Hallam’s new Bishop comes via Gibraltar

Bishop Heskett
Bishop Heskett

The Roman Catholic diocese of Hallam, which includes more than 60 churches across the region, is to get a new bishop from July.

Two-and-a-half years after announcing his intention to retire, the Rt Rev John Rawsthorne is to be replaced by the Bishop of Gibraltar, Ralph Heskett, who visited Sheffield this week and met local priests.

Bishop of Hallam John Rawsthorne officially opens the new St Vincents charity shop on Abbeydale Road

Bishop of Hallam John Rawsthorne officially opens the new St Vincents charity shop on Abbeydale Road

Bishop John, who is to carry out pastoral work on his home patch of Liverpool on stepping down after 17 years, always knew he would have to stay in Hallam until an appointment was made by the Pope.

Now Pope Francis has turned to Ralph Heskett, who worked in big parishes in Liverpool and London before moving to Gibraltar.

“I’m very relieved that an appointment has been made,” said Bishop John. “Although I have been really happy here, I do recognise that I am coming up to 78 and it is time to move on. The diocese needs new and younger blood and energy.”

Hallam covers the whole of South Yorkshire and parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and is the smallest Catholic diocese in England.

In recent times, Bishop John has overseen the strengthening of Catholic schools and academies and the redevelopment of St Marie’s Cathedral in Norfolk Row. “A Victorian church has moved into the 21st centre without destroying its essential character while making it user friendly.” And he is noted for working with other faith leaders, especially before elections to present a united front against right-wing political extremism.

In particular, he forged a strong alliance with the former Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Jack Nicholls.

“It’s great part of the world to be in. People across the board are really friendly and welcoming. It’s a good civic scene, with the universities and churches. But things change and you move on. It’s been a good 17 years.”

The installation ceremony for the new bishop is at St Marie’s on July 10.

Bishop John knew him as a parish priest in Liverpool. “He has had three years at Bishop of Gibraltar, and Gibraltar is very different to South Yorkshire, particularly with regard to sunshine! I think he will be wonderful here. He is a very pastoral person and a very accomplished preacher.”

Born in Sunderland, Bishop Heskett can expect to face a continuing shortage of priests and the need for organisational change as he prepares to settle in Sheffield.

However, Bishop John said some new priests were being appointed from overseas - five from Africa in August. It was hoped another Indian priest would be appointed soon and one from Slovakia to work with the large Slovak community in the city.