12 January 2022, The Tablet

Fr Des Wilson: the people’s priest

Fr Des Wilson: the people’s priest

Fr Des Wilson celebrating Mass in his living room at 123 Springhill Avenue
Photo courtesy of Springhill Community House Archive


Fifty years ago, Mother Teresa was settling into a modest house in Ballymurphy. She had been welcomed to west Belfast by Fr Des Wilson, a controversial Catholic priest who was to play a decisive role in Northern Ireland’s Troubles

Growing up in west Belfast in the 1970s at the height of the Troubles, my family attended 8.30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy. One Sunday, a small group of nuns I hadn’t seen before appeared in the pew next to us. They were dressed in white saris with a blue trim. They started to come every week, always taking the same pew next to ours. I started to give way to the nuns as we walked to Communion. The oldest would whisper a thank you and gently rub my arm in acknowledgement. Her name was Mother Teresa (now St Teresa of Kolkata).

The priest who had welcomed Mother Teresa to “the Murph” was Fr Des Wilson. He was an inspirational figure to many working- class Belfast Catholics, who felt he had stood four-square with his parishioners throughout the darkest days of conflict while – in their eyes – the hierarchy had not.

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