Fr Jackie Crozier – a day in the life

Fr Jackie Crozier – a day in the life

1965 newspaper article

A day in the life of a parish priest

Story by John Owen

Pictures by Peter Smith

The Rev John Crozier, parish priest of the Roman Catholic parish of North Hinksey, on the outskirts of Oxford. In 12 years he has been responsible for building four of the five churches in the parish

Until 20 years ago there was not a single Roman Catholic centre of worship between St Aloysius in Oxford and SS Mary and Edmund at Abingdon; today there are five.

They are all in the Catholic parish of Hinksey and one man has been responsible for building four of them, from the ground up, and completing the fifth – the Rev John Crozier, a dynamic 48-year old Scot who came to minister to the faithful in this little corner of North Berkshire 12 years ago.

He came from Guernsey to find an ever increasing number of Catholic families in one of the most rapidly-growing districts on the outskirts of Oxford,  Mass being said in the only building available – the Women’s Institute opposite Botley cemetery, and the shell of the first Roman catholic to be built in the area since the Reformation.

This was the legacy of his predecessor, Father Hickey, who was responsible for bringing back Catholic worship to the district for the first time since 1914.

John Crozier’s determination and energy soon made themselves felt.

Within months the rather gaunt and forlorn building on its soggy site at the foot of Yarnells Hill – just off what was then the Southern By-Pass – had been finished, and a number of cars parked outside each Sunday morning showed how inadequate the church of Our Lady of the Rosary had become.

The same year saw the opening of St Pius X at Wootton (Mass had previously been celebrated in a public house in the village) and gradually the whole of the sprawling parish – which extends from the Thames at Folly Bridge to the outskirts of Abingdon and Bablockhythe – was provided for: Boar’s Hill with the charming chapel converted from a stable dedicated to St Thomas More; South Oxford with Holy Rood, an architectural gem in its tree-shaded corner near the river and Kennington with the Good Shepherd, an old hut which has given place in the last few months to the splendid new hall-church on the same site.

At first, the new parish priest lived in lodgings but within a year has had his own home, the timber-built bungalow adjoining his church at North Hinksey, as snug a presbytery as any priest could wish for. It was typical of the man that he sat down and designed it himself, to provide just the accommodation he wanted – a large sitting room-cum-committee room, a small bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. Then he took the plans to a firm which specialises in timber buildings and when the materials arrived he supervised the erection – all carried out at a cost of under £2,000.

Running one church is enough for many priests – looking after five, spread over so wide an area (his travel between the churches is 250 miles per week) together with the 1,000 and more families which comprise their members, would seem to be an insuperable task. But Father Crozier takes it all in his stride. His comment: “It does mean quite a lot of work….” Is a monumental understatement.

It is no wonder therefore that he is astir long before most of his neighbours, or thast a gleam of light peeps out from behind the windows of his livingroom until well into the wee small hours.

His is indeed a 24-hour-a-day job for he is liable, as are all those of his calling, to be called out at any time – and all too frequently an urgent telephone call takes him from his bed on some emergency. He has help, of course, to aid him in his task: Benedictine monks, and the Friars of the Carmelite House of Studies, recently established on Boars Hill, give valuable assistance in maintaining full services at all his churches, but on his shoulders alone rests the weighty burden of running the parish.

Rain or shine apart from his holidays, he is up soon after six o’clock – no matter what time he has gone to bed – to officiate at the first Mass of the day, after which he goes home to get his own breakfast and prepare for the day’s work.

The ordinary day-to-day running of the parish takes up an enormous amount of time even though there is a small army of volunteers to help in the task. One of the difficulties is to find sufficient money to keep everything ticking over. His helpers include churchwardens, lectors, those who serve at the altar, members of the choirs, other musicians, gardeners, flower-arrangers, collection-counters, accountants, church cleaners, and those who lend a hand with the parish-visiting – to mention only a few.

Many of them are women. “What I should do without them, I just don’t know,” says their priest. Among them is one indomitable character, a cripple, who has turned her talent as a maker of sweets (her coconut ice is famed far beyond the boundaries of the parish) to such good effect that she sold sufficient to meet the cost of the organ for the North Hinksey church.

