Belfast Telegraph

Peacemaker and 'champion of the people' Fr Des Wilson dies aged 94

Fr Des Wilson
Fr Des Wilson
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Tributes have been paid to influential west Belfast priest Fr Des Wilson who has died at the age of 94.

Fr Wilson had been in declining health over recent years and passed away yesterday in the Nazareth House Care Village.

Originally from the Ormeau Road area of the city, he was one of the most senior priests in Down and Connor, and had lived and served in his community for over 50 years.

He was renowned as a tireless campaigner for social justice and human rights.

The popular priest was also well-known for setting up the Springhill Community House in Ballymurphy and educating young disadvantaged people.

He had been living and working in Belfast since 1966 and wrote a column for the Andersonstown News for more than 30 years.

In the 1970s, along with the late Fr Alec Reid, Fr Wilson acted as a facilitator to end inter-republican conflicts and also started a dialogue with loyalist paramilitaries.

In June, he marked the 70th anniversary of his ordination.

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was among those who expressed his deep personal sadness following Fr Wilson's death.

Mr Adams said the priest was hugely respected and loved as a community activist, educator, defender of people's rights, author, dramatist and writer.

"He was also a man of great courage, a good neighbour, and a decent human being," he said.

"Fr Des' life was dedicated to helping people. During the terrible years of conflict, he stood with the Upper Springfield Road community against the aggression and violence of the British state forces.

"He gave comfort and solidarity to those in need."

Fr Wilson officiated at Mr Adams' wedding to Colette McArdle in 1971 while the former Sinn Fein leader was on the run.

"Despite his recent illness and age, Fr Des remained very conversant with the political and peace process," Mr Adams said.

"Fr Des was a champion of the people and a visionary. We will miss him greatly especially in Springhill and Ballymurphy."

Sinn Fein's vice president Michelle O'Neill said Fr Wilson "had a positive influence on many lives through his pastoral care, community activism and involvement in civil rights campaigns".

The victims' group Relatives for Justice said it was "bereft" following Fr Wilson's death.

"He was always on the side of the marginalised, the silenced and the oppressed," they said.

"His support for the families we work with was unwavering.

"We are diminished without him but remain all the better for having had him."

The Parish Priest of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, Fr Paddy McCafferty, said Fr Wilson had served his community with devotion for over 50 years.

"He was loved and revered by the people for his tremendous work both within our own parish and further afield as a key figure in the peace process," he said.

Fr Wilson's funeral mass will take place at Corpus Christi Parish on Saturday at 10am.

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