Few people know that Fr Austin Garvey’s first name was Charles. This is not surprising as he never used it! Austin Garvey was born on 5th July 1926 in London to Lawrence and Winifred Garvey. He had four brothers, James, Michael, Brian and Kevin, and a sister, Winifred. His elder brother Michael became a priest of the Diocese of Westminster. He died on 24th May 2002. Austin was educated at St Ignatius College, Stamford Hill. He was accepted as a student for the priesthood for the Diocese and went to St Edmund’s College, Ware in 1945. In 1947 he and his brother Michael, both seminarians, went on pilgrimage to Lourdes for the first time. It was the beginning of a life-long devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and regular pilgrimages with HCPT and with the Diocese. Austin was ordained to the priesthood in the college chapel on 22nd July 1951 by Archbishop Edward Myers, coadjutor Archbishop of Westminster. He then went to Christ’s College, Cambridge where his studies earned him the award Master of Arts in Classics.
Fr Austin returned to teach at St Edmund’s College from 1954 to 1964 and then, as a House Master, he remained a further two years. His brother, Fr Michael, was the Head Master. Fr Austin’s subjects were Classics, Latin, Greek and French. He coached rugby and, with his brother, encouraged athletics at St Edmund’s. He was involved with drama productions, especially the annual school play with the parts being assigned before the Christmas holidays with the expectation that the boys returned in January having learnt their parts, word perfect. Fr Austin would test them because of his passion for things to be done properly. He sourced and hired all the props from West End prop shops, cast every play and then rehearsed and produced it. He worked to draw out the best in the students, helping them to fulfill their potential. A hard taskmaster, but for the good of the students. At the end of each lesson he gave the boys something to learn, and he tested them at the beginning of the next lesson.
In 1966 Fr Austin asked Cardinal John Heenan if he could go overseas as a Fidei Donum priest, and his request was approved. He went as a missionary to Lima, Peru for ministry alongside the Columban Missionary Society and remained there for twelve years. Reflecting on his time in Peru Fr Austin wrote, in 2014, ‘My efforts focused on creating and promoting opportunities for disabled children in poor areas to receive a Catholic education.’ He founded a facility for people with learning difficulties, and a school for deaf people. These continue the work begun by Fr Austin. When he left Peru he continued to support the vulnerable people he cared for, and loved.
He returned to the Diocese to take up his appointment as Parish Priest at St Patrick’s, Soho in 1978. He lived with other priests, including the first Chaplain to Chinese Catholics, and the top floor resident au pairs who looked after the house and its occupants. Chinese Catholics met in the basement of the presbytery, and set up a library. The au pairs studied at the language school set up by Fr Austin and another priest in the house. The fees generated by the language school financed a chaplaincy and social centre in the heart of Soho to provide a safe space for young adults drawn to London and in need of protection from some of the dangerous aspects of life in the city. Fr Austin looked after his parishioners, and others whose work brought them to the streets of Soho. He established the parish Legion of Mary to assist with his care for working girls. He remained acutely aware of the need of the Church to serve Christ in the poor. He supported the work of CAFOD and he provided food for the poor who called to the presbytery. He remained at Soho until reaching the usual retirement age for clergy, 75, in 2001. At St Patrick’s Fr Austin would treat guests to the house sherry, San Patricio, the flagship fino from the House of Garvey. Fr Austin would smile wryly as he displayed the bottle and poured this little pleasure in somewhat bleak surroundings.
Towards the end of his time at Soho Cardinal Basil Hume asked Fr Austin to act as Co-ordinator of the Ethnic Chaplains in the Diocese. Fr Austin readily agreed. Such work played to his gifts and strengths. He insisted that priests from overseas proposed and invited for ministry in the Diocese were to be welcomed as brothers of the local priests and treated in the same way. He was fatherly and protective towards the Ethnic Chaplains and he became their advocate. Patrician-like he ensured they were included in the life of the Diocese. Perhaps his experience as a missionary priest ministering overseas helped his understanding of the stranger among us, having been one himself. Erga migrantes caritas Christi, The love of
Christ towards migrants, the Instruction issued by the Vatican in 2004, became his handbook as he promoted the ministry of Ethnic Chaplains and the care of migrants and others who made London their home. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who became Archbishop of Westminster in March 2000, was happy for him to continue this work when Fr Austin retired as Parish Priest in 2001. Fr Austin went to live in rooms on the top floor of the presbytery at Marylebone where he had a bedroom, bathroom, sitting room and office. The house had a lift, making it easy for him to reach his self-contained area of the house. He was grateful to be living with other priests and helping out in the parish. He celebrated Mass every day and always gave a homily. Marylebone was well positioned for travel across London by public transport. He had time to visit the Chaplains and their communities in churches where they were welcomed, and in meeting rooms and parish halls. He organized and hosted regular meetings in the parish hall at Marylebone, bringing together the various Chaplains and their main collaborators. The Chaplains looked forward to these, especially the celebration of St Joseph the Worker in May and the Mass and dinner in anticipation of Christmas. He usually invited the Cardinal or one of the Auxiliary Bishops to these gatherings, giving added authority to his ministry.
In 2008 Fr Austin needed heart surgery, after which he had three weeks of convalescence with the Little Sisters of the Poor at St Anne’s Home in Stoke Newington. In 2010 Fr Austin relinquished his work as Co-ordinator of the Ethnic Chaplains in the Diocese, leaving it on a firm footing. In June 2015 he was knocked down by a car while crossing the road near to his home in Marylebone, leaving him shocked and bruised. He became withdrawn and realized he needed to move from Marylebone to go to Nazareth House in Finchley to receive the care now needed. He moved there in July 2015 and spent the last years of his life in contentment.
In July 2019 Fr Austin, by now very frail and needing much assistance, went to Lourdes with the Diocese for the last time. This proud Chaplain d’honneur of the Shrine was now a very sick pilgrim and many did not expect that he would return home. In Lourdes he received the care that over the years he gave to others on pilgrimage; he received the sacraments he faithfully ministered to others whether on pilgrimage or in parish ministry or as a missionary, including the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
At times Fr Austin could seem to be impatient, even cross. He did not suffer fools gladly. He was at once tough and sensitive, austere and generous, irascible and kind. His strong faith was nurtured through his life of prayer and devotion, fidelity to the Mass, and by his concern for the poor and his apostolic zeal. He lived simply and had resilience. If he wanted, or more properly needed, something from those in authority to support his ministry or the ministry of another, ‘no’ was not an acceptable response to his request. He was a man and priest for others.
Fr Garvey died peacefully at home in Nazareth House, Finchley on 3rd April. Fr Garvey’s funeral took place on 23rd April at Beckenham Crematorium with Bishop John Sherrington presiding.
May this faithful priest rest in peace and rise in glory.