Fr. Tim Finigan: “Isn’t Margate terrific?”

The cover of the first magazine format of the Catholic Herald

From the newly retooled Catholic Herald, the best Catholic weekly in the UK comes this abut my friend Fr. Tim Finigan, who was in the autumn transferred from his parish in Blackfen to far-flung Margate, where Turner painted and where you are about as far from London as you can be and still be in the Archdiocese of Southwark… and on dry land.

Margate is worth a Latin Mass [not to compare Margate to Paris, of course]
by Stuart Reid.

On a sunny, rather warm day in October I walked out of the funky Walpole Bay Hotel in Margate, when who should I see approaching briskly up the steps but Fr Timothy Finigan, our very own agony uncle (Catholic Dilemmas, p24) and author of the celebrated Hermeneutic of Continuity blog. He is known the world over for his defence of compassionate Traditionalism, by which I mean that he does not throw bombs. What a nice surprise, anyway. We’d never met, but I’d seen his picture.

“Fr Tim Finigan?” I said. He looked a bit guarded. I needed a shave and was wearing perhaps slightly grubby chinos. I took the liberty of introducing myself, however, and, to my great relief, he smiled.

“Isn’t Margate terrific?” he said. It’s not quite the reaction one expects from a new arrival, because, at first glance, Margate is a bit of a dump. Fr Tim arrived in September to replace Fr Luke Smith as parish priest of St Austin and St Gregory with St Anne. Before that, he had been parish priest at Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen for 17 years and had, famously, formed a strong Traditionalist base there. He offered the old Latin Mass on Saturdays, Sundays and Holy Days, and on other days as well.

I met Fr Tim again last month, by appointment. I arrived at St Austin and St Gregory towards the end of the 12 o’clock Mass, and was delighted to see that, after the dismissal, he knelt before the high altar and said the Leonine Prayers or, as they used to be known, the Prayers for the Conversion of Russia. (These days, of course, it would make more sense to pray for the conversion of the US and the EU.)

This is one of several liturgical changes he has made. Others include the abolition of the Sign of Peace, the re-introduction of Communion under one kind – no more offering the Chalice to lay people – and the “letting go” of the “lay ministers” of Holy Communion.

But… “Isn’t Margate terrific?” When I knew the town first, in the 1950s, the place was gaudy, well-to-do, honky-tonk, full of Teddy Boys and Americans from the nearby USAF base at Manston. For a 13-year-old it was heaven, but it was too good to last. The Americans left in 1961, and not long after that the package holiday industry took off, marking the beginning of the end of the old seaside resorts.

But perhaps there is to be a new beginning. Certainly, Fr Tim’s enthusiasm is infectious. He loves the retro-chic of the Old Town, with its antique shops and micro-pubs, its mixture of Victorian and Georgian architecture, and its excellent restaurants. He does not care greatly for the Turner gallery, [I don’t think you’ll find any Turner there. It’s full of modern stuff.] but believes it is helping to bring life and purpose (ie money) back to the town.

Like Margate, the Church faces difficulties as a result of changes made in the first half of the 1960s, but here, too, there
are signs of a new beginning, thanks to the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

A lot of good, orthodox priests are now coming out of the seminaries,” Fr Tim says. “Quite a few of them say the Old Mass.” [A hugely important tool of the New Evangelization.] Benedict showed us the way forward – via the hermeneutic of continuity and the reform of the reforms.

At St Austin and St Gregory, Fr Tim says a traditional Latin Mass at 6.30pm on Mondays. At some time in the future, he hopes to be able to celebrate the Extraordinary Form on Sundays. But he is going to take it a day at a time. [Brick by brick?]

After lunch we went for a walk on the promenade. The light was beginning to fade, and there were pink streaks in the clouds to the West. “You can see what Turner meant about Margate having big skies,[Turner never visited Montana.] Fr Tim said. You certainly could. Across the road from us was the Kiss Me Quick souvenir shop whose owner, Billy Keefe, had become friendly with Fr Tim. As well as selling saucy postcards, Billy sells Chicken Balti rock, which, according to Fr Tim, tastes like… Chicken Balti.

