The Right Reverend Augustine Harris, Bishop Emeritus of Middlesbrough, died peacefully in the early evening of Thursday 30 August at Ince Blundell Hall where he had lived in retirement.
Augustine Harris was Bishop of Middlesbrough from November 1978 to November 1992.
Augustine Harris was born on 27th October 1917 in West Derby, Liverpool, one of four children of Augustine and Louisa Harris. He was educated at St Cecilia’s Primary School and St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool. In 1933 he went to the Liverpool Archdiocesan Seminary at St Joseph’s College, Upholland, to study for the priesthood. On 30th May 1942 he was ordained by Archbishop Downey.
After six months as a curate at St Oswald’s, Old Swan, Liverpool he then served at St Elizabeth’s, Litherland (1943 to 1952), and then as Chaplain at Walton Prison. During his time at St Elizabeth’s he had an active Y.C.W. group and was chaplain to the local Catholic Social Guild. He was the English representative to the International Council of Senior RC Prison Chaplains from 1957 to 1966. He was also a member of the Vatican Delegation to the United Nations Quinquennial Congress on Crime in London (1960) and Stockholm (1965). Throughout his life, Bishop Harris maintained a personal interest in criminology and published a number of articles in this field.
On 11th February 1966, Augustine Harris was consecrated Bishop of Socia and Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool by Archbishop Beck in the crypt of the then unfinished Metropolitan Cathedral. A few months later Archbishop Beck had a severe heart attack, so the new bishop had to carry the administration of the largest archdiocese in the country, and the preparations for the imminent opening of the Metropolitan Cathedral. He was principal Consecrator of the Cathedral in the continuing sickness of the Archbishop and, as the first Catholic Cathedral to be built in the 20th century, the event attracted international importance – it was featured on European TV.
On 20th November 1978, Augustine Harris was appointed Bishop of Middlesbrough. It was Pope John Paul II’s first episcopal appointment in the British Isles. Among his many projects in Middlesbrough diocese, Bishop Harris carried out a major reorganisation of Catholic schools and established four diocesan pastoral centres which have responsibility for assisting the renewal of parish community life. As Bishop, he produced pamphlets including ‘This Decade is Forever’ for the Decade of Evangelisation, and ‘Serve the Lord with Gladness’ (his motto) as a reflection of his years in the priesthood in a growing and vibrant church. He also consecrated Middlesbrough’s new Catholic Cathedral in 1998 which incorporated many of his suggestions to the architect on the church design. In 1980 he promoted a free monthly diocesan newspaper, ‘Catholic Voice’, distributed to all members of the diocesan family, and which continues today.
As a Bishop he has served as liaison Bishop between the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Prison Department at the Home Office, was Episcopal Moderator to the Federation Internationale des Associations Medicales Catholiques (1967 to 1976), and was President of the Commission for Social Welfare (1972 to 1984). He was Episcopal Chairman of the Commission for Radio and Television, President of UNDA (the Catholic broadcasters’ association) in England and Wales, and a member of CRAC, the religious advisory body for the IBA and BBC.
Bishop Harris had a variety of broadcasting experience, including a series of appearances for Terry Wogan’s BBC Radio 2 programme in 1974. On Thursday 16 October 2003 at the age of 85 he led a live broadcast of ‘Morning Worship’ on BBC Radio 4 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Pope John Paul II. More recently in May of this year he recorded a special half hour programme for BBC Radio Merseyside on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool. He was Chairman of the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship. In his retirement he continued to write a regular column in the Liverpool Catholic Pictorial.
In January 1992, Pope John Paul II accepted Bishop Harris’ resignation, tendered in anticipation of his 75th birthday in October 1992 (75 is the statutory retirement age for bishops). The resignation was accepted and Bishop Harris remained in office until his successor, Bishop John Crowley, was appointed in November 1992.
In his retirement Bishop Harris returned to his native Liverpool where he continued to serve the Church and administer the sacraments.
To celebrate the 40th (Ruby) anniversary of his ordination as bishop, on 11th February 2006, Bishop Harris concelebrated Mass with Bishop John Crowley, his successor in Middlesbrough, and Mgr Ricardo Morgan, at the time Vicar General of the Diocese of Middlesbrough, in the chapel at Ince Blundell Hall where he has resided for the past few years. On 22nd June 2006, the formal celebration of this unique event was held in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral where Bishop Harris was joined by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the Papal Nuncio, and twenty of his brother bishops together with priests and lay people from Liverpool and Middlesbrough dioceses. The homily was preached on that occasion by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.