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Catholic Life

Lives remembered: Joseph Farrelly

Joseph Farrelly, KCSG, was born on March 10 1917. He died on August 31 2011, aged 94

By on Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Joseph Farrelly was made a Knight of St Gregory in 1989

Joseph Farrelly was made a Knight of St Gregory in 1989

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.

  • Audreymeldrum

    Ann Farrelly was a fellow pharmacy student at Leicester Polytechnic, and we were very close. Please send her my sympathy. I am so glad that she has many family to support her.  I remember Gregory being born when we were both living in London. Audrey Meldrum (nee Ferguson), and I attended her wedding to Joe.

  • John Edge

    Mr Farrelly taught me RE when I was at St Thomas the Apostle School in the late 60s. I have very fond and vivid memories of his style of teaching RE (his biblical knowledge was utterly amazing – we were convinced he had learned the bible off by heart) and his presence as a House Head was remarkable too: an extraordinary combination of strictness and kindness – very baffling to a schoolboy, but it really got you thinking. I recall, too, his habit of pushing in front of us schoolboys as we queued at the tuck shop so that he could buy his daily Mars bar! I went on to become a teacher myself and I know that he had an influence on my career choice. I loved his energy and enthusiasm. I went to his house in Wallington once in my twenties to catch up with him and to reminisce about my school days. He was hospitable and kind and I wish I saw a lot more of him after that.