A celebration of the life of Harrison Torr will be held at St Bede’s Church, Hull, at noon on Tuesday July 27. Harrison died in March 2020 after a courageous fight against cancer. Father Dominique Minskip wrote this tribute…
Harrison Torr (“Harri”), who was pictured in the Voice carrying the diocesan banner in Lourdes in 2019, died at the end of March 2020 aged 16 and (prevented from having a requiem by the lock-down) was cremated on the morning of Holy Thursday. Harri was very natural and normal but, in ways, very special too.
I got to know Harri when I was appointed priest of Sacred Heart and St Bede’s parishes in Hull, with responsibility also for St Stephen’s Pastoral Centre. Harri and his family lived just across the road from St Stephen’s and, through the good offices of the late Sister Anna Hawke CJ and Sister Josie Bulger CJ, the sisters then in residence, Erica, Harri’s mum, decided that they should look to be received into the Church. Harri was already at St Richard’s Catholic Primary School and Erica already involved in the life of the Pastoral Centre and their progress through the Journey in Faith was a smooth one. Their reception took place at St Bede’s Church and from then on their involvement in parish life grew and grew.
Harri became an altar server – a very faithful one – at St Bede’s on Sunday mornings and St Stephen’s on Friday evenings (the one regular Mass there). As time went on and with the arrival of the Daughters of Charity at St Stephen’s to replace the CJs, he also began to read at Mass. (Sister Maria Robb, DC, who is a great activator of young people, gave Harri and others encouragement to step forward and to help with readings and, under supervision, with children’s liturgy for the smaller ones).
Erica helped with Journey in Faith and with First Holy Communion preparation groups and Harri, now at St Mary’s College, liked to help out too. When free, he also took a role in the Hull Housebound days at St Stephen’s, helping to serve meals and chat to those brought by volunteer drivers from around the city. Because of Harri’s ease with the Housebound group other young people, brought in small groups from St Mary’s and/or St Richard’s, also enjoyed their contact.
Harri’s life wasn’t just about those things though: taught by his older brother, Josh, (and indulged by their very accommodating mum!) Harri learned to take care of a real menagerie of animals – reptiles and snakes of varying sizes, rabbits, cats, dogs, rodents and almost anything you can think of. Plants, too, became of interest to him as time went on and he especially liked those he was given to grow in his bedroom when his deteriorating health began to limit him more. Harri cherished all life and was an especially loving and caring uncle to his nieces and nephew, as well as a beloved nephew and cousin himself.
Harri had always led an active life. He enjoyed swimming from an early age and, through family’s treats, got to sample the atmosphere of Celtic football matches, international cricket games and Wimbledon fortnight. We won’t hold it against him that he became a Manchester City fan – Josh’s influence again – and he did get to visit their stadium on a privileged tour. He did that as part of his bucket list, drawn up when he was given the news, in June 2019, that his cancer was terminal. It had begun in 2018 as osteosarcoma – cancer of the bone – in his lower left leg and an amputation below the knee had followed. (Parishioners at St Stephen’s, St Bede’s and Sacred Heart raised funds for him to be fitted with a “blade” which he wore in Lourdes). Painful chemotherapy both preceded and followed the amputation and then an operation to crush the “nodules” in his lungs, to which the cancer had spread, and which remained after the chemotherapy. Harri was thought then to be free of the cancer, but one final examination remained to take place after he and Erica had returned from the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.
So many friends were made on that trip, all of them impressed by Harri’s manner and courage, and so many were devastated after their return to hear that fresh sign of cancer had shown up around the aorta leading from Harri’s heart to his lungs and that his cancer would not be operable. Harri himself digested the news with remarkable calm and immediately drew up a bucket list. It included skydiving, go-karting, eating at a five-star Michelin restaurant and going up in a German bi-plane. Also on the list was paintballing: Harri and his relatives pitted themselves against a team of diocesan Lourdes youth, two priests (Father Philip Cunnah and myself) and Sister Maria Robb. The rain fell, the paintballs flew and the bruises came, Harri’s cousins, in particular, showing no mercy to their opponents! Fittingly, Harri’s side won, if only by a narrow margin.
After Harri’s terminal diagnosis, contact had been made with Alan Titchmarsh and Harri featured as one of a series of heroic people who were given garden makeovers. The ITV programme was broadcast in February of this year, though the makeover happened late last summer. Having visited Harri a couple of times through his treatments and watching him on the programme, I was struck by how much he had changed in the time since I left Hull (September 2017). From a young adolescent, he had become a mature young man yet retaining all his best qualities, especially love for family and kindness to others.
Harri had undergone most of his treatment in the children’s cancer ward at Leeds General Infirmary. He had been a helper and encourager of the younger children who shared those wards. When I visited Harri at the start of 2020 to discuss (at his request) his wishes for his funeral, his choice of Gospel reading – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – seemed very fitting; he liked the fact that it featured a donkey but there was no doubt for me that the parable said something significant about Harri too – his understanding of what is important in life (care for others, willingness to stop and help and not pass by) and, indeed, the difference between true and false “religion”. Harri’s choice of first reading, again, was significant. He chose the passage from the Book of Revelation about the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. It is the final proclamation of what the book constantly proclaims – that God has already won the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection and that the virtuous, whatever their suffering, will have their deserved reward. Verse seven reads (in the Jerusalem Bible translation): “It is the rightful inheritance of the one who proves victorious; and I will be his God and he a son to me.”
Holy Thursday, the day of Harri’s funeral, was the first time during the lockdown that I had celebrated an evening Mass. The sanctuary at St Joseph’s, Middlesbrough, is deep and, not having a congregation, I had chosen to celebrate Mass from the “other” side of the main altar, looking towards the tabernacle, which has a mosaic of the Last Supper above. As I celebrated Mass that evening I thought an insect or some particle was floating in the wine of the chalice, as can happen; but, in time, I realised that, with the lights on, it was the cross suspended above the altar that I could see reflected there – a cross showing Jesus in majesty. In that moment of realisation, there came a certainty of the Real Presence of Jesus and of his victory and I thought again of the words of Revelation and of Harri: “I will be his God and he a son to me.”
Father Dominique Minskip