*** DEBUG END ***

Surprisingly successful spirituality

05 December 2014

GERARD W. HUGHES SJ, author of the spiritual classic God of Surprises, died on 4 November. He will be much missed.

I met him in 1986 when, as a BBC television producer, I had the idea of filming a silent retreat. I had come across Ignatian spirituality, and thought that an Ignatian retreat, with its conversational interaction between a director and a retreatant, would make good television.

Gerry Hughes agreed to take part, and I found some willing subjects to go on a five-day retreat at St Beuno's Spiritual Exercise Centre under his direction. One was the Liverpudlian sculptor Arthur Dooley, and I remember Gerry's extraordinary concentration and patience as he teased out what Arthur was discovering, about himself and God, as he meditated on the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Gerry proved to be a natural on television. He was a Glaswegian Scot, a tall, rangey man with deep-set eyes and a crinkled face. His stillness on camera suggested an inner restlessness held in check, a well-disciplined potential for indignation at oppression, social or spiritual.

He was a great walker. He made a walking pilgrimage to Rome, and then a second great journey, to Jerusalem, following in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola. When I came to Oxford in 2011, I met him again. He had been ill for several years, but he still tried to walk every day, and I often saw him slowly and determinedly making his way round Christ Church Meadow.

Gerry passionately believed that God revealed himself through experience. His spiritual life, he remembered, began at the age of two and a half, when he sat up in bed and said the word "God" in order to see what would happen.

He was disappointed that there was no immediate response, but it was the beginning of a lifetime's quest to find the living God in all things, a quest that never let up.

He did not always have an easy relationship with the Church. He got into trouble with the authorities on occasions. He was instinctively ecumenical, and offered the Spiritual Exercises to lay people and non-Roman Catholics, training them to become retreat-givers in their turn.

He was part of the generation of RC religious who followed the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in going back to the sources of the charism that they followed.

By his imaginative and persistent probing of his own and others' experience, he extended the reach of Ignatian spirituality far beyond the Jesuit order. The rest of us can only be grateful.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)