Father Derek Vidler, RIP

I worship at two churches, largely because one is available for mass on Sunday morning and one in the evening, so I can go to that service which is most convenient to me. I also live on Disraeli Road, which is on the borderline between parishes.

The contrasts between the Church of St Thomas A Becket in Wandsworth and that of Our Lady of Pity in Putney are fairly straightforward. The former draws together working and immigrant people, and is housed in a magnificent old building built by immigrant and native workers in the nineteenth century. Its statues and murals depict the patrons of working people, and its altar servers are drawn from every race.

My church in Putney is more of a middle class affair, and intimately connected to a very good and competitive school, Our Lady of Victory. Its insides are white and clean, and make me think of mid-twentieth century films depicting the Rome when it was just about respectable at the turn of the Republic, filtered through some propagator of Corbusier. It is to be found in a district in which churches share more than a little on the outside with supermarkets. One could be forgiven for thinking of Putney ecclesial communities and spiritual centres as part of some municipal plan, such is their frequency, and the appearance of differentiated choice in the same basic line of goods that they offer. To get to it, I pass an old church that has been converted to a theatre, a modern Freemasons' Hall, some charities, something described as 'the Liberal catholic church', and a methodist hall. The only thing that you won't find there is a mosque, for the obvious reason that the English middle classes leave those sort of things to working class areas.

Our Lady of Pity is still multicultural; I noted in passing last night that confirmation candidates have noticeably Irish, Spanish, Portugese, and African surnames (and one English one) at Putney, for all the middle-class christian names and physiognomy.

Both churches, however, are united in having wonderful priests. Putney has one fewer, because Father Derek Vidler, who was an oblate of Douai, died last month. Douai oblates have been part of the Benedictine order for a millennium and a half. This sort of thing impresses me. I do not pretend to personal knowledge of the man; I was a participant in masses and a member of the audience for his sermons. From afar, he could seem old, and slightly crochety, but I recall first hearing him and realising that here was a man of warmth and wisdom who had given his life for the propositions of his church when young. He performed surveys of divorce, anullment, and marriage based on the statistics of the mid nineteenth century and communicated a sense of timelessness in the human condition; he told funny jokes; he wrote on the development of Bologna and civil law in Europe a thousand years ago. Bologna is a city that I know reasonably well, and his work taught me things about it. A person had a sense with him that modern panics and neuroses were just that--not a sense of complacency, but an amusement at the modern tendency to panic. I did, anyway. For example, I think that it was Father Vidler who, on surveying ordinations, noted that catholic baptisms were roughly 10% of the population in 1928 and were roughly 10% now. No panic, no fuss, just facts.

Father Vidler seemed to connect his listeners to the past, and to take them out of it, as good historians do and as the Catholic church generally does. I remember hearing him one, hunched over the lectern and speaking in an easy, London style, of what he had felt in the ruins at Ephesus. He described what remained of the acoustics and the setting, and painted in a few short words a picture that has stayed in my mind.

Derek Vidler was graced with the sacrament of priesthood for nearly half a century. I will miss him. May he rest in peace.


Peter Coleman said…
Sorry to hear about the death of Fr. Vidler. I believe that his first parish was Our Lady Immaculate in Tolworth, Surrey. He was actually raised as an Anglican and converted to Catholicism. My Dad used to call him Vicar Vidler to remind him of that fact but he was a great Priest who I will always remember

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