Finance, of course, is a perpetual headache. Parishioners, for one thing, are continually on the move, with some leaving the parish and others coming into it. Costs are continually rising and there are outside commitments which also have to be met, including the cost of extensions to Roman Catholic schools which some of the children attend, and contributions to the Diocese. “It all takes up an awful lot of time, but it has to be done,” he explains, wading through mountains of paper, with which the floor of his livingroom is strewn this particular morning.

His people are kept abreast of the current position by the regular Parish Paper which he produces, giving them the latest information on spiritual as well as material matters – another chore for which time must be found. Only a schedule which is rigidly adhered to, but which at the same time is elastic enough to accommodate all sorts of emergencies, enables him to get through the day. He contrives to spend as little time as possible at home – he cannot afford to in view of the interruptions to which he is subjected.

His callers come for a wide variety of purposes and include the inevitable beggars. It is incredible the number who succeed in finding their way to his door, with a wide variety of ingenious stories. However if they think the Padre is a soft touch they are very greatly mistaken: over the years he has acquired an uncanny knack of smelling out the bogus. But for the really unfortunate he will do anything, even though it means disorganising his day.

What remains of his morning after the essential paperwork is usually devoted to pastoral duties. Sick-visiting takes up a considerable part of his day for he sees all his people who need his ministrations, either in their homes or in hospital. And he does not confine his attention to Catholics alone. He has friends in all denominations and none and he always finds the time to see them when they need help or merely the encouragement which his cheerfulness brings.

If there is time for lunch he usually has it at St Joseph’s Nursing Home on Boars Hill and then tries to get home, to see what has happened while he has been away and, it is at all possible, to relax for an hour with his pipe and a book.

Then out again on another round of visits, or a clerical conference to discuss problems of mutual interest with his colleagues from other parishes, or meetings which have to be attended for one purpose or another.  If he is lucky he gets home for tea; usually to find that there has been a caller whose urgent business means another visit later one. If there is not a meeting or a service to attend, when he finally gets home it is then that visitors – mostly expected – begin to arrive. Officials to discuss parish affairs; young people to give notice of marriage, others wanting a reference or help or advice. When the last caller has departed and the light over the porch has been switched off, he has a little time for parish business. “It’s chiefly bills,” he says. After this he can watch television or read. And throughout the day time has to be found to say the Divine Office.

Sundays, though they involve officiating at three Masses at different churches – two in the morning and one in the evening – together with baptisms in the afternoon and Benediction later – are comparatively tranquil though the unexpected may sometimes happen.

The Vatican Council has brought him more work, especially the changes in the Liturgy, and the growth of the ecumenical movement. He has always got on extremely well with his clerical neighbours and this friendship has now blossomed into active co-operation with the Anglican and Free Churches. How much he is appreciated at Kennington, for instance, was shown at the recent Remembrance Day service when he was invited to conduct it – the first Roman Catholic priest ever to do so.

He cannot get away from work, even on his holidays which have often been spent behind the Iron Curtain. He has visited Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Moscow. When he is abroad he studies church architecture – especially of the modern school – and this has given him ideas which he has incorporated in the churches he has built.

Although he will say nothing about future plans he regards the work of development in Hinksey parish as not yet completed. Those who know him have two fears: one is that he will wear himself out, though he shows no signs of it at present, and the other is that his superiors may send him elsewhere. And both would be a very great loss to Hinksey.

When Jackie Crozier died on 6 July 1993, aged 75, he was a Canon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, England.

John Joseph (Jackie) Crozier

Born 8 September 1917 in Glasgow, Scotland

Died 6 Jul 1993, Canon in Diocese of Portsmouth, England

Son of Joseph Crozier, born 1897 in Clunto-richardson, Ardboe, and Ellen (Nellie) O’Hare

Grandson of John Crozier, born 1846 in Clunto-richardson, Ardboe, and Kate McIvor, born 1857 in Mullan, Ballinderry

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