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Jesuit priest who said his cancer was a ‘gift from God’ dies aged 83

Fr John Edwards said after being diagnosed with lung cancer that he had never been so happy

A beloved Jesuit priest who was well known for bringing people back to Confession and inspiring conversions has died aged 83.

Fr John Edwards passed away on Wednesday evening last week. Following his death, Fr Andrew Cameron-Mowat, parish priest at Farm Street church in London, said: “Fr John was greatly loved by an enormous number of people. His dynamic preaching and his mission work will live long in the memory of all who met him. He brought numerous people into the Church.

“In my short time so far as parish priest it was a blessing to have his presence at daily Mass in the church, and to receive his frequent words of support and encouragement. He was a remarkable example of a faithful and compassionate priest and a generous companion of Jesus. We will all miss him very much, but rejoice that he is now in the arms of our Blessed Lord. May he rest in peace.”

A priest for 49 years, and a member of the Jesuit Community at Mount St for 32 years, Fr Edwards was known to be an excellent confessor who was very successful in encouraging people to attend Confession. He was also a devoted advocate of the practice of receiving indulgences.

Fr Anthony Symondson, a fellow Jesuit priest and a friend of Fr Edwards, said his death was a “perfect end to a very fine Jesuit vocation”.

He said: “He had a very attractive personality in the sense that people warmed to him. Most of his life, since about 1972, was spent trudging around the country in mission, to large churches and small churches, well-known and obscure churches. His missions took a week and ended with an appeal, and he knew how successful he was by the amount of money raised.”

He continued: “John was a holy man, a wonderful confessor. He regularly gave his Confession, he preached brilliantly, and he made the faith something worth believing in. He had a great effect on individual people, he was delightful company and most of all a Jesuit priest.”

After Fr Edwards was diagnosed with lung cancer, Fr Symondson said that he had described it as “a gift from God”.

“He was radiant. I couldn’t believe it. He told me: ‘I’ve just been given a death sentence, and I’ve never been so happy.’ He became radiant with the love of God. He said he never prayed so well.”

Fr Symondson continued: “The heart of John’s genius lay in his ability to make the Catholic faith attractive to people. He changed people’s lives. He had a great sense of humour, he saw the sardonic side of life… I’m going to miss him more than I can say.”

Fr John Edward’s funeral Mass was due to take place at the church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street in Mayfair, London, on December 20 at 11am.

Writing on his blog Fr Tim Finigan, parish priest in Blackfen, south-east London, said Fr Edwards preached about purgatory and the importance of praying for dead. “So let us return that kindness by praying for him,” he said.