Joseph Farrelly was born in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, Ireland, the eldest of five children.
The family soon moved to Castleknock, Dublin, and it was in Dublin that he met Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary. They became good friends and “Joe” became a stalwart of this new lay apostolate.
In 1943 Joseph moved to England as a mechanical engineer and soon signed up with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers regiment (REME). He served as an NCO from 1944 to 1947 in India, where he helped to set up a Catholic club for servicemen.
After a short period working for the civil service he trained to be a secondary school teacher at Trent Park Training College, London. As one of the only students resident during the holidays he was chosen to attend a function there and danced with Princess Margaret.
He became head of English at St Francis’ School, Peckham, south London, and then head of RE and housemaster at St Thomas the Apostle School, Nunhead, south London. When he retired in 1982 he became a governor at St Thomas the Apostle.
In the 1950s he was one of the founders of the Society of St John Chrysostom, an ecumenical group, and his interest in ecumenism was to continue for the rest of his life. He became treasurer and president of the London Senatus of the Legion of Mary where, a decade before the Second Vatican Council, ecumenism was already a key part of their work.
In 1967 Martin Gillett and others founded the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary (ESBVM), promoting an ecumenical understanding of Mary’s place in the life of the Church via publications and conferences. Joe took on the administration of the ESBVM, extending the membership and organising conferences in England, Ireland and elsewhere with international speakers. He was also a representative on the National Council of Lay Associations from 1953 to 1994 and served on the Southwark ecumenical commission.
In the 1980s he became increasingly involved with the Liberal party, becoming chairman of the local constituency and standing as a local councillor for Carshalton and Wallington.
He married Ann Lapthorn in 1959. They had five children, a son and four daughters, one of whom predeceased him.
In 1989, Cardinal Suenens conferred on him the title Knight of St Gregory for his services to the Church; a decade later he became Knight Commander.
For the last decade of his life Joe suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, during which time his wife, Ann, continued to care for him lovingly but, despite his illness, he maintained his characteristic humour and welcoming smile. A real character, he will be greatly missed by his friends and family.
His funeral Mass will be at St Elphege’s church, Wallington, SM6 9AY, on September 22 at 10 am.
Requiescat in pace.