Homily for the Requiem of Fr George Hutcheon

Not long before he died, Fr George said to me that he did not want a eulogy.

No, fair enough. We’re not here to eulogise. We’re here to remember him, to give thanks for him and to pray for him – in all his frail and graced humanity. We’re here, we might say, to clothe him with the prayer of the Church, to present him to God the most High and to comfort one another with assurances of faith.

Fr George was an experience.  Once met, never forgotten. We remember St Peter’s adage, “Fear God and honour the Emperor”. Well, George did the former, but was too good a trade unionist to do the latter. Be “they” in the diocese or Aberdeen City Council or a political party or government, “they’re numpties, they’re all numpties, every single one of them. It’s an outrage. They should be…”

George Hutcheon was born in Aberdeen on 26th June 1951 and did not have an easy life. He had a difficult beginning and upbringing. His nursing career, which was serious and professional, brought its difficulties, as well as a great deal of experience as a nurse in theatre. It included a time in Saudi Arabia where he encountered diseases he had never seen before and himself contracted both hepatitis and meningitis. He had to undergo a triple bypass in his 40s, his heart being stopped for three and a half hours. He survived and his journey to the diaconate and priesthood began thereafter. It ended with his ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Peter in this Cathedral on 14 April 2005. But that journey had its difficult passages too. And so did the years of parish ministry that followed, in St Mary’s, Blairs, Sacred Heart Torry, as hospital chaplain, diocesan exorcist and at our Lady of Aberdeen, where he did in the end find a measure of peace. Above all, of course, he had his health difficulties, a whole anthology of them. No wonder he chose the Gospel that recounts the death and resurrection of Lazarus or a first reading that speaks of being tested in the furnace or a second reading that describes our bodily selves as a tent to be folded up. No wonder that towards the end of his life he would talk about Calvary and insist that Jesus had had to crawl to his Passion to save us, not walk through a rose garden. No wonder either, after all these difficulties, that he could be difficult himself, sometimes on a nuclear scale. Yes, Fr George could be an experience.

But woven in with it all was so much that was genuine and generous, great strands of dedication and bravery, above all of faith and hope. He became a Catholic at 16 and certainly in Pauline terms “kept the faith”, along with a growing sense of God’s mercy. And Christ always the centre. Fr George was bothered about people and their suffering and he took his priesthood with the utmost seriousness. It was the way he lived and the way he loved. He didn’t have any other. That’s why he couldn’t grasp the concept of retirement. For him shoes were for dying in, and he requested that after his death a priest-friend vest him in a chasuble. It was because of these kinds of thing, and a sense of the wounds he carried, that he could inspire so much affection, even if it required helpings of patience. Here I must acknowledge and thank all those who in different ways supported and carried Fr George especially during his last years: his sister and her family of course and Srs Caroline and Wiesia and many others who will understand if I cannot name them all. Something very Christian happened on the hill of Kincorth, under our Lady’s mantle, this last while. And he mellowed.

What strange beings we are and how delicate but decisive is the Providence of God in our regard. “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God”. Fr George had a sense of those hands. For 29 years his were the hands of a nurse and for 19 those of a priest, and he passed to the hands of God, which had never dropped him, aged 73 – the day of his birthday. Born into difficulty, now born beyond it.

The Press and Journal did a feature on Fr George after his triple bypass in ARI in 1998. There he spoke explicitly about his intention of going for the priesthood. The desire was already there, but I think it became more explicit through this Lazarus experience. “In a sense I was dead for three and a half hours. It is a strange feeling going under an anaesthetic not knowing if you are going to come out of it alive. But I was not afraid. I had every confidence in the team. I knew I was in good hands and I knew God was with me.”

I haven’t said as much as I should have about the readings. They were his choice. They are what he wants us to hear – far more than anything I’m saying. They are Fr George’s profession of faith; they’re what he wants us to take from his life: “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God…they will shine out…they shall judge nations and rule over peoples” – yes, the numpties will be replaced. “Yes, Lord, said Martha, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Yes, it’s the Paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of the Lord, George would have fixed in our hearts.

Forgive me one last story. For many years a very rough man of the road used to frequent Pluscarden, name of Bob. After the funeral of a monk, he unexpectedly asked for baptism. Before it could happen, he was diagnosed with TB and taken to the Infectious Diseases Unit in ARI. Fr George was chaplain at the time and the monastery asked him to visit Bob and baptise him. It was clear Bob was dying. So George baptised, confirmed, anointed him and gave him his first and last communion. And here was the touch of genius. I said George didn’t particularly honour emperors, but he gave the dying Bob the name of the Roman Emperor baptised on his death bed: “I baptise you, Constantine”. What a delicious irony! Let’s think of George en route to his own coronation and the eulogy of God.

St Mary’s Cathedral, 5 July 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122