Monday, March 31, 2008

Fr Francis James Arcadius Kuyte (1853-1935)

Since I became involved recently with the North East Catholic History Society I have been dipping into past issues of the Society magazine. This morning at breakfast I was reading the 1993 issue and came upon an article, by Aidan Harrison, about the above priest which I thought you might enjoy.

 Fr Kuyte was born in Oss in Holland but came to England and at the age of sixteen began studies at Ushaw. He served as parish priest of St Agnes` Crawcrook from 1912 until his death. His predecessor had suffered from chronic laryngitis which prevented him from preaching. The parishioners felt deprived and sent a delegation to the bishop to ask for a preacher. Bishop Collin`s reply was " You want a preacher? I`ll send you a preacher!" Harrison continues: Fr Kuyte was a renowned preacher-for length as much as content- and soon the parishioners of Crawcrook were making up for lost time with hour-long sermons at the Sunday Masses and Evening Devotions. The congregation of the 8.30 am Sunday Mass were leaving just as those for the 11.00am were arriving. These in turn, would be fortunate to be leaving by one o`clock in the afternoon. 

 Not everyone was happy about this but Fr Kuyte was undeterred. One Sunday three men decided enough was enough and left the church during the sermon. Fr Kuyte noticed them leaving and called out to them forbidding them to leave. As they ignored him he left the pulpit and pursued them across the main street and persuaded them to return. The next week he denounced them by name for leaving early. 

Harrison does say that Fr Kuyte was very well read on secular as well as religious subjects and had interesting opinions. He denounced the Allies after the first World War for imposing too harsh terms on Germany saying this would rebound on them later: something he did not live to see. he was also an expert on ornithology and particularly a world authority on the nightingale which he introduced to Crawcrook

 However there are more stories. He remarked that his parishioners were the slowest he had known to respond to the parish notices. One week parishioners were surprised to find a washing line had been set up from one side of the church to the other and displayed on it were a selection of worn-out and irreparable vestments for which he had been asking for funds to replace. The funds were raised in two weeks.

 Another time the parish found themselves showered with halfpennies from the pulpit from the previous week`s collection. Fr Kuyte`s point was that if that was all they could afford to put on the collection plate then their need was clearly greater than his and they could have their money back.

Fr Kuyte had fallings out with the bishop and diocesan authorities. When parish priest at Bell`s Close in Newcastle in the early 1900`s alterations and extensions were made to the church and presbytery but Fr Kuyte did not approve of the diocesan plans and altered them. The bishop was not pleased and insisted that Fr Kuyte pay the extra cost of his own alterations from his own pocket: a sum of £400, reckoned to be the equivalent of £80,000 in 1993. He was from a wealthy background. 

In Crawcrook he argued against the diocesan plans for the construction of a new school as being not a good deal financially and twenty years later his successor discovered that Fr Kuyte had been correct in his advice as a further site was needed for a new church which would not have been necessary if Fr Kuyte had been listened to. He both amused and frustrated his parishioners. He had preached against the dangers of dancing (much as the Cure D`Ars had too). When some parishioners later asked if they could have a parish dance he surprised them by saying they could have two. He went on: `You can have one, one week for the men, and another, the next week, for the women!` 

When a lapsed Catholic was delivering coals to the presbytery and said `These`ll burn well, Father,` the quick reply was `So will you, Paddy, so will you.` There was a massive turn-out for his funeral in 1935, the road to the cemetery being lined by non-Catholics as well as Catholics. He had become a well-known character in Crawcrook with his top-hat, three-quarter length coat and silver-topped cane. Harrison says: Fr Kuyte was a `character` who would alternately frustrate, madden or delight, but he was a man of deep understanding and learning who attempted to impart knowledge to his people through his, albeit, lengthy sermons.


Volpius Leonius said...

I think we could do with a few Priests like Father Kuyte today, but is it possible for a Priest to be like that in todays Church?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting..thankyou Fr..

Anonymous said...

I assume you will now be taking him as your model in every respect Fr. You would look swell in a top-hat, three-quarter length coat and with a silver topped cane!