Fr A E Coleburt

Below is a tribute to Fr. Albert Coleburt, parish priest of Dartford from 1950 until 1987; it was produced in the parish to commemorate his life in Dartford.

Father A E Coleburt
27 March 1910 – 15 August 1993

Albert Coleburt was born on 27 March 1910 in India.  He made the decision to be a priest at an early age and studied at Mark Cross and St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.  He was ordained at Wonersh on 15 July 1935 after six years study of philosophy, theology, scripture, liturgy and canon law.

Father Coleburt served in the parishes of Arundel, Brighton, Deptford, Maidstone (where he visited the prison) and Sutton before coming to Dartford in 1950 to succeed Father John Evans who was, at that time, retiring after 26 years in Dartford.

The 37 years of Fr. Coleburt’s time at St. Anselm’s, Dartford were years of growth and consolidation.  Two main tasks faced him from the beginning — the building of a new Catholic primary school and the building of a new Church.

The school was given priority, and in September 1956 the new St. Anselm’s primary school was opened on Temple Hill.  Its opening was a testimony to the years of hard work put in by Fr. Coleburt.  In addition to all this, in 1963 he oversaw the conversion of the Convent High School to Our Lady’s Primary School securing the continued recognition of the educational needs of the Catholics in Dartford.

The work and interests of Fr. Coleburt were not confined to just these schools.  He served for many years with the Divisional Executive, the Dartford Grouped Primary Schools and the Kent Catholic Schools Commision.  He also served as a governor of St. Joseph’s Grammar School, St. Columba’s School, the West Secondary School for boys and the Darenth Park School.

With both schools settled, the new Church then had to be fought for.   And it was a fight!  With the council authorities for a suitable site; with the financial experts over the cost; with architects too, over the style and design.   The struggle had always one motive — perhaps not always recognised by those drawn into it — to build the best possible Church, in the best possible place, at the best possible price.

Like all good generals, Fr. Coleburt had to give ground and concede disappointments.  The new Church could not be built in the centre of the town as were the first and second St. Anselm’s.  The growth of the town so far westwards meant that a new building on the eastern rise of the town would also be required and ambitions had to be curtailed due to rocketing prices.

Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties, the battle was won.  A fine impressive Church, more than twice the size of the old one, with an attached presbytery was built on the top of West Hill and the first Mass celebrated in 1975.

With these tasks completed Fr. Coleburt could turn his attention to building yet another Church to replace the converted 1914-18 war army hut used by the now flourishing congregation at South Darenth.  It is a tribute to Fr. Coleburt’s drive and determination that the first service was held in the new St. George’s at South Darenth on 26 January 1986.

Fr. Coleburt always had a great concern for those in hospital, especially the mentally handicapped at Darenth Park, and the mentally ill at Stone House, and those who cared for them.

When the nurses on duty at Joyce Green hospital on a Sunday found that they were unable to attend Holy Mass he arranged for a room to be permanently set aside as a chapel, organised the time of the service to fit in with the hospital routine, and gained  permission for the nurses on duty to attend Mass there.

One of Fr. Coleburt’s many other duties was a Mayor’s chaplain, a position he held five times, including the year of the Queen’s coronation.

As a Scout and Scouter Fr. Coleburt also always showed a keen interest in Scouting, especially the activities and well-being of the Dartford District Scout Council and his Church sponsored group, the 9th Dartford.

During his 37 years as Parish Priest of St. Anselm’s Fr. Coleburt was assisted by no less than 30 curates.  These included Fr. Maurice Couve de Murville, who is now His Grace the Archbishop of Birmingham; Fr. (now Canon) Frank O’Sullivan, former director of the Southwark Catholic Children’s Society; Fr. (now Canon) James Pannet KHS, former administrator of Southwark Cathedral; Fr. Michael Clifton, author of the book on the life of Archbishop Amigo, and Fr. (now Canon) Michael Bunce who was, for 8 years, an army chaplain.

During his time in Dartford Fr. Coleburt also had the pleasure of seeing seven sons of the parish ordained as priests, and of seeing two members of his congregation ordained as permanent deacons.

In 1987 Fr. Coleburt retired, initially to Whitstable in Kent.  In September 1992 he returned to Dartford to the joy of all his friends to spend his last months among those he had ministered to for 37 years.  He died peacefully in his home at 11.30am on Sunday 15 August 1993.

On the evening of Monday 23 August his friends and parishioners filled St. Anselm’s Church for a Mass in thanksgiving for his work.  The following day two Archbishops, 42 Priests, the Mayor of Dartford, and representatives of many local organisations joined his friends and parishoners for his Requiem, which was followed by interment at Watling Street cemetery.