Fr Roger Barralet RIP

Roger died at the Little Sisters of the Poor, Bristol, on 11th November 2018. Educated at St Anthony's Primary School, Woodford Green, and Chigwell School, he was ordained in 1957. Of his sixty-one years of priesthood, thirty were spent in the Diocese of Brentwood at St Antony of Padua, Forest Gate (1961-1975, 1984-87) and St Thomas of Canterbury, Woodford Green (1975-80, 1994-2002). He served as Schools Adviser/Director of the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies on the BRES (Brentwood Religious Education Service) Team (1995-2002) and was also sometime National Catholic Scout Chaplain based at Gilwell Park, Chingford, Essex.

The Custos, Fr Michael Copps OFM presided at the Funeral Mass held at the Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clevedon, Somerset, with burial at St Andrew's Cemetery. Read here Father Michael's homily:

The moral of the Gospel story about the wise and foolish virgins we could state as “be prepared.” When Baden Powell was asked what the scout should be prepared for he answered, “Any old thing.” What he was thinking of was physical and mental preparedness to do your duty. So physical exercise and the learning of simple skills that would appeal to boys were what was done. I have thought that the wise virgins were rather mean in not sharing their oil with their foolish companions. They were going to a wedding and the fun part was that the bridegroom came at a random time. The preparedness of the wise virgins was not the oil, it was the integrity of their lives which is achieved by personal work; something you cannot pass on to anyone else. In terms of human life, we call this formation. It is something we learn from our parents, teachers and other children and in religious life in our novitiate and time of studies.

Roger was born in Belgium and brought up in Woodford Green. He went to Woodford Green Preparatory School, which still exists and to Chigwell School an independent school. He joined the Order in 1950. Father Fabian Davis the Parish Priest in Woodford in recommending him said, “His conduct is exemplary.” His early years of study at East Bergholt were unsettled because he was concerned about his widowed mother. This concern stayed with him until her death. In applying to the Provincial to be admitted to Solemn Profession he wrote, “God loved me. I want to be as generous as I can in loving Him. Want to give my whole life and lead other people to love Him.” That desire had been formed in him and was his preparation for “any old thing” life might propose to him.

Another more specific part of his preparedness was the early discernment that teaching was going to be his line. Shortly after ordination, he asked to take a course at Lumen Vitae at Brussels in his native Belgium. The course was in catechetics and some of the theologians e.g. Bernard Haring and Francis Xavier Durrell, who prepared for Vatican 2, taught there. Roger read all the time and knew about places where new things were happening. Catechetics up to this time had largely been question and answers learnt by heart. The new approach was to delve into children’s young experience of life and connect it to scriptural stories and the teaching of the Christian tradition. It was controversial then and still is.

Roger’s service in teaching started at Saint Bonaventure’s School in Forest Gate. Roger had a degree in history from Cambridge so that whenever you asked him a question about history his response was, “Not my period.” He also lectured at Maria Assumpta in Kensington, which was a College of Education. He became Head at Cardinal Griffin Secondary School in Poplar and he turned it round so that it became a good school. So in his teaching he gave the kids of the East End a good start in life. He also became Head at Barrow Hills Preparatory School in Surrey and turned that round too. He served on Brentwood Diocesan Education Team where he carried out religious OFSTED inspections. Roger was very gifted as a teacher but he also understood how schools work well. He was respected for his all-round understanding of teaching.

There was tension in Roger’s life; there’s a surprise! In religious life, a common source of tension is between the personal gifts and talents of a Friar in the apostolate and the needs of the Friars. We needed talented men to attract and receive new members, to educate them, and to look to the governance and administration of our Province. Roger was pulled into all of these. However, this was not his forte and he did not do it for very long. Another great involvement was scouting. He served as National Scout Chaplain twice and as Chaplain to the International Catholic Conference of Scouting. He loved this work. A woman scout leader from North London wrote to me about how he had contacted her to say he was going to visit. She thought this might be a dress parade and she better tidy up her boys. In the event, it was more like a riot and they enjoyed his visit thoroughly. I looked at the requirements for the Kiro badge that concerned the scout’s duty to God. It was fine mixture of learning facts, retelling scriptural stories, charitable activity, drama to act out the Gospel; a multi-dimensional way of learning about the faith. It was perfectly in tune with what he learnt at Lumen Vitae.

Roger had a clear mind for organisation and maybe that’s why he found life in the Friars at times difficult. St Paul in our reading (2 Tim 2, 8-13) sets out what are like a series of mission statements. He speaks of the Good News he carries as, “Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David.” He gives us sayings we can rely on, “If we have died with Him, then we shall reign with Him. If we hold firm, then we shall reign with Him. If we disown Him, then He will disown us. We may be unfaithful, but He is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self.”Roger learnt the teaching on business management. There is a Catholic and Franciscan tradition of using the resources of the world that God made good to further the spread of the Gospel. So Roger worked with the Friars as he had with other organisations, to be clear about what we want to achieve and how we propose to do that. In this, he made a great contribution to our life as Friars. I remember a paper that came out from one of the General Chapters entitled, Clarity and Audacity. I think that combination was a gift Roger had.

Roger was a very talented man and as such was pulled in various different ways. This conflict cannot have been easy for him and he was not the easiest man to live with. When illness came into his life, he went to St Joseph’s in Bristol to be nursed by the Little Sisters of the Poor. We are very grateful for their care. I last saw Roger and Maurice’s funeral here in Clevedon and he was delighted to be in the company of Friars. He had forgotten the times of conflict and there was peace between us. May he enjoy the company of many Brothers, his family, the pupils he taught, and those he worked with in the Kingdom of Heaven.