Fr. Des Wilson R.I.P.

We have received the sad news of the death of Des Wilson, at the age of 94.
We extend our sympathies to his family and to his colleagues in Down & Connor.
May he rest in peace.

Over the years Des made a number of contributions to our website.
Below is a communication from Des, 12 January 2011, in anticipation of the arrival of the “visitors” engaged in the Apostolic Visitation to the church in Ireland. The wisdom it contained then is as true and valid today as it was then.


Dear Friends in the ACP,
I hope the papal visitors will be aware that in the nineteen thirties and forties people were urged to join in Catholic Action. This was defined as participation of the laity in the work of the hierarchy.

It is unlikely that any such definition would be acceptable nowadays but there is a possibility or probability that that may be what we are expected to assent to. It did not work during the decades since the nineteen thirties and is even less likely to work well now.
What would be useful to know: Is participation of lay people in the church going to involve helping carry out decisions made by the hierarchy, or lay people actually having a real part in making such decisions?
There may be the usual arguments about church doctrine not being negotiable, but there are many parts of church life and policy which are.
People may be dismissed with the bald statement – the church is not a democracy.
Some few of us have argued through the years that the church ought to be – no other group on earth claims its members are gifted with the Holy Spirit – wisdom understanding etc. etc.- not even our political parties claim this. So it is entirely inappropriate to tell people they are so gifted and then tell them they have nothing useful to say even regarding doctrine.

Also, we should not be asked to use in public worship translations into local languages which have not been approved as useful beforehand by local communities. Archaic language and words which are not in normal use could well be an obstacle to worship.

There is great need for clergy and others in the church to take a lead again in the intellectual life of our communities, there was never in my lifetime a better time for it. The old division between science and religion is old-hat, scientists have their mysteries now just as we have and of the two choices, intelligent creation or an answer of let’s-wait-and-see- if-we-can-invent-a-new- mathematics-and-a-new-geo-physics-to-explain-the-universe, ours is the more logical and rational. We are the real rationalists. So we need people and leaders who will stop hanging their heads as if we are always on the defensive.

No need to answer this letter, sometimes I just feel the need to say things again which some said a long time ago – the main lesson for the visitors should be, that we tell them where we need to go, not have them tell us where they will let us go.

I would prefer to have the Cardinals explain why they believe in God rather than have them chiding clergy for sins which most of them did not even think of committing.
Best wishes.

Des Wilson



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  1. Michael Boyle says:

    Some few of us have argued through the years that the church ought to be – no other group on earth claims its members are gifted with the Holy Spirit – wisdom understanding etc. etc.- not even our political parties claim this. So it is entirely inappropriate to tell people they are so gifted and then tell them they have nothing useful to say even regarding doctrine……

    The words of Fr Des Wilson who died this week at 94 years of age. In my days living so despondently in Belfast he listened to my pain , read my poetry , took me to Dublin to appear with him on RTE television. He lived in Ballymurphy. The year was 1970/72. I remember him showing me a framed picture of Our Lady with a hole through her body. It was a bullet hole. the bullet having passed through the window, a stud wall, the picture and then upon his bed lying a spent reminder of destruction and death. When I spoke to Des Wilson I knew he cared with the embracing practicality of a good friend. I believe Fr Des embraced the Holy Spirit in all who were gifted with his company.

  2. Roy Donovan says:

    Strange how somebody comes into your life and keeps on knocking on the door such as the announcement of Des’s death. I probably am the unlikely of people to be singing Des’s praise but he kept on coming into my life.

    I got to hear much about Fr. Des from a classmate in Maynooth. It somehow stayed with me. Here was somebody very different. He was not South American but an Irish modern day prophet who did the truth and remained outside the mainstream.

    Later, in the 1980’s, while working in Walkinstown parish, Dublin, to my amazement I got to hear about Des from one family that I got to know well. This family gave me copies of his weekly writings from a Belfast paper he wrote in at the time. His care and particular support of the underdog and people in difficulty was striking.
    I had forgotten about him for a number of years until about four years ago I got a personal letter in the post from him supporting me on some issue that I had spoken about. I was amazed and shocked that he would go to such lengths at his age to offer encouragement and uplift.

    I have kept this letter and I need to find it and treasure it. I believe that this letter can keep a live access to a very good and holy man and channel many new graces to me.

  3. chris connolly says:

    RIP Father Des. His Salvador Dali picture of Christ on the Cross has stayed with me all my life. As has his teaching of RE as history and not necessarily on bended knee

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Fr Des Wilson’s emails, reflections, letters and ‘Open Letter to the CDF’ throughout 2011-2012 are worth re-reading for their clarity and humour alone, apart from their great content. Search ‘Fr Des Wilson’ in search engine above.

    Belfast’s rain came down on his funeral yesterday – but Fr Joe McVeigh’s homily caught the life and spirit of this priest for all seasons.

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