7 October 1931-26 December 2021


The 26th December, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu died, is the feast of St Stephen and is surely a fitting date for a man who had given his life in the service of God, the Church and those most marginalised in society.

Born of mixed heritage in 1931, his father a teacher and his mother a housemaid, Archbishop Tutu grew up in a poor household, and his early years were formed in the Methodist church, before being confirmed in the Anglican church.

He lived in a world, where black South Africans could only enter white areas as a servant, just one of the many horrific deprivations of the apartheid regime. As a boy, an incident turned this situation on its head and would influence Tutu’s life forever. This what the moment a passing white priest (Father Trevor Huddleston CR) doffed his hat and respectfully greeted his mother – a black servant. From this moment, Desmond Tutu had a lifelong bond with the Community of the Resurrection that shaped his life which Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR illustrates for us.

Tutu originally wanted to be a doctor, but was not able to secure the bursary. So he trained as a teacher, obtaining a teaching diploma in 1953 and a BA degree by correspondence a year later. However, increasingly stringent apartheid laws saw him want to pursue a different path and he offered himself for ordination. He entered St Peter’s College in Rosettenville, which was under the care of the Community of the Resurrection and Fr Huddleston.

He was ordained Deacon in 1960 and priest in the following year. He served a curacy in a township and he and his family lived in a garage that had been converted into two rooms.

Time in England followed before returning to South Africa, where he became increasingly a voice for the voiceless with his unswerving opposition of apartheid. He was attacked by his opponents – both verbally and physically and had his passport revoked on occasions. But, he was also attacked by those who sought to overcome apartheid. Tutu promoted a non-violent resistance, and for those who were angry and sought to physically overthrow the regime his methods were too slow. He wanted the immediate abolition of apartheid, which was seen as too radical by those who wanted a more gradual reform.

He was one of the most recognisable and influential Anglicans of the 20th century, and courted controversy as well as praise. He showed to the world that a man of God could also be a man of action. The act of Fr Huddleston doffing his cap to Archbishop Tutu’s mother had an effect on history that he can barely have begun to imagine. For this and for so much else we give thanks to God.

Adam Edwards