Spotlight on… John Thornhill

30th October 2018

John is the bursar and administrator for St. Joseph’s Province. He has been working with the Congregation for three years and is also a member of the Community of the Passion. John was a policy advisor for a social housing charity and was an RE teacher in the distant past.

What is one word that you would use to describe yourself?

Anxious. It’s not always a bad thing though. Soren Kierkeggard, on one of his better days, once said “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”: maybe there is something in that. So if you have ever got a fretful email from me, it’s just a habit of a lifetime I’m probably not going to shift in a hurry. Sorry!

What one memory do you most treasure?

Arriving in New York in 1997 to do my Master’s Degree and looking at the Manhattan Skyline from a boat on the Hudson on a brilliant blue summer’s day. I had seen New York in films and on TV but to be “part of it” was the most incredible and energising experience. 

Seeing Jerusalem for the first time in 2016 was a heart-stopping moment: the city “aches” with a textured history of desolation, hope, injustice and expectation more than any place I have ever visited. In a very particular way Jerusalem is a city which “images” the human and spiritual dilemmas of our age.

Finally, being with my Dad when he died. After a short illness, surrounded by the people who loved him, his death was prayerful and peaceful: a beautiful end to a human life and a blessing to all of those who were in the room with him.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Stop being so anxious already!

Which person (living or dead) would you most like to meet and why?

I’ve got a few: can I have them all to dinner? Andy Warhol: I think he imagined our age with irony and ambiguity more than any modern artist or thinker. Lady “Speranza” Wilde and her son Oscar: it must have been impossible for anyone else to get a word in edge-ways in their home. Blessed Oscar Romero: because the story of his personal transformation is at once fragile, human and heroic.  St. Mary Magdalene: because she uses so few words in the gospels, yet her love for Jesus and her trust in His Mercy has been the greatest religious influence on me. Ludwig Wittgenstein: because he was very clever and I probably only understand a fraction of what he wrote. St. Melangell, (the Welsh St. Francis): because of her love for creation; and because her shrine at Pennant Melangell is a place of retreat I return to again and again. Finally, Julian of Norwich: a woman who lived in obscurity and was partially lost to history but who uses language to imagine the love of God in a profound and transformative way.

What is the most important thing you have learnt in the past year?

That the world is incredibly, effortlessly, dynamically and irreplaceably beautiful and that nature is infinitely fascinating: I have taken to photographing flowers and leaves and recording birdsong and streams: once I try and get beyond the familiarity of these ordinary created things there is something “perfect” to discover about them all uniquely.

Brown sauce or red sauce?

Definitely red.

When did ‘God’ become more than a word to you?

God has always felt like more than a word to me: but my “images” of God have changed and continue to change. I think all “relationships” are like that; which is why my faith has always felt “surprising”; not always easy, frequently confusing; often argumentative; but “alive” and punctuated by moments of great personal discovery. 

How does your faith shape your work?

Loving God through sisters, brothers and creation. That’s so easy to type, but so hard to do. So very hard to do!

If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would it be and why?

Japan. Because there is a deep tradition of delight in and contemplation of the smallest and most perfect aspects of the natural world.

If you were about to be castaway on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

My “Teach yourself French and German” books because finally I’d have the time to do it properly: even if there was no one to talk to in French or German afterwards. The Bible: because with all the time in the world to contemplate, I imagine there are incredible insights still do discover which are so often missed when reading at speed in a pressurised world. My camera: to capture perfect images of perfect things which sometimes last one day only.

Find out more about the Community of the Passion.