The following recollections by Mr Arthur Hunt are taken from the Oratory Parish Magazine for Candlemas 1998.
I remember Fr. Philip Lynch with great affection, as do so many other older parishioners. A big, sturdy man with voice to match and a kind of stutter, he taught doctrine at St. Philip’s Grammar School, which is where I first met him before I joined the Parish. “Pip”, as he was known (perhaps after “Pippo Buono”), had a great sense of humour and laughed a lot – especially at his own jokes – but we managed often to make him a bit ratty in class. Then he would dish out lines at an alarming, ever-increasing rate, until they reached the hundreds. We didn’t mind, because he never collected them.
He would often come into school wearing “Oratorian” slippers with a big shiny buckle. While standing in front of the class, he would take a foot out of one shoe and rub it down the other leg. One day a cheeky boy removed the empty shoe and passed it around the room. Pip was not at all pleased to find it missing!
His Mass was pretty certainly the quickest of all the Fathers. After the entrance bell rang, he would almost run onto the sanctuary and gabble the Latin at tremendous speed. He said “people don’t want to be kept hanging about”.
One memorable occasion was after his reading of the banns of marriage; when he meant to say, “Wherefore if any of you know of any lawful impediments, etc”, he actually said, “And may the souls of the faithful departed…” I’m sure if he hadn’t been in the pulpit he would have given vent to his great guffaw.
People came from far and wide to seek Fr. Philip’s help in the confessional, and there was always a queue outside his box.
He also had a well-deserved reputation as a parish visitor, and his kindness and regularity in this role was much appreciated by the elderly sick. His cheerful extrovert manner meant that you could not be unhappy in his company.
As he grew older and became increasingly house-bound, Fr. Philip very much enjoyed some of the local gossip and tittle-tattle, while a little bit of scandal brought a twinkle to his eye and outbreak of boisterous laughter.
He was a member of the Congregation for 74 years, during which time he was a solid, most reliable, hard-working and efficient priest, loved by all that knew him. He much enjoyed going on holiday, and was very widely travelled in exotic and out-of-the-way places. We can be sure that his final destination was with the Good Lord whom he had served so devotedly.
There follows a further reminiscence by a Father of the Oratory.
Father Richard Henry Philip Lynch, 18th February 1891 – 3rd August 1989
Father Philip, as he was always known at the Oratory, was born in Dublin; he was educated at a small preparatory school in Edgbaston and then moved into the Oratory School founded by John Henry Newman. He studied for the priesthood at the Scots College in Rome, then at Ushaw and was ordained in the church of his family’s parish at Donnybrook, Dublin, on December 19th, 1914. He was admitted into the Birmingham Oratory almost immediately afterwards. For a year he served in the R.A. as military chaplain in the Great War, mainly in Egypt. He was assistant chaplain to the Oratory School for a time before and after it moved to Caversham. It was there that his particular gifts became apparent. One boy who had a miserable time at his preparatory school recorded his amazement at the geniality and easiness of Father Philip when he came under his influence.
That geniality, familiarity and genuine interest, together with his phenomenal memory, won him friends amongst the boys and staff, and since for many years he maintained a lively interest in the school through the Old Boys Association, his name is still recalled with respect and affection. He also assisted Father Vincent Reade in St Philip’s Grammar School and was on the Governing Body at the age of 90. Some of the many friends he made during that time were continually in touch with him until the time of his death.
Few centuries in the world’s history can have seen so many changes as were packed into that which Father Philip so nearly spanned: he was five years old when an act was passed legalizing the use of the motor car on the road – when he died men were travelling in space, and through the misuse of the scientific knowledge so rapidly acquired were said to be destroying their own planet.
Father Philip was commonly thought of as conservative, but ‘conservationist’ suited him better. For years his was a reassuring figure in the life of this area, riding the bicycle at a steady pace, wearing his grandfather’s cap, not because it was old, but because it fitted and would not blow off and was in excellent condition. He welcomed many modern inventions for many reasons, in particular the development of the aeroplane because it brought fresh opportunities for foreign travel, a source of such delight to him. He must have visited nearly every Oratory in Europe and discovered many little-known shrines in remote places, particularly in Italy which was his first love, and where if his name was mentioned by English visitors it was recalled with great affection and many laughing anecdotes. Visits to the North American continent included a large chunk of land between Mexico City and Toronto and so great was his determination to see as much as possible in the time available that his hosts were very much startled by the near hurricane speed of a man well beyond his first youth. From all this travel he derived a double enjoyment; his memory was so phenomenal that he could recall every detail of fares, times of departure and arrival, types of aircraft, the passengers, the conversations of 30, 40, 50 years ago with complete accuracy.
At home he brought to his daily duties the same zest, energy and genuine personal interest that he had taken abroad with him. Father Philip used to complain that he was no good at anything – no good at games, and no brains. Here he did less than justice to himself. As to his athletic prowess I only know that he used to play tennis at No. 6, Norfolk Road with Archbishop William’s secretaries. He regularly attended a seminar on New Testament Greek with a group of Catholic and Anglican clergy. This suggests a high degree of intelligence, and it should be mentioned that his interest in the Eastern Churches not only brought him friendship but gained him considerable knowlege of many oriental liturgies.
His was a reassuring figure doing his rounds on his bicycle; crossing the church to his confessional every day; always punctual at community prayers – all this brought encouragement and consolation to many who were bewildered by the changes which followed the calling of the Second Vatican Council. Before the authentic teaching of the Council was made known – and the present Holy Father is still expounding it – confusing statements were made by hitherto respected theologians and sensation-seeking journalists. One claim of which we can now see the absurdity was that the life of the Church began with the summoning of the council by Pope John XXIII. Views such as these and the other events of those times caused great distress to Father Philip, remembering perhaps the words of Dean Inge, that gloomy but highly intelligent figure in the Church of England in the ’30s, who observed “The man who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower”. One must confess to some degree of oscillation in one’s theological opinions, like reeds shaken in the wind, but Father Philip remained firm as a rock, and he suffered a great deal of ridicule in consequence. Men like him, true traditionalists, may not have understood the full significance of their stand, but they were fighting not only for the treasures of the past but for the recognition of the Church as the living mystical Body of Christ, with the power of growth and future development. The wise Church takes out of her treasury things new and old.
It is impossible for anyone of his community to ignore his life as a son of St Philip Neri. There is always a certain element of comedy in community life and Father Philip’s constitution was a generous one, particularly in moments of excitement, and his misusing some words and coining others such as the American community who never walked anywhere and had a fleet of ‘Cardiacs’ parked outside the house, or the wedding breakfast where there were soft drinks for the ‘teetotalatarians’ – such things are always remembered with affection. St Philip lived in times as troubled as our own, but his contribution to reform had no plan of campaign – it consisted of the daily offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, private prayer, and prayer in common, administration of the Sacraments and preaching the Word of God in the pulpit, the instruction room or the confessional. As for St Philip, so for Father Philip – that was his routine, ordinary duties day after day, week after week, in the same cheerful commonsensical style of St Philip, and that for 75 years, ministering to the faithful. It was this that was so movingly honoured at his Requiem and it is that devotion which will be his greatest memorial in the hearts of those who knew and loved him and who owed him so much in so many ways.
Now I am painfully aware of the inadequacy of this obituary, and there may be many who will deplore this or that omission made through my ignorance or forgetfulness. For that I apologise.