Key Figures on Campus: Fr A.J. Storey – “There were only two imperatives – to love one another and to plant trees”

In our Key Figures on Campus series we ask alumni to share some of their memories of key members of staff who influenced them as students, and to undertake a bit of research to find out more about some of the untold stories behind important figures in the University’s history. Those whose impact on their students has not been forgotten. In this feature, Peter Roebuck tells the story of Fr A.J. Storey.

Peter Roebuck, author of “Storey: A Priest for His Time”

Peter Roebuck studied for a B.A. and Ph.D. at Hull in the 1960s. Meeting Fr. Storey in the autumn of 1961, he witnessed the first half of his period as University Chaplain, and remained in close touch with him until his death in 2007.  Peter worked as an economic historian at the Universities of Leicester and the West Indies before joining the University of Ulster. In retirement he now lives in Cumbria. Like many others who knew Storey well, he regards him as the finest priest and among the most remarkable human beings he has ever encountered.   

If you would like to purchase Peter’s book “Storey: A Priest for His Time”, or find out more information, please see the flyer at the bottom of the page, or follow this link to the webpage

One key figure on campus during the 1960s was a priest, Fr. Anthony Storey.  No stranger to universities, he had studied at the Gregorian in Rome and at Christ’s College, Cambridge. From 1955 as a Curate at St. Charles in Hull city centre, he had been an occasional speaker in the Debates Union and so was quite well-known on campus.  He was instantly recognisable: over six feet tall, with a narrow bone structure, a prominent hawk-like Roman nose, and large, piercing eyes.  In 1962 as the first full-time Catholic Chaplain he said he would give the job a decade, and did so.

Soon, the Robbins Report was adopted and, along with others, the University began to grow rapidly – from 1,770 students in 1961-62 to almost 4,000 a decade later – and became a different place.  Storey – as he was universally known by students – was based at 44, Newland Park, a large Edwardian house near campus: in 1966-67 his extension almost doubled its size.  Everyone, of any belief or none, was made welcome there.   

The Chaplaincy became a popular venue for meetings, talks, dances and parties.  With the help of Storey’s contacts, programmes of speakers were adventurous.  By the early 1970s Catholic Society events were attended by such large numbers that they were often held in the Students’ Union.  There Storey continued to debate, which he loved.  Famously, he duelled with Philosophy don, Axel Stern, about atheism and Christianity, with Storey (in cloth cap and corduroys) speaking in favour of the former, and Stern (in dark suit and clerical collar) the latter.  Stern was conscientious and straightforward, while Storey spoke in such a way as to suggest that it would be impossible for anyone to believe a word he was saying.  A mischievous but bravura performance was much admired that day and for long afterwards.

Article in the student newspaper about the debate between Axel Stern and Fr Storey – with the captions reversed (Given the nature of the debate, the photograph of Axel Stern is captioned Father Storey, and the photograph of Storey captioned Axel Stern.

Brought up on the huge estate at Warter Priory near Pocklington, where his father was agent, he was a committed environmentalist and introduced cohorts of students to the Wolds and other favourite hill country.  Ultimately, he said, there were only two imperatives – to love one another and to plant trees.  His Masses proceeded at a pace where everything was given due emphasis; his preaching was conversational and educative.  Storey’s loyalty to Catholicism was unassailable, yet he also believed that there were faults overdue for repair and avenues still unexplored.  Appointed as Vatican II opened, he carefully explained its progress to everyone.  His work regularly included advice about personal problems.  He proved a skilful counsellor: a good listener; a shrewd judge both of personalities and the relative severity of difficulties; with many professional contacts; and dedicated to guiding individuals to their own solutions.  All this would have been unavailing had he not won students’ confidence.  He did so by immersing himself in their lives, being constantly available, from early in the morning, often until early in the following morning.

Despite detecting growing negativity among some students, he was shocked by the troubles of 1968-72, which were very serious in Hull.  ‘It was’, he said, ‘an absolute clash’ and the University was ‘in shreds’.  He actively searched for solutions, seeking to quell ‘the raging flames with the cool water of reason’.  Together with a serious car accident in 1972, the pace of his activities reduced him to a fragile state.  As he prepared to move on students presented him with a festschrift, staff held a lunch in his honour, and the University awarded him a B.D. honoris causa.  He felt he should have prioritised the University as a whole, not merely students.  Later he came to a brighter conclusion.  ‘The ‘sixties are a very great memory and deep friendships grew out [of them].’

Father A.J. Storey “One of the most remarkable human beings I have ever encountered.

If you would like to purchase Peter’s book “Storey A Priest for His Time”, or find out more information, please see the flyer below, or follow this link to the webpage

One thought on “Key Figures on Campus: Fr A.J. Storey – “There were only two imperatives – to love one another and to plant trees”

  1. Having carefully read ‘ Storey: A Priest for his time ‘ there is next to nothing I can add apart from to confirm aspects of Father Storey’s personality that I personally encountered during my three years as a student at Hull University 1966/69.

    I was confirmed during my student days. Father Storey guided me through the final preparation. Fellow Catholics I knew were Eamon Duffy, Jenny Ryan, John Storey ( no relation ).

    I once, along with Robert Turner, and many others, undertook a charity walk of some twenty-five miles overnight from Hull to Withernsea. Father Storey accompanied us and moreover offered us a lift back to Hull the following morning. Robert, a non-Catholic, was most impressed.

    Father Storey would, as a matter of course, regularly eat at the University Refectory. On several occasions I queued with him, ate with him. My companion, Jenny Ryan, more devout than I, certainly a great deal brighter, was particularly at ease in his company. I was never less than impressed, maybe a little awe-struck.

    But if I could just venture to shed a light on the sit-ins of 1968: It was disturbing to see how rapidly previously happy, contented individuals were prepared to wholeheartedly disparage the hand that fed them. The students, en-mass, were less than the sum of their parts. Fine personalities were subsumed within a mob led by doubtful, perhaps unwholesome, elements.


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