Fr Denis Blackledge declared his seven years as parish priest at St Francis Xavier (SFX) ‘perfect’ as he was appointed a Senior Fellow of Liverpool Hope University.
Fr Blackledge received one of the University’s most prestigious honours at Hope’s 2023 Foundation Day ceremony in recognition of his distinguished career at SFX, which sits on the grounds of the Creative Campus.
The 79-year-old, who works closely with the University’s chaplains, has been a valued friend, neighbour and supporter of Hope.
He has established himself as a key pillar of the Everton community and continually fostered a relationship with the University, allowing students to use the church for creative pursuits and adopting an ‘open door’ policy between SFX and Hope.
Commenting on his Senior Fellowship, Fr Blackledge said: “I was flabbergasted [by the award] because I never expected to have a Senior Fellowship from Hope.
“I am delighted. It has been absolutely wonderful being parish priest at SFX because there is loads of ecumenical work.
“These last seven years have been perfect because they have been some of the best years of my pastoral life and some of the best years of my ecumenical life.
“I’ve been with a great team of people who are very rich in a deep spiritual sense and that gives me life.”
Fr Blackledge’s steadfast commitment to ecumenicalism was central to the award of his Senior Fellowship.
Hope remains the only university in Europe where Catholic and Anglican colleges have come together to form an integrated, ecumenical foundation and his work during his time at SFX has embodied that ethos.
Fr Blackledge supports several community initiatives, including Liverpool’s leading homeless charity, the Whitechapel Centre, and the Faith Primary School, which is one of only three schools in the city run by both the Catholic and Anglican diocese.
He follows in the footsteps of Gee Walker – the mother of Anthony Walker – and Hillsborough campaigners Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks in receiving a Senior Fellowship but reflects modestly in sitting alongside such an illustrious list of local community champions.
“I don’t consider anything I have been doing over the last seven years as anything special,” he added.
“I feel it is part of my calling. I don’t call it a job because I enjoy it so much. I am coming up to 80 and I’ll be retiring but I wish I could go on and on because it is such a privilege.
“It’s being around and being there that’s the important thing and we have been good neighbours to Hope.
“Sometimes the students visit the church. In my early days I had the privilege of teaching Sean Bean how to be a Catholic priest as a religious adviser for the BBC One drama, Broken and we invited students in to watch some of the scenes being shot.
“The dance students and the artists sometimes come in too, so we are very pleased to have that interflow.”