Monsignor John Barry (19.7.2003) (Founding Father)

Monsignor John Barry (19.7.2003) (Founding Father)

Monsignor John Barry

1917-2003         Died 19 July 2003

The following obituary was written by Father Gerard Tartaglia: 31 July 2005

Although in recent months John Barry’s health was failing, his death at Eddington Cottage Hospital on 19 July 2003 was still something of a shock to all who knew him. John was having a period of illness and spent time in Edinburgh hospitals but returned to the parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea, North Berwick, where he was Parish Priest and had been since 1989.

John Barry was born on 26 September 1917. When he was nine years of age he went to the Abbey School at Fort Augustus where he remained until 1935. He was then admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, intending to enter the diplomatic service but by 1937 had decided to seek admission to the seminary. He graduated as a candidate for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh and was sent to Fribourg, Switzerland, to begin his seminary and academic training. This, however, was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war, when all Scottish students at overseas seminaries were called home. John continued his studies at Oscott College, Sutton Coldfield, and was ordained in 1944. After ordination until 1946 he was an assistant priest at St Patrick’s Kilsyth.

The war was now over, and he was sent to Rome for further studies and resided at the Pontifical Scots College. John was one of the band of priests and students who had the task of recovering and reopening the college which had been vacated during the war and used by various groups ranging from orphans to the military. He remained there until 1949, graduating with a Doctorate in Canon Law from the Gregorian University.

He returned to Edinburgh where, for a year he was assistant priest at St Cuthbert’s and then spent three years at St Anthony’s, Polmont. During this time the Archbishop of St Andrew’s & Edinburgh was in the process of establishing a seminary at Drygrange in the Borders. John was a natural choice as a member of staff where he taught philosophy, then moral theology and Canon Law.

In 1957 John was a founder member of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland and was the originator and first editor of Canon Law Abstracts, a publication that has been and is of great importance to the Society and to scholars and students alike. In a sense, a little of John’s influence on Canon Law Abstracts continues today as when the first editions required to be printed, John took the proofs to the little Border town of Galashiels, near Drygrange, the place where Abstracts were originally to be printed.

In 1960 John was appointed Rector of the Seminary at Drygrange continuing in that post until 1977. He was a canonical expert to the Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh at the Second Vatican Council and was involved as a Consultor to the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, particularly contributing to the work on the Canons on Processes.

For all his erudition, Fr Barry enjoyed telling jokes against himself. He chuckled as he recalled that he had once been described “like Morecambe Bay on a sunny day; bright but shallow”. His boyish sense of humour masked the fact that he was an incisive thinker and always a challenging speaker, especially from the pulpit. He was a man of wide-ranging interests who revelled in debate and discussion. It was fitting, therefore, that he was chosen to take part in the examination of the cause of the beatification of the Edinburgh-born trade unionist and Poor Clare Nun Margaret Sinclair.

Following his retirement as Rector of the Seminary he was appointed as Parish Priest of St Mary’s, Oxgangs, Edinburgh, where he worked until 1989 when he transferred to North Berwick.

John served the Church faithfully and was an important and influential figure in his own diocese and beyond. He committed himself wholeheartedly, whether to the training of priests, to the study of Canon Law, to the needs of parishioners, or indeed, to the many hundreds of individuals who sought his help in marital difficulties or in the presentation of petitions for nullity of marriage. May he rest in peace.


[Edited from CLSN 135, September 2003]