21 February 2024, The Tablet

Thousands follow funeral of Wodehousian Worth monk

Fr Stephen Ortiger, a lover of A.A. Milne, once wrote of the “heffalump trap” of neglecting our God-given selves through focussing solely on others.

Thousands follow funeral of Wodehousian Worth monk

There were 1,100 mourners in the abbey church in Worth, while more than twice that number followed the funeral online.
Stephanie Kalber

More than 3,500 people followed the funeral on 17 February of a popular Benedictine abbot.

The Rt Rev Stephen Ortiger OSB was the headmaster of Worth School in Crawley, West Sussex for a decade, and later became third abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady Help of Christians at Worth, where he founded a Centre for Spirituality.

He was the only English Benedictine to appear on Mastermind, where P.G. Wodehouse was his specialist subject.

Those attending his funeral included 1,100 in the abbey church at Worth, with a further 2,600 people following the service online.

Speaking during the Requiem Mass, the Abbot of Worth Fr Mark Barrett OSB recalled Ortiger’s flair for inventing words, saying: “If Stephen himself was speaking to us today, he would be concerned to establish that we were all thoroughly ‘gruntled’ – that is, ‘put in a good humour’.”

A lover of A.A. Milne, Ortiger once wrote of the “heffalump trap” of neglecting our God-given selves through focussing solely on pleasing others.

“Christianity is about loving ourselves as well as our neighbours,” he observed. “God does not call us to be doormats or Kamikaze pilots. We are called to cherish that part of creation which confronts us when we look in the mirror.”

In his homily, Fr Barrett recalled how Ortiger would encourage people not “to confuse our ‘who-ness’ with our ‘what-ness’ – who I am with what I do.”

He explained: “‘Our names,’ Stephen would say, ‘are different from our titles. Our name describes who we are, our title describes what we do.’”

Fr Barrett said Ortiger described his monastic calling as a chance to be “found” by God. “God is not lost but it is probable that we are,” he once said. “God will not rest until, in his company and with his help, we find that true self.” 

Ortiger was remembered for guiding young people through spiritual crises while an assistant chaplain at Cambridge University, where the senior chaplain was Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv, one of the 47 priests concelebrating the funeral.

Their number also included the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Richard Moth and seven abbots. One was the abbot president of the English Benedictine Congregation, Fr Christopher Jamison, who succeeded Ortiger as abbot of Worth in 2002.

The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton Richard Moth, Abbot Mark Barrett of Worth and Abbot Christopher Jamison of the English Benedictine Congregation were the principal concelebrants.

Fr Ortiger had served the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton as episcopal vicar for Religious. At the time of his terminal cancer diagnosis on 12 January, he was the parish priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in East Preston, West Sussex.

After obtaining a private pilot’s license 20 years ago, Ortiger enjoyed flying friends on day-trips to France and the Isle of Wight, and told one passenger: “Fly Abbot Airways and be closer to God!”

Shortly before his death on 27 January, he wrote of contemplating entry to eternity. “We are like caterpillars wandering what it is to be butterflies,” he said, concluding: “I’m delighted that flying will be part of it.”

A bursary to help young people to attend residential retreats at the Worth Abbey Retreat Centre (formerly the Centre for Spirituality) has been re-named The Father Stephen Ortiger Bursary Fund.

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