Catholic Life

Lives remembered: Bishop Michael Evans

Bishop Michael Evans

Michael Evans was born in south London, and moved to Whitstable in Kent when he was five. He attended St Mary’s Catholic Primary School there and went on to Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury where he gained A-level passes in French, History and Latin. He went straight from the Sixth Form to study for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, near Guildford in Surrey.

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Southwark on June 22 1975, and spent two years as assistant priest at St Elizabeth’s in Richmond, Surrey. From 1977 to 1979 he studied for a Master of Theology degree at Heythrop College, University of London, and then returned to St John’s Seminary for eight years as lecturer in Christian Doctrine. While there, he was also chaplain to St Teresa’s Convent School in Effingham, Surrey.

From 1985-1987 he was vice-rector at the seminary, with the then Mgr Peter Smith (later the second Bishop of East Anglia, and now Archbishop of Southwark) as rector.

From 1987 to 1993 he was a university chaplain at the South London Universities Chaplaincy, returning to the seminary from 1993 to 1995, once again as lecturer and vice-rector. He was one of the two assisting priests at Mgr Peter Smith’s ordination as Bishop of East Anglia in May 1995.

From 1995 Canon Michael Evans was parish priest of St Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, a thriving parish with a Sunday Mass attendance of 1,300 and with many young people actively involved in its life and worship. He is still remembered with love there as “Fr Michael”.

He was appointed Canon Theologian of the Archdiocese of Southwark by Archbishop Michael Bowen in 1996.

Canon Michael Evans was appointed to the Diocese of East Anglia by Pope John Paul II. He was ordained bishop at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich on March 19 2003 in a ceremony marked by a great involvement of young people and Taizé chant.

He held regular meetings with the diocesan youth council which he established. They continued until shortly before his death, and his home at Poringland saw regular youth retreats, Masses and candlelit vigils, as well as pizza, bonfires, fireworks and his trademark chilli con carne in various guises.

He led two of the largest diocesan groups of young people from this country to join with millions of young people from all over the globe at the Pope’s World Youth Day celebrations. Unbeknown to this year’s pilgrims, he was hoping to surprise them by appearing at Sunday Mass shortly after their arrival.

A diagnosis of “advanced and aggressive” prostate cancer early in his time in East Anglia could have brought about a lessening of energy in another person, but right from the beginning, while accepting that he was dying, Bishop Evans was determined to carry on living and working. In the weeks immediately before his death, he celebrated First Holy Communion and Confirmation for young people in the parish church at Poringland which was next to his home, and had been looking forward to preach at the ordination of one of his students, Fr Padraig Hawkins, on Saturday July 9. He was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Thursday July 7 after collapsing at his home. He died peacefully surrounded by some of his friends.

His funeral Mass was due to take place on Wednesday July 20.