Canon Tom Neylon is remembering a conversation he had on a recent visit to see his sister Mary in Cumbria. ‘My brother-in-law is a similar age to me,’ he tells the Pic, ‘and he said to me that he was thinking about retiring in two or three years’ time. He asked me, “Have you got any plans to retire?”.’
For Canon Tom, 63, retirement is the last thing on his mind. After all, next month he will become the new Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool. A new chapter and a new challenge, as he acknowledges. ‘The first thing is I won’t be attached to a parish, as I have been for the last 39 years, so that’ll be a big change,’ says the Bishop-elect, who will leave his post as parish priest at St Wilfrid’s in Widnes prior to his ordination Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral on 3 September.
‘There’s a lot I have to learn now as the role is totally different,’ he affirms, before continuing: ‘In terms of the scope of work, it’ll cover the whole of the diocese whereas I’ve been focusing on whichever parish I’ve been involved in and the local deanery. It’s a broadening of the scope, and then working with Archbishop Malcolm [McMahon] and Bishop Tom [Williams] on the new things beginning to emerge when the pastoral plan is announced in Advent as a result of the Synod. That will shape some of the work going forward.’
Looking back, it was the example of parish priests which first fuelled his vocation. The son of Irish parents who had met in Warrington, he grew up in St Oswald’s Parish in Padgate. ‘There’s a very strong Catholic presence in this part of England,’ he says. ‘Throughout my life I’ve been privileged to witness testimony to the Catholic faith in families, in parishes and in schools. What particularly drew me into the priesthood were the priests I knew at the parish where I grew up. They and the other priests I met seemed to be contented with what they were doing, serving people and serving God and there was an attraction in that.’
He was 16 when he began his training at St Joseph’s College, Upholland. ‘When I went to the seminary, I went with the view that if it is for me I will find out and if it is not for me I will find out as well.’ He got his answer. In 1982, Archbishop Derek Worlock selected him as the candidate from Liverpool Archdiocese to be among 12 priests ordained by Pope St John Paul II at a special Mass in Heaton Park, Manchester. The rest is a history he rolls off for us. ‘I spent four years as an assistant priest at St Cuthbert's, Wigan. This was followed by nine years in Skelmersdale as part of the team ministry. In 1996 I was appointed parish priest at St Julie's, St Helens. Over the next 24 years I also had responsibility for St Teresa's, Devon Street, and English Martyrs, Haydock.’
Having never strayed too far from his favourite rugby league team, Warrington Wolves, he says that ‘getting out across the diocese’ will be part of his new remit. ‘There are parts where I’ve worked and others where I’ve passed through, so it’ll be nice to get to know people across all the diocese. It’s quite a diverse geographical area – the Isle of Man covers a third of the landmass of the diocese and I’ve never been there so that’d be nice, just to get to know what parish life is like in all four corners and to get a better picture.’ Retirement? Not quite.