Obituary of Bishop Pearson. Reproduced with permission of the Daily Telegraph.
The Right Reverend Thomas Pearson who has died aged 80, was the tall, colourful Roman Catholic ‘Bishop of Lakeland’, celebrated for his mountaineering exploits and his penchant for driving fast cars.
Together with Sir Arnold Lunn, he founded, in 1945, the Achille Ratti Climbing Club named after the one-time Alpine guide who went on to become Pope Pius XI, which supports climbing huts in the Lake District and Wales. Pearson's appointment in 1967 as Bishop in Cumbria, the leader of the Catholic community in the Lake District, was thus supremely fitting.
Twelve years earlier he had managed to buy his own 1250ft mountain at Broad Crag, near Ambleside, together with some farm buildings, which were developed into a mountain resort.
Because he had no titular see of his own, Pearson was given, in accordance with Catholic tradition, a nominal bishopric, that of Sinda (a place in India). In consequence the Lancaster stretch of the M6 became popularly known as ‘The Sinda Track’ on account of the way the bishop used to burn it up in his Jaguar. The registration letters on his car were SBF. “People tend to think it stands for ‘Sinda BF’” said the Bishop.
His Lakeland diocesan area demanded long journeys and at one time he was clocking up 800 miles a week. The Bishop claimed that in an average year, he motored as much as a travelling salesman. Pearson covered the difficult parts of the terrain with practiced aplomb, combining hill climbing with pastoral work. Sometimes, however, the elements got the better of him. On one occasion, he was lost with a party of children in a storm; on another he was stuck in huge snowdrifts on his way to say Mass on the shores of Ullswater.
The climbers’ chapel he opened in the Langdales in 1967 was the first in England at which the obligation of Sunday Mass could be fulfilled on a Saturday evening.
Thomas Bernard Pearson was born in Preston in 1907 and educated at St Ignatius Selective Central School and St Edward’s College, Liverpool. During his school years, he had shown little aptitude for games but when he went to the English College in Rome, to pursue his studies for the priesthood, he began climbing the Dolomites.
After his ordination in 1933, Fr Pearson returned to the Lancaster diocese, determined to foster mountaineering among young people of an outdoor persuasion. He had the unusual distinction of serving the same parish, St Cuthbert’s, Blackpool, first as curate then as parish priest over a continuous stretch of 33 years.
In 1967, he moved to the parish of Our Lady and St Herbert, Windermere. Having been Auxiliary Bishop of Lancaster since 1949, he was then assigned, in line with Vatican Council’s regionalisation policy, to take pastoral care of a defined area of the diocese.
His intimate knowledge of the Lake District and its people made Pearson a key figure in inter church relations which he used to lubricate by giving clergy parties in Windermere for ministers and their wives. A devoted educationalist with an active concern for underprivileged children, the Bishop’s legacies include Windermere’s first Catholic school.
November 27, 1987
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