Fr Peter Sprague Life Story – December 2010
Peter was born in Shirley, Southampton in 1964 and went to school at Springhill and St. Mary’s College. At the age of eight he joined the Junior Choir at St. Boniface Church and enjoyed singing. But two years later he became an altar server which he did for the next 10 years. He always admired Canon Mac Dermot Roe who was the parish priest for the entire time Peter lived in the parish and loved the way he celebrated Mass. For him, he was an inspiration and an example.
Peter left school at sixteen and then worked in Mr G electrical shop in Shirley and then for footwear wholesaler Tutte and Thomas in Romsey as one of their drivers. He enjoyed working with the public and meeting people. During this time Peter’s thoughts about priesthood were getting stronger and after seeing an advert in the Universe for a Vocations Retreat in Plymouth diocese, he went on five of these retreats and enjoyed meeting other young men who were also thinking about priesthood. When asked if he wanted to join Plymouth diocese he said he was a Hampshire lad and wanted to stay in Portsmouth diocese but he would always remember the support he gained from Fr. Adrian Toffolo the then vocations director, and the many priests who assisted him each year with their insights into priesthood.
Peter started training for priesthood in 1986 at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh along with Ray Lyons and John Cooke. One of the most memorable things he did along with the other Portsmouth students was the annual weekend trip to Crickhowell in Wales with the vocations director Fr. Vincent Harvey. It was usually cold and snowy but always a fun time to be together and enjoy each others company.
Having spent a year in the Cathedral as a Deacon, Peter was ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Crispian 6th June 1992 in St. Boniface Church. It was a day he never forgot and always remembered his anniversary with pride.
Peter’s first appointment was in Guernsey for two years and valued the guidance of his parish priest, Canon Gerry Hetherington. He was then appointed to Portsmouth Hospitals for three years where he experienced the rough end of life and death, looking after the two acute and one psychiatric hospitals. He was greatly supported by his fellow chaplain Sister Marie Therese. He made some good friends there and always said it was a privilege for the Church to be in this Market Place. Peter’s next appointment was to St. Swithun’s Yateley in which he served for ten years. Peter made Yateley a spiritual and social centre which was welcoming to all people by his improvements to the church and the designing and building of the Parish Centre.
Sadly at the end of 2007 Peter’s health was not good and he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in the December. After a successful operation to remove the tumour it was found that the cancer had spread to his liver and was inoperable. Having moved to Portchester he went through three different types of chemotherapy and anti-body treatments over the next three years. They each ran their course of success and failure. While not working in a parish full time anymore Peter was greatly supported by Frs. Joe McNerney and Pat Madden and the parishioners of Our Lady of Walsingham church Portchester, where he often concelebrated as well as supplying in some of the local parishes. His greatest sadness was when the cancer spread to his lungs which affected his breathing badly and he was no longer able to supply.
Peter always valued the help, support, prayers and Masses he received from people around him, none more so than from Sam Wilson who looked after and cared for Peter all the time he was ill. He was also greatly supported by the Harbour Cancer Support Centre, Gosport and latterly the Rowan Hospice.
Peter did not want to die now but knew that was not for him to decide. His trust in Jesus, His divine mercy and His Blessed Mother was a source of love and compassion and a reminder of the promise of the resurrection.