Remembering former St Albans Cathedral canon who saved parish
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A memorial service for a former St Albans vicar, who once patrolled the Atlantic Ocean for submarines while serving with the RAF, has heard of his keen sense of humour and links with a folk-rock band.
The family of Dennis Hart, who died peacefully of old age on December 14, aged 93, has paid tribute to the one-time Vicar of St Saviour’s in Sandpit Lane at a memorial service and burial of ashes at the church on January 9.
The former JP’s funeral was held at St Mary’s in Redbourn on December 30.
Dennis, who was vicar of St Saviour’s from 1955-1992 and Canon of St Albans Cathedral for 29 years, served in Redbourn, Markyate and Flamstead churches after retiring to Redbourn in 1992.
He had two sons and a daughter - Tim, who died in 2010 and was a leading member of the folk-rock group Steeleye Span, Ken, a retired structural engineer and Catherine, a retired biochemist.
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Catherine and Ken described their dad as “headstrong and determined” in their eulogy.
Prior to his religious service, Dennis joined the RAF in 1942. He was posted to Canada and then the United States for pilot training before returning to the UK just after D-Day.
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His main role was flying Catalina sea planes, used to patrol shipping lanes, hunting for U-boats.
In 1952, following theological training, Dennis was asked to become a chaplain in the Armed Forces overseas where, the memorial service was told, he “made his mark, often by ignoring military ranking, privilege and status; simply treating everyone as an equal”.
After he and his family returned to England in 1955, he began his ministry at St Saviour’s, developing a very active congregation.
Dennis was later dubbed the “saviour of St Saviour’s”, as the parish was broke, with demolition and relocation being considered seriously when he joined it. But he managed to turn its fortunes around, and revived the parish so it thrived once more.
Dennis loved to ‘shock’ a little and say the unexpected, “particularly with parishioners who had a preconceived idea of how a vicar should behave.”
An example of his cheeky side was shown during the early days of his ministry at St Savior’s, in the 1950s.
There was a group of retired high church clergymen who always wore berrettas which they ceremoniously lifted every time the name of Jesus was mentioned.
Apparently one Sunday Dennis, who preferred them not to, preached a sermon with so many mentions of Jesus that they raised and lowered their headgear throughout the entire sermon – they were later persuaded to remove their hats before entering church.
When Tim became famous as a member of Steeleye Span, Dennis became known as Tim Hart’s dad, an epithet he gladly bore as he was proud of his children’s achievements.
Dennis moved to Grace Muriel Care Home in St Albans in 2010, where he maintained his priesthood and was held in great respect and affection by staff and residents until his peaceful end.
His memorial service was told: “Dennis refused to be the caricature of a clergyman popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. He was always true to his own identity and true to his faith.”