06 November 2014, The Tablet

Tributes for God of Surprises author, Gerard Hughes SJ

Fr Gerard W Hughes, the author of the best-selling God of Surprises, who died on Tuesday at his nursing home in Bournemouth, was “an uneasy prophet who sought God in the turmoil, rather than in the tranquility, of the status quo”, according to the Jesuit provincial in Britain.

Paying tribute to the priest whose books made him an international best-seller, and endeared him to generations of searching and questioning Christians, Fr Dermot Preston SJ said Fr Hughes had touched the lives of thousands of people who probably would not have encountered Christ through the institutional Church.

“By articulating his own questioning, he allowed others to question the role of God in their lives and in the world,” said Fr Preston.

Fr Hughes was born in Ayrshire in 1924 to a family with Irish roots. During his education at Mount St Mary’s, the Jesuit boarding school near Sheffield, he began to explore the possibility that he had a vocation. He joined the Jesuits in 1942 and studied at Heythrop College and at Oxford before being ordained in 1958.He went on to teach at Stonyhurst before moving to Glasgow as university chaplain.

Never afraid of controversy, Fr Hughes came in for criticism from some of his church superiors when he admitted he could not accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae, and also for his practice of allowing non-Catholic Christians to receive Communion at Mass.

His first book was published in the late 1970s, and was an account of a walk he made from Weybridge in Surrey to Rome. But it was with God of Surprises that he made his mark; published by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT) the book has been translated into 20 languages and is regarded as a classic in its field.

Brendan Walsh, literary editor of The Tablet and editorial director at DLT from 1999-2011, said: "No book DLT ever published made a greater impact than God of Surprises. For many Catholic readers it opened up parts of the tradition they hadn't known existed; for many Christians of other churches it introduced aspects of Catholicism they were unaware of. Thirty years after publication it is still knocking readers sideways."

Last month Fr Hughes gave an interview to The Tablet in which he talked about facing death.

“Dying is not a major problem. In fact it is not a problem. It’s this gift of being alive now that is so important,” he said. “But we’re blocking it out. Once you become aware of being alive, really aware, life becomes a very different experience.”

Above: The 'uneasy prophet' Gerard Hughes. Photo: Adam Townsend

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