TRIBUTES have been paid to a long-serving parish priest who was a close friend of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Hartlepool-born Father John Caden, who served Sedgefield’s St John Fisher RC Church for 55 years and was the former Prime Minister’s former tennis partner, has died aged 89.
Fr Caden, known as Jack, baptised all of Mr Blair and wife Cherie’s children, and was a keen sportsman who played as a goalkeeper in his younger days, which was against diocesan rules.
He also had close friends among the stars of theatre, he served as a curate at the Sunderland Empire Theatre early in his career and developed several close friendships with stars including Val Doonican and Frankie Vaughan.
Fr Caden, who celebrated 60 years in the priesthood in 2008, had a keen interest in education and served for several years as chairman of governors at schools including St William’s Primary School in Trimdon Village.
He remained active in education in his latter years and in 2011 led a delegation opposing cuts to free transport to faith schools.
Fr Caden, who took mass until just before Christmas when he became ill, was also devoted to health services in Sedgefield, which at one time had a community hospital and a psychiatric hospital, and he would spend hours visiting patients.
In 1989 he was made an Honorary Alderman of Durham County Council, having served as an independent councillor for the previous 16 years, and he was also vice chairman of South Durham Health Authority until 1988.
Father Jim O’Keefe, who serves three parishes in Newcastle, knew Fr Caden for around 40 years and said he was a close friend who will be hugely missed.
He said: “He was loved by people from all over the place and I think he will be missed by thousands of people.
“He was in touch with Val Doonican and Frankie Vaughan from his time at Sunderland Empire Theatre and when he celebrated his 60th anniversary in the priesthood, Bobby Robson and Lady Elsie were there as he knew her from her being a nurse in Sunderland.
“He told me so much about being a human being and being a priest in a community.
“He is from a generation of priests who were totally committed to their local community.”
A reception of his body and mass will be held at St John Fisher RC Church at 7pm on Monday, March 4.
His funeral will be held at noon on Tuesday, March 5, at St Edmund’s Church of England Church, before his burial at Sedgefield Cemetery.