Br Godfrey Tortolano OFM

Godfrey was born on 27th November 1935 in Bannockburn to Benedetto and Agnes Tortolano. He was given the name Francis at his Baptism.

He was educated at St Mary’s Primary School, Bannockburn, and then at St Modan’s High and the White Father’s Minor Seminary at Bishop’s Waltham.

Francis entered the noviciate of the Friars Minor at Chilworth in September 1955, when he was given the name Godfrey. He made his First Profession the following September, and Final Profession on 21st September 1959. He was ordained priest on 24th September 1960.
He then spent a pastoral year at Woodford friary. From 1961-1963 he was appointed to the friary at Gorton, Manchester.

From 1963-1995, Godfrey was a member of the South African Mission. He lived in a number of friaries:

  • 1964-1965 Ladysmith, Natal
  • 1965-1967 Driefontein
  • 1967-1969 Besters
  • 1970-1974 Dannhauser
  • 1974-1978 Ladysmith
  • 1978-1979 Dundee, Natal
  • 1980-1991 Mhlumayo
  • 1991-1994 Pomeroy
  • 1994-1995 Besters

During those years, Godfrey held a number of posts: Member of the Prefecture and Diocesan Council; Diocesan Director of Youth; Spiritual Director of Sacred Heart Confraternity; Bursar for OFM Federation; Regular Superior of Mission, 1994-1995.

In 1995, Godfrey returned to the United Kingdom, and took a Sabbatical Year at the Franciscan Study Centre, Canterbury. The following year, he was appointed Guardian of Canterbury friary. He moved to Stratford as Friar-in-charge and parish priest in the summer of 1998. Early in 1999, Godfrey moved to Edinburgh, to be near his mother, whose health was beginning to fail. He went to Glasgow in 2001, and from 2002-2008 was Chaplain to the Carmelites in Dysart, Kirkcaldy. Following a mini-stroke, Godfrey resigned from this appointment and joined the community in Glasgow. The Prioress of the Carmelite community wrote:

“We will be very sorry to lose Fr Godfrey as he has done so much for us and for the Parishioners who come to Mass every Sunday. Everyone appreciates Fr Godfrey’ style and sense of humour. He really gets the people thinking... Sunday Mass has been ‘standing room only’ the last few years. We do thank God for providing us with a good Chaplain...”

Over the years, Godfrey’s health continued to decline. He was cared for by the community at Ballater Street, where he enjoyed the company of Eddie, particularly, with whom he had been in South Africa for many years.

Godfrey died on Sunday 1st February 2015.

Br Godfrey (Francis) Tortolano, OFM

  • born in Bannockburn, Scotland 27 Nov 1935
  • admitted to the Novitiate 9 September 1955
  • made First Profession 10 September 1956
  • was ordained priest 24 September 1960
  • died 1 February 2015

At the Funeral Mass Br Eddie Highton delivered the following homily:

Godfrey’s often repeated greeting at the beginning of Mass would be:

“Good morning God’s Holy people!” And with that look of mischief in his eyes as he looked around would continue with “and the rest of you!”

At first, this shocked a few people but they soon became aware that this was only the beginning. He used shock tactics, yes, but only so that his proclamation of the Word of God might be more powerful and memorable.

He would have enjoyed the readings of today’s Mass because so many of his favourite themes could be touched upon: the getting ready for the trials of service; being ready to be exiles from the body; and walking in the hidden presence of the Lord.

These were themes which he would elaborate on and bring us to an awareness of: that presence of Christ, - socially aware, compassionate, with no time for the hypocritical or self righteous, and encouraging us to that awareness also.

He was born in Bannockburn on 27 November 1935, and christened Francis. He entered the minor seminary of the White Fathers and studied with them until, after philosophy, he changed tack and entered the Franciscan novitiate in 1955. Here he was given the name of Godfrey.

So, Francis or Frankie became Godfrey and, if you shortened his name to 'God', he would smile benignly. But he was also known as Jim! We all called him Jim in South Africa and I believe this went back to his days at East Bergholt (our student house) where, at his time of studies, there was a great following of the “Goons”. Various students acquired nicknames and Godfrey’s nickname “Jim” stuck!

He was ordained in 1960 and was posted after pastoral studies to the friary in Manchester. This was for a short time only, as he realised his desire to work on the missions. He was sent in 1963 to work in the Prefecture Apostolic of Volksrust, entrusted to the English Franciscan Province. This Prefecture covered a huge area nearly the size of Ireland. At that time it boasted of about twenty priests. The immediate need for Godfrey was to learn the Zulu language as he was based in the Zulu speaking area. He became very fluent and proficient. It was, of course, the time of the most extreme enforcement of the apartheid laws of South Africa and the displacement of the indigenous people. Godfrey with the other Friars and priests opposed these unjust laws and were under constant surveillance by the Police and Special Branch. I think he was just too smart for them to pin him down and have him deported.

However, Godfrey continued his work having a great and profound influence especially on the youth and produced a Zulu magazine for them. This magazine lasted many years. He also branched out into teaching English to the Zulu people using a method called “Operation Upgrade” which entailed the transforming of the letters of the alphabet into recognisable shapes for people who had no knowledge of the alphabet. The letter “b” was transformed easily into a bird shape. Godfrey would teach the people “This is the letter b for bird. Say 'b for bird' ” but his Scottish accent intervened and the people would reply in chorus “ birrrrd”!

The Prefecture Apostolic became the Diocese of Dundee in 1983 and Godfrey was a tremendous support for the new Bishop and long time friend Paschal Rowland.

Times were changing and the “wind of change was blowing through Africa”. But this brought much violence politically and tribally. In all of this Godfrey remained with his Zulu people and worked and argued for change and reconciliation.

This change came about in 1994 with the first truly democratic elections in South African history. In a sense he felt his work was done: democracy had been achieved, our Diocese was established and the Franciscan Order was established as an independent entity.

So when he realised the needs of our home Province he offered to remain after a sabbatical at our Study Centre in Canterbury. He was soon named as Guardian of the community and quickly moved to other houses of the Province in leadership roles. He spent some time in Edinburgh before a stay in Glasgow. From Glasgow he moved as Chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters in Dysart, Kirkcaldy where his Sunday sermons had people crowding into the Church so that it was standing room only. But it was here that he had the first of many strokes which broke down his already frail health. He moved back to Glasgow in 2008 and stayed there until his death on the 1st February 2015.

He was well liked for his humour, his lateral thinking approach to everything, his challenging sermons and love of crosswords and his pipe! In fact there was a suggestion that we use some of his pipe tobacco instead of incense at the funeral! But Godfrey had a great and loving devotion to our Blessed Lady and to St Joseph as well as St Francis. I would often find him in his room lying on his bed with the beads passing through his fingers.

Loved and missed by his Brother Franciscans and many, many people in different parts of the world. He was waiting like St Francis for Sister Death and embraced her coming. May he rest in peace.

Hamba kahle umfowethu nomgane wethu. Ngena entokozweni yeNkosi. Amen
(Go well our Brother and friend, enter into the joy of the Lord. Amen)