No sooner had Billy’s name been invoked than he appeared, miraculously, on the other side of the road. We joined him. He is in his 50s, tough, with a bit of a tan and a broken nose. “’Ere, Father,” he said. “I’ve got something that should interest someone in your line of business.”

He’d been to Gozo, sister island to Malta, and had discovered the most beautiful churches there. He took out his smartphone and showed us pictures of them. Occasionally, he enlarged a picture by spreading a finger and thumb across the image, as though he was showing off the better features of a racing greyhound to a mate.

Fr Tim smiled. He is good with people. [He sure is. I’ve seen it.] He talks and listens. After four hours in his company I was feeling so positive about Margate, and about his ministry there, that if I’d been young – 60, say – I’d have been tempted to relocate to the seaside.  [! That’s probably what some will do.]

This article first appeared in The Catholic Herald magazine (5/12/14)

Subscribe to the The Catholic Herald Magazine HERE and tell them that Fr. Z (Zed) sent you.

It is nice to see Stuart Reid’s name back in the page of CH.

I hope to see Fr. Finigan during a projected trip to London after my visit to Rome for the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in January.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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10 Responses to Fr. Tim Finigan: “Isn’t Margate terrific?”

  1. Gerard Plourde says:

    Thanks for this article. I’ll add an intention for Fr. Finnegan’s success in his new parish to my prayers.

  2. Make sure you add an intention for Fr. Finigan also!

  3. BigRed says:

    The TLM is also celebrated at Saints Ethelbert and Gertrude in Ramsgate as well as the Shrine of Saint Augustine there.

    The USAF base in Manston mentioned in the article was formerly an RAF station. During the Battle of Britain it was known as Hell’s Corner. Hmmm.

    The Few. Men of iron.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Sounds like he’s out to win souls and chew bubblegum, and he’s not real fond of bubblegum. :)

    That’s the thing about all this “exile” stuff. You can’t really send a good priest anywhere without him finding plenty of stuff to do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a “plum assignment” or the back end of nowhere, because there are plenty of people everywhere who need the Gospel and aren’t getting it. The world may be full of lemons, but that just makes it a target-rich environment for the purveyors of God’s lemonade. :)

  5. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Fr. John,

    Mea culpa – I should have rechecked the spelling rather than rely on memory.

  6. Tony Phillips says:

    I never got up to Blackfen when Fr F [don’t dare try to spell the name] was there. Glad to have him down here in East Kent, but scheduling a TLM on Monday evenings doesn’t really suit my schedule–he could have consulted me!
    Fortunately I can get to St Ethelbert’s on Wednesdays and St Augustine’s on Fridays. Would be niced to have something closer to Canterbury though.

  7. Rachel K says:

    But Father! I thought that even over here, you were known as Fr “Zee”! I have never referred to you as Fr Zed (and I do encourage my friends and acquaintances to try your blog as often as I can).

  8. CharlesG says:

    Having read about the events when the new priest that took over Blackfen, as well as about the new pastor in Fr Rutler’s former church in Manhattan, it just amazes me how arrogantly and rudely those parish communities were treated. Even if the new priests wanted to return to a full on 1970s polyester spirit of liturgy, does one have to be so disrespectful of those who value Catholic liturgical tradition? Couldn’t there be a more pastoral, merciful way of easing into the new parochial regime? The height of clericalism indeed.

  9. BenFischer says:

    It seems like Fr Finigan made some sudden changes in Margate analogous to what his successor did in Blacken and analogous to what’s being done at Fr Rutler’s old parish in NYC. Now even though I agree with Fr Finigan’s changes, I still wonder how he did them. If he eased the parish into it (which it sounds like from the article) and preached on the changes and the reasons for them and the necessity of them, that’s all good. But if he walked in and upended everything, the parishioners will harbor the same resentments we feel about Holy Innocents and these changes will be undone the minute Father Finigan is transferred or retires.

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    Oh, Fr. Finigan’s relative Mr Michael F. seems to also have been living at the seaside (Margate?). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1qlOaxdy9s Enjoy, 2 min.!