Canon Thomas Atthill was ordained a Priest in Downside Abbey by Bishop Joseph Rudderham on July 18th 1969.

On the 21st August, he was joined by many priests from Clifton Diocese and from  other dioceses as well as many friends and family to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

You can watch his Homily below in which he gives a very detailed charted history of his time as a priest.


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Full text of his homily:

The Roman road from the Mendip lead mines to Gaul and Italy via Old Sarum and the Solent, crosses the river Avon at Stratford/Castle. In that area I have known three centenarians: a soldier and a musician at Harnham, and (thank you for being here) from Stratford/Castle, Yvonne Fox.  Your mind, Yvonne, is full of memories and stimulating thoughts, as Tablet readers can attest.  Many more memories than I have of the fifty years we thank God for at this Mass! 

However, even selecting from these, I must heed the advice of a locally connected saint.  In Shepton Mallet there’s a fine old building still know as Sales House – a Convent from 1810 for about 20 years, of Visitation Sisters, named after their founder.   Always practical as well as holy, St Francis de Sales once said, “These young priests preach for far too long; 45 minutes is quite enough.”  Forgive me if I don’t follow his advice to the letter.

Well,  so, not 50, but 70 years ago, in 1949, our family came to live at St Wulstan’s, just up the old Abbey drive here.  Our father Robin started teaching at Downside the year before.  In our parents’ bedroom was a copy of part of the Van Eyck Adoration of the Lamb.  That’s where the story of this Lamb on the Order of Service and the little cards begins.  In 1969, by then at Neighbourne, our mother Elizabeth did a black and white lino-cut of the Lamb for my ordination. Since when, it has been through silver and ruby editions, and now gold!

A ]  THE VAN EYCK picture is huge, 11’ x 15’!  ABOVE is God THE FATHER, Mary and John the Baptist on either side, and a choir and players making music – not angels (they haven’t got wings), but the blessed continuing in heaven what we do on earth, singing to the glory of God.  Pope St Pius X, today’s saint   in today’s Office of Reading.   BELOW, in a field with distant cities is THE LAMB standing on an altar where a chalice catches his blood – the Blood of the New Covenant and our Holy Communion.  The frontal is embroidered ECCE AGNUS DEI.   Angels kneel on either side, some hold the cross, and the flagellum & pillar of Jesus’s scourging; before the altar two more are  swinging thuribles.  In front is a well-head, a font for Baptism, filled with water from a silver fountain.  Above, between the Lamb and the Father is THE DOVE, THE HOLY SPIRIT.  This depiction –  Father above, Son below, Holy Spirit between, was common in England; there’s a carving of it in Wells Cathedral, possibly connected with the “Martyrs’ Picture” at the English College in Rome, dedicated to the Trinity and Ss Thomas of Canterbury & Edmund.  An image of  God’s earthly family and the Trinity, one triangle inside another, done in marquetry by Norman Kinsey, is on the lectern in Holy Family Chapel, Whaddon.

ALL OVER the picture are crowds, adorers of the Lamb, from the whole world and all time, heeding the Baptist’s “Behold the Lamb of God,” and echoing Mary’s “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.”  I.e. All of us, God’s people.  There’s one group I love near the font, who we’ve already met :  Half are Jewish people – the prophets with books of prophecy, as we heard in Ephesians, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came”; & half are thinkers and writers, who are, or were, pagans  – they are the “NOW YOU TOO” at the end of our reading: “You too have heard the message of the truth”/”you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit.”  Jews are paired with former pagans in the church S. Sabina, Rome – two mosaic women, The Church from the Circumcision and The Church from the Gentiles.  Sadly this is air-brushed from Ephesians when used at Mon Vespers.  For Paul they are the two eye-openers of his “Damascus Road” conversion.  First, “The Jesus I’ve been persecuting is the one we Jews have been waiting for.”  Secondly, Paul’s got to tell ALL people that they are chosen and loved by God in Christ. Pope Francis tells us that to accept Christ is to be called to be a missionary. Francis of Assisi, said “Even if necessary, using words!” ( pausa)

B ]  MOVING on now, it seems to me that those crowds in the picture are a bit like all of us here tonight – a litany of this Mass’s Thanksgiving.  First, we’ve got *my brother and sister CHARLES AND CATHERINE and other family members, one of whom I baptised two days after my ordination, reminding  me of our parents and forebears – Atthills, Hills, and Winnington-Ingrams; Thackerays, Ritchies and Brookfields.  Families are where most of us start life, and experience being loved and loving.  So, I THANK YOU, GOD, for my family – for all our families.    *WE’ve got people from FROM DORSET – Sherborne, Lyme Regis, Wimborne – my first memories of home, of the sea, of going away to school, when our mother was ill.  *There are, STRATTON PEOPLE who connect with my First Communion at St Benedict’s in 1949.  Fr Dunstan was Parish Priest.  Later serving Fr Gregory’s Mass, with Christopher and Richard Jones, taught by the Servite Sister Angela.  Sunday Masses at St Benedict’s, at All Hallows and later in the Abbey taught me to appreciate singing the liturgy. * In 1952 from ALL HALLOWS some of us were confirmed here in the Abbey by Bp Joseph Rudderham.  *Others of you were with me in the School here, including singing under Roger Bevan’s baton, and archaeologising;  *then after I’d excavated at Knossos in Crete, I met some of you at OXFORD (which included Lourdes and the Chalet des Anglais), and* others for the Seminary years at the English College in ROME where I first sang the Vaughan Williams and the Byrd we have tonight. I THANK GOD for all who’ve been with us, taught us, helped us grow towards our futures.     What future?  Farmer?  monk? (at Confirmation I took the name Benedict!), archaeologist?  What changed me at Oxford from archaeology to applying for Clifton Diocese?  Who? Not what? : Fr Michael Hollings, our Chaplain.

