Bishop Philip Pargeter was the principal celebrant at the Requiem Mass for Geoff Jones, at the Birmingham Oratory, on Wednesday 26 October 2011.
Fr Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Oratory 1992-2009, founded by Blessed John Henry Newman, preached.
Geoff Jones, the stalwart who did so much to enhance the work of the Catholic Church in Birmingham over many decades, died peacefully at his home in Edgbaston, close to the Oratory Church, on 17 October, aged 91. He was born in the Stechford district of Birmingham on 7 May 1920.
Geoff was educated at St Philip’s Grammar School where he became head boy and met his lifelong friend Gerard Coghlan who introduced him to Molly Hartland, his future wife, when he was 19. A number of Geoff’s contemporaries from the old St Philip’s, situated next to the Oratory Church, were present, including Gerard Coghlan.
Geoff Jones was the founder and original Chairman of the Oratory Parish Council and he helped the Oratory Fathers in a number of ventures: he was governor to the Oratory Secondary school from 1962 to 1966 and faithfully served as governor and Chair of Governors to the Oratory Primary School for over 50 years. In 1982 he directed operations for the Papal Visit at Coventry Airport.
Fr Douglas Lamb, Parish Priest of St Ambrose, Kidderminster, and the newly appointed Chairman of the Friends of Blessed John Henry Newman concelebrated. Fr Richard Duffield of the Oxford Oratory and a former Provost of the Birmingham community, and Br Richard Duncan, a novice at the Birmingham Oratory, were also present on the sanctuary.
Such was the esteem in which Geoff Jones was held that representatives of many of the organisations that he was involved in joined his wife Molly, his children, Philip, Rosemary, Michael, Susan and Roger, and their spouses Nuala, Michael, Pauline, Chris and Kathy, his 17 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren, for the deeply prayerful, emotional and memorable Mass.
When he left school Geoff spent time at Birmingham University where he joined the Officer Training Corps and began his involvement with the army. With the onset of war he left university to become a commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers in 1941. During the war he served in Italy and Kenya, in Nanyuki and Nairobi.
On 12 February 1942 Geoff married Molly at St Mary’s Church in Harborne. When the war ended Geoff reluctantly left the regular army and, with a young family to support, joined the National Mutual Life Assurance Society and became area manager, retiring in 1979.
Appropriately, Praise to the Holiest in the Height, by Blessed John Henry Newman, was chosen as the entrance hymn. After the first reading from the Book of Wisdom (read by Geoff’s daughter, Susan Dawe) the poignant singing of the Psalm, The Lord’s my shepherd, filled every corner of Geoff and Molly’s beautiful parish church.
During his exceptional and at times amusing homily, Fr Paul Chavasse told the congregation that one of the last things that Geoff Jones had said to Molly and him, one afternoon as they sat with him shortly before his death, was: “The Oratory has always been here for us.”
Fr Chavasse emphasised that: “Geoff’s life and work for the Church helped and encouraged so many people, who were inspired by his example.”
Geoff’s daughter Sue wrote in the service booklet: “As a family we are so very proud of his many achievements which have been recognised by the awards of the Order of St John and the Territorial Decoration. He was a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant, a Papal Knight of the Order of St Gregory and a Knight Comrade of the Holy Sepulchre. He was also professionally recognised as a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Insurance.
“Geoff’s other commitments included being a Commissioner of Income tax, a Guardian of Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House, a military member of the Warwickshire TA and AF Association.
“He was always willing to support any person or group who required help and then devoted his “spare time” to so many causes it would be impossible to name them all, but include work with The Army Benevolent Fund, St Philip’s Old Boys’ Association, St Chad’s Restoration Fund and the Catenians.”
Fr Chavasse recalled the words of the poem attributed to Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), a former pupil of Newman’s Oratory School, seeing it as in many ways a fitting description of Geoff’s philosophy of life:
“Where e’er the Catholic sun doth shine,
There is laughter and good red wine.
I have always found it so:
Fr Paul Chavasse concluded: “But more importantly, Geoff, a poor sinner, would want our prayers and our Masses offered for the repose of his soul, as he enters on his most awesome journey.”
This vividly reminded many of us present of the powerful lines from the dramatic poem “The Dream of Gerontius” by Blessed John Henry Newman that portrays the death of and old man and what happens to his soul as he enters into eternity:
“Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Holy Mary, pray for him.
All holy Angels, pray for him.
Choirs of the righteous, pray for him.
… All ye saints of God, pray for him.”
After Communion the black funeral pall was carefully removed to reveal the wooden coffin and the beautiful golden crucifix on the top. Bishop Philip Pargeter began the solemn prayers of Commendation while all the members of the community of the Oratory in Edgbaston stood with lighted candles around the coffin.
Fr Gregory Winterton, Provost of the Oratory 1972-1992, and now aged 89, was also present, as the Fathers and congregation sang the Song of Farewell – May the choirs of angels come to greet you.
Geoff’s sons then carried their father’s coffin shoulder high the length of the nave before it was taken by the undertakers into the cloisters leading from the church where there are tablets on the wall to the memory of the departed Fathers. Blessed John Henry Newman had composed a simple one for himself which expressed his whole life: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem, (Out of shadows and images into the truth).
Outside on the pavement in the bright mid-October early afternoon sunshine a group of school children from the Oratory Primary School, in uniform, formed a guard of honour. It was a simple yet moving tribute.
The funeral cars made their way slowly along Hagley Road for the journey to the cemetery at Oscott College, the diocesan seminary situated on the outskirts of Birmingham, where Geoff Jones was interred.
Afterwards, Molly Jones and family hosted a buffet luncheon at the Botanical Gardens, during which Philip Jones, the eldest son, proposed a toast to his father, Geoff: “a friend to all”.