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Peace-builder bishop James Mehaffey laid the foundations of trust during darkest days of the Troubles

James Mehaffey with wife Thelma
James Mehaffey with wife Thelma
With Bishop Edward Daly
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

The Rt Reverend James Mehaffey, the former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, has died aged 88 after a long illness.

He was bishop from 1980 until 2002 and formed a close friendship with his Catholic counterpart, Bishop Edward Daly.

In March 2015 both leaders received the Freedom of Derry for their role as peace-builders.

Bishop Mehaffey also received the Freedom of London in November 2002.

The two bishops were founder members of the Inner City Trust, which was responsible for rebuilding much of Derry's bomb-damaged city centre.

Trust chairman John Meehan said: "Bishop James believed strongly in the work of the trust in building up this city again."

Chief executive Helen Quigley added: "He was a wonderful gentleman, courageous and fearless."

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A service was held at St Columb's Cathedral in Derry last May to mark the 65th anniversary of Bishop James' ordination.

He was born near Portadown and served in east Belfast before becoming Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.

He succeeded Lord Eames, who will give the address at a Thanksgiving Service in St Columb's on Saturday at 2pm.

Lord Eames said: "Bishop James was an exemplary pastoral bishop to the people of the north and west during the darkest days of the Troubles.

"His care and leadership was immense for people of all denominations and of none.

"We were rectors of neighbouring parishes in east Belfast and our friendship dates back to those days.

"When he became a bishop, his down-to-earth attitude won him the highest respect.

"The Church of Ireland mourns the passing of a greatly loved pastor and servant."

The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, also spoke of his sadness.

"Modelling graciousness and mettle in equal measure, Jim Mehaffey was a great example to many of us as to what it means to be a Christian leader in a world of turmoil and we thank God for that life of unstinting Christian witness," he said.

John Hume's wife, Pat, said: "Dr Mehaffey was a man of wise counsel, Christian courtesy and civic care. He worked with John throughout some of our city and country's darkest days and never gave up on finding a better way for our traditions and people to live side-by-side in peace."

The recently consecrated Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Revd Andrew Forster, added: "During the worst times in our history, when Churches were often depicted as part of the problem in Northern Ireland, Bishop James and Bishop Edward became part of the solution."

The Rt Revd Ken Good, the recently retired Bishop of Derry, said: "It is very easy nowadays to take the relative peace in our society for granted, but it was not always so.

"For over 20 years Bishop James led the diocese at a very difficult and dangerous time in its history.

"He did so with distinction and grace and formed an enduring friendship - a lifelong bond - with Bishop Daly that was to help transform our society."

The Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, also referred to the joint contribution by the two former bishops, saying: "By their faith-filled example and courage they laid the foundations of trust, respect and dialogue on which the current generation has been able to build."

Bishop Mehaffey is survived by his wife, Thelma, and their children, Wendy and Tim. He was pre-deceased by his son, Philip, in June 1993.

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