The Society of Our Lady of Lourdes has paid tribute to Ray Harrison after he died on Easter Monday, aged 85.
Ray was described as “an extraordinarily caring man whose death has left a huge gap in many lives.”
His service to the Society, formerly known as the English National Pilgrimage for the Sick, spanned over 50 years, and his dedication during those years supported and reassured many sick pilgrims travelling to Lourdes.
The Society of Our Lady of Lourdes told The Catholic Universe: “To many he was quiet and unassuming with a keen sense of humour.
“However, it was his unfailing helpfulness ‘to all’ that provided a strong backbone to the Society.
“Even though it was rare for the telephone to stop ringing, especially as the pilgrimage approached, every caller was valued and greeted with a joyful voice.
“He also made time to act as confidant and counsellor to many.
“He attended Mass daily and after visiting Medjugorje, fasted twice a week right up until he died. This was a complete fast with no food until late at night. Throughout his life Ray remained a deeply spiritual person who dedicated his life to Our Lady.”
Ray Harrison was born and raised in Kingsbury, north west London. His father was a maker of stained glass.
He attended Kingsbury Grammar (now Kingsbury High School). He was taught the piano very early and played the organ at St Mary the Virgin, an Anglican Church of the Anglo-Catholic Tradition in Kenton.
His career saw him working in electronics, until he was made redundant in 1981. However, by then he was well into his astonishing 52 pilgrimages – the first of which he had made in 1968, and he was to become increasingly involved in the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes as its office manager, a role he held from 1989 until his death.
Ray once said: “I am constantly asked, once the pilgrimage is finished, what do I do for the rest for the year.
“I reply I spend the rest of the year raising money for the next pilgrimage.”
But this tale did him a huge misjustice as he worked constantly, both for the Church and the pilgrimages he so much enjoyed. Indeed, such was his devotion that he was presented with the ‘Benemerente Medal’ by the Church – even before he became a Catholic.
Ray didn’t just confine his activities to the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes; he was also the organist at All Saints Catholic Church and an active member of its choir where, appropriately, his favourite hymn was the ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Song’.
Outside the church he was an active member of the SVP, and among other services he transported elderly people to services, and assisted some of them with shopping and other chores.
But his voluntary work didn’t stop there, as he was a friend and supporter to many parishioners with mental health issues over the years and ran a hugely popular weekly bingo session to raise money for the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This was attended mainly by usually housebound members of the congregation and was an important social event for them.
A true servant of the Church, his local parish and its community, Ray’s contribution was almost impossible to measure. He will be sorely missed.
Ray, may you rest in the loving arms of God.
Picture: Ray Harrison.