking of you all on 6th and 7th June… Yours sincerely….”
This letter and the sentiments it contains is echoed by many other letters and cards and messages from members of this parish, other parishes, people of faith and of none, and from far and wide….what an extraordinary man.
And, as I say, it’s not only St Michael’s parishioners who felt his warmth and became his fans. Father Tony was an enthusiast, an activist and man who got stuck in and quietly and humbly supported all sorts of activities here and with the other churches in Ashtead. …’Soup lunch, Bingo, Action in Africa, AGM, Ashtead Village Day, etc…he was there for all of them.
He was, for example, a committed and faithful member of the ACT…the Ashtead Churches Together…and a regular participant in the Churches Together Men’s Breakfast; and the tributes from that illustrious body have been overwhelming. Let me read you just one from a parishioner of St Giles’…
“Sainthood is bestowed by the Pope as I understand it. But I feel that we could do with a more local version of such an honour. …
…Father Tony would merit such recognition…. for his service to St Michael's, his pastoral work for which he was renowned, and for his loyal and consistent attendance at our breakfast meetings despite always having to leave early to fulfil his priestly duties.
He will be missed by all of us.”
…and there are many others in the same vein. Even shopkeepers in the village have been greatly saddened by his passing, remarking that …
“…that priest, Father Anthony from St Michael’s,…. he always had a smile on his face and a friendly hello for everyone, no matter who they were…”
Simply put, Father Tony was a very good and holy man who believed passionately that his role was to serve God through serving his people. By doing so, he has become an example for all of us….an example who will live on in this parish and beyond.
Thank you Father Tony.