We have included some reflections on the life and ministry of Mgr Peter Kirkham from Dr Alan Caunt who was a life-long friend from their days together at De La Salle, Sheffield and from Fr Mark McManus who preached at his funeral Mass.
Alan writes: Peter and I started at De La Salle College, Sheffield, at the same time in 1952. We quickly became friends. He already knew that he wanted to be a priest. He had done so from the age of 8.
He was an altar boy at Saint Theresa’s on Prince of Wales Road on the Manor in Sheffield, I was an altar boy in Hoyland. We visited each other’s churches, we used to swap ‘tips’ such as how to get the ‘best smoke’ from the thurible, how to stop candle wax running everywhere! and so on…..
Peter was an only child. I had two brothers and a sister. We each felt at home in the other’s house. His dad was a bus driver, my dad was a fettler. Both sets of parents were very welcoming and supportive. My parents became very fond of Peter. He, later in life, conducted each of their Requiem Masses. In school holidays, and occasional Saturdays, we used to go to Doncaster station trainspotting – his love of trains lasted his lifetime.
Peter maintained his close connection with my family throughout his ministry. He conducted several family baptisms, weddings and funerals along the way. He also attended many social family gatherings. He was regarded by all of us as a close family member. We were privileged to be invited to Peter’s parish celebrations such as his 70th Birthday party, 50th Jubilee celebrations and when he was made Monsignor and Chaplain to the Pope.
Fr Mark writes: Peter always expressed a deep and abiding gratitude for his parents, the upbringing they had given him and for the family life that they had shared. Appropriately, his Old Norse and Old English surname, Kirkham, has its origins as a name for someone who lived near a church and much of his childhood was spent in the bosom of his beloved St Theresa’s on ‘The Manor’ in Sheffield. The care and example of the priests there, especially that of Canon Denis McGillycuddy, remained with him throughout his life. Peter’s Catholic upbringing stirred his soul and, seduced in particular by the beauty of the liturgy, he heard the Lord call to him and invite him to follow him in service of his holy people. So it was that the teenager went from De La Salle School to train for the priesthood at the English College in Rome, where he was to be ordained priest in 1966. His time in Rome would leave him with an abiding love of the Eternal City and of all things Italian and Romanita!
Desiring nothing more than to live a simple, holy life, Peter absolutely loved the priesthood and its brotherhood and he was always conscious of the need to pursue virtue and be a good example, especially in the promotion of vocations. A man of humility, his daily routine revolved around prayer. He gave time to his relationship with the Lord and nurtured his devotion to the Mother of God through the daily recitation of the rosary. He had little by the way of personal possessions and gave much to the poor.