A WIGAN parish is reeling after the sudden death of its popular vicar.
Rev Stephen Mather was a larger than life figure renowned for his warmth, hard work and charismatic powers of persuasion in getting folk involved in church and community work.
Sunday just gone would have been the 14th anniversary of his arrival at Hindley St Peter’s and those who paid tribute to him today suggested that he would be a very hard act to follow.
The 58-year-old is understood to have been found collapsed by his wife Joyce at their home last Thursday morning and paramedics were unable to revive him.
Rev Mather had battled diabetes for years but had only just been told by doctors that his health was improving. He had also appeared happy and well at a meeting the day before his death.
The affection of his parishioners notwithstanding, his legacy will be the hugely successful Hindley Pavilion, behind which he was the main driving force, not least in securing key funding.
A popular feature of church life would be the Friday lunchtime meals that were sold at very affordable prices and Rev Mather would be prepping vegetables late on Thursday night before preparing hotpots and pies from 7am onwards on the day.
He was also the President of Wigan And District Boys’ Brigade.
Church warden Mark Keegan said: “There were just not enough hours in the day for Rev Mather. People were always telling him to slow down but it wasn’t in his nature and he would have had to have cut his working day in half to make it a normal one.
“The parish is absolutely devastated. His death has come as a massive shock.
“He was a proper parish priest and he brought people closer together, including strengthening the partnership between the church and St Peter’s School and the pavilion. He had the vision to see how the pavilion could work and drove the project from the front, securing Sport England funding.
“Charities and investors got involved because of his tenacity. He was an incredibly difficult person to say ‘no’ to and as a result we have a thriving church with lots and lots of people involved, all doing their bit.”
Organist Jim Archer added: “Rev Mather was very much a local lad who immersed himself in his work and the community. He was very well loved.
“He was an ill man with his diabetes and kidney problems but it was only a few days ago that he was saying that the doctors said he was getting better.
“He had seemed in fine form just the day before at a meeting at All Saints.”
Stephen Mather served in the Navy and worked as a pastry chef before he was ordained as a curate 26 years ago and as a priest a year later.
His curacy was spent at the church of St Nicholas in Sutton, St Helens, and many parishioners there are expected to attend his funeral this Friday afternoon at St Peter’s. He was later incumbent at St John the Evangelist in Abram and came to St Peter’s in 1999.
As well as wife Joyce, he leaves a daughter Catherine, her partner Pete, and his mother Barbara.
The funeral at St Peter’s takes place at 2pm and is followed by committal at Howe Bridge Crematorium.
Family flowers only. Any donations will be divided between St Peter’s Church and the renal unit at Salford Royal Hospital where the Rev Mather was a regular patient.