Canon Hugh Barr

CANON Hugh Barr, who has died aged 82, was one of the outstanding Roman Catholic priests in the Leeds Diocese.

Unassuming but deeply impressive, he served five successive Bishops of Leeds and parishioners in Doncaster, Bradford, Leeds, Knottingley, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Clifford, near Wetherby, for nearly six decades.

When he was at St Austin’s, Wakefield, he received a gallantry award from West Yorkshire Police after climbing on to the roof of Wakefield Cathedral and persuading a potential suicide not to jump. No one who knew him would have been surprised by that.

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Some years earlier, and in charge of St Patrick’s, Huddersfield, one of the leading parishes in the diocese, he won the friendship and respect of the many West Indians in the town by visiting the Caribbean to learn more about their heritage. In return they kept in touch with him long after he had left St Patrick’s.

The Rt Rev William Wheeler, then Bishop of Leeds, had asked him to take the helm at St Patrick’s in 1979, and there he inherited one of the more historic churches in the diocese, dating back to 1832.

In readiness for its 150th anniversary, he set about its restoration and a major re-ordering of the interior, which gave it the appearance that can be seen today.

By now Fr Barr’s contribution to the life of the diocese had been recognised by his appointment to the Cathedral Chapter, with the title of Canon.

His achievements in Huddersfield undoubtedly prompted the new Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev David Konstant, to appoint him to St Austin’s, Wakefield, in August 1986.

Here he succeeded Mgr Henry Thompson, who had been parish priest for the previous 42 years, and he was given the task of modernising both the church and presbytery, two early 19th century architectural gems.

This was another major undertaking, and for a time in 1990 the church had to close while the work was carried out.

Thanks to his good relations with the then Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev David Hope, during this time the congregation from St Austin’s was able to celebrate Mass in Wakefield Cathedral.

The seventh child in a family of 13, their father a tailor, Fr Barr – Eimar to his family and friends – was born at Moville in County Donegal.

He offered himself for the priesthood when still at school in Derry, and was ordained on his 24th birthday – Pentecost Sunday – 1953.

In September of that year Bishop Heenan of the Leeds Diocese – later to be a Cardinal and Archbishop of Westminster – appointed him to St Peter’s parish, Doncaster, as an assistant to Fr Francis Manogue.

He left there in the summer of 1959 when Bishop Dwyer moved him to St Peter’s, Bradford, where he remained until August 1965 and his appointment to St Nicholas’s parish, Leeds.

Three years later Fr Barr became a parish priest for the first time, taking charge of the parish of St Michael, Knottingley, and then in 1972 he transferred to St Brigid’s at Longwood, Huddersfield.

He had been there seven years when the Rt Rev Gordon Wheeler who had been Bishop of Leeds since 1962, asked him to take over from Mgr Kevin O’Brien at St Patrick’s, Huddersfield.

The final years of Canon Barr’s active ministry – from 1998 until his retirement in 2005 – were spent at St Edward’s, Clifford.

He celebrated his golden jubilee of priesthood there in the summer of 2003 and retired to Wetherby two years later.

By then his health and mobility were impaired and he soon decided it would be best to take up residence with the Little Sisters of the Poor at Mount St Joseph’s in Headingley.

He continued to take part in the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes and he was there as recently as July this year.

Back in Leeds, he was happy receiving visitors and catching up with friends and with the latest news from around the diocese, often over a glass of red wine.

He was an engaging and humorous companion who retained his equanimity despite the infirmities of old age.