Later Fr Michael preached at my ordination here on July 18th 1969.  I remember things he and Bp Joseph said:  *Bp JOSEPH ASKED “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” I said I did.  And I THANK GOD today that neither he, nor Bishop Mervyn, nor Bishop Declan have ever made it difficult for me to keep that promise. * FR MICHAEL’s homily started with, “Thomas, come here”.  “No”, I thought, sitting there with my parents, “You don’t call me up, the priest presenting me to the Bishop does.”  He went on, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.”  He talked about priests entering Christ’s wounds.  People said he was hard on me. But it’s meant that every way I’ve followed my vocation – sacramental or pastoral, exciting & challenging or just routine – has been a part of what Jesus told Thomas to do.  I THANK GOD for all those ways.  The family of the Church is the Body of Christ; in fact anything to do with people can be our vocation and a closeness to Christ, and his wounds.  It’s all in the Anima Christi//Soul of my Saviour we’re singing later.

C ] What have the 50 years since ordination actually meant? Never what I’d thought.  Ever since, the next thing hasn’t been what I was expecting!  But always, as T.S.Eliot might have said, “Satisfactory”.  And I THANK GOD, for that.

So, INSTEAD OF doing more Scripture in Rome, I was curate with Fr Dick Norris at Holy Cross, Bedminster.  Mass, Confessions, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals – people at home, in schools & hospitals. Camping trips to Italy, with young parishioners and Tim & Chris Hughes, to Palazzola, the English College’s villa in the Alban hills.  I THANK GOD for those years  –   but after two years the curacy was cut short.  Mgr Cormac Murphy-O’Connor asked the Bishop to let me be theology tutor at the English College. An inaccurate title:  I also helped students with Italian and NT Greek, surveyed the heating system, began furnishing Palazzola for winter use for families, and started a summer catering career, when Pax Christi first came.  I THANK GOD for those five years.

The CATERING was handy for my next post.  Not (as expected once again) being at the Biblicum, (Catherine gave me my Hebrew Lexicon!), but Bristol University as Chaplain.  And students liked pasta! And learning to cook it. It also raised funds for TWAG.  Bristol is a good University, and enhanced by Capel-y-ffyn, Student Cross, Palazzola trips and, ecumenically, Taize.  I found Bp Mervyn my successor, Fr Edward from Downside.   *I learnt a lot more at the Chaplaincy about working WITH others – Fr Stan, other denominations’ chaplains, the non-student as well as the student members of the community.  Working with fellow priests has been helped by Ministry to Priests which started at this time.  We’re going to miss the hospitality of the Nympsfield Marist sisters!  “Working together” is crucial.  I THANK GOD for everyone I have worked with. 

In 1985, I’d EXPECTED another curacy, but Bp Mervyn made me PP of –  he said it was a good parish (he’d grown up there) – St Osmund’s, Salisbury. Yes, again I THANK GOD, a very good parish.  Lots of you here tonight. I worked with other parishes, which is the new future, and in the hospitals and the thriving schools.  Bp Mervyn was by no means the last priest with a Salisbury background.  There are two now at Seminary – brothers, one for Clifton, one for Plymouth.  Vocation isn’t only about priests and religious.  It’s any responding to God’s call – to prayer, liturgical and personal, to serving  people and the community, including “working together” parish things like Taize evenings, meals, trips to Palazzola & the Holy Land, cooperating in SCAFOD, or RCIA, which we called “Sharing our Faith”.  The book says, “The initiation of Adults is the business of ALL the faithful.”  Lay workers and Lay ministers aren’t “sort of clergy”, they’re “baptised people”!

IN 2003 I went where I thought I’d never go.  Jesuits were 400 years at Wardour and Tisbury.  New Wardour Chapel opened 75 years before our Diocese even existed.  The Arundel family were part of a swathe of Recusant communities from sea to sea – Cannington to Lulworth. With or without martyrs, these were a true witness. But the Jesuits left, and Tisbury and Wardour was my last full-time parish. When a parishioner saved my life and six months’ convalescence kept me away, the strength of the parish kept the family thriving – which reminds me that priests come and go, but parishioners stay.  They//you ARE the parish.  Incidentally, your leaving present to me, the great Codex Sinaiticus Bible, has enabled me at last “do further studies” in Scripture! Again, for the Tisbury and Wardour family, I THANK GOD.

D ] Fr/Canon Mattie Hayes called life after being a PP a “2nd vocation”.  True!  In months I saw more parishes than in all the years before.  Going to parishes regularly is like going to stay with relations. You’re make very welcome….. and not expected to do too much!

Fr Michael’s “Thomas, come here” ordination homily wasn’t too severe.  And I don’t take Jesus’s words in tonight’s Gospel about brother and sister and mother as rebuke.  He enhances family relationships: they are a model for doing the will of God, being the family of

JESUS’S  (AND OUR) FATHER.   So, THANK YOU, GOD, for all our families and what you teach and give us in them.  And Thank you all here tonight for how in different ways, you have been, and always will be, family for me. THANK YOU.