I’ll just be me, says new parish priest

WARM WELCOME: Fr John Aveyard is the new priest at St Paulinus Church. (d29111107)
WARM WELCOME: Fr John Aveyard is the new priest at St Paulinus Church. (d29111107)

IT’S early days, but Fr John Aveyard reckons he is off to a good start in taking over a Dewsbury parish.

“Well at least the congregation has laughed at my jokes,” he said as he takes the reins at St Paulinus in Westtown, the parish just vacated by popular priest Fr Nicholas Hird.

The two have just done a straight swap, with Fr Hird moving to Fr Aveyard’s previous parish in Huddersfield, which covers a massive area.

“Moving to Dewsbury will enable me to spend more time on diocesan matters,” said Fr Aveyard, 56.

Born in Batley, he went to Batley Grammar School and has been a priest for 30 years.

When first ordained he went to Keighley before moving on to teaching canon law in Durham. For this he had to get a degree in Rome, where he studied for two years. Then followed spells as parish priest in Burley in Wharfedale and Selby. “I have been lucky in working in some lovely parts of the world,” he said.

As a lad, he had a Saturday job at Toffee Smith’s sweet stall on Dewsbury market and also worked behind the bar at Batley Variety Club.

During his four years in Huddersfield he tackled the major task of merging two parishes into one. “I think I did a decent job,” he said. “The area was massive. Taking out communion could involve a 23 mile round trip.”

Fr Aveyard said the people at Westtown had made him very welcome. “They have been lovely,” he said.

And he stresses that there is no competition between him and Fr Hird, who was 10 years at St Paulinus.

“My strengths and weaknesses are different from his,” he said. “The only thing I can do is be myself. It’s always hard when a priest leaves a parish because people get attached to him and he to them.

“I have told the congregation that I was sad to leave Huddersfield but happy to come to Dewsbury, really happy. And it’s important that people know that. And one lady told me she was sure I will fit in.”

Fr Aveyard also looks forward to enjoying ecumenical fellowship with other local churches.

He hasn’t lived in this area for nigh on 30 years so it’s a real trip down memory lane. “When I arrived I walked round Dewsbury and it brought back so many memories, although the town has changed a lot,” said Fr Aveyard.