MOURNERS will gather next week to pay tribute to the man who was the driving force behind a popular Catholic retreat.

Friar Colum Devine, a member of the Passionists order, played a major role in turning the derelict stables and coach house at Minsteracres Hall in Northumberland, into the Retreat Centre.

Given a shoe-string budget, he enlisted hundreds of willing volunteers from the region's Roman Catholic communities, including workmen from Tyne and Wear and County Durham.

His work during the Fifties and Sixties created a centre that has seen thousands of school children pass through its doors.

His efforts were praised by church leaders and his life will be remembered at a memorial service next week.

Father Joseph Park, of St Joseph's RC Church, Stanley, said: "The work Colum did has made the Retreat the successful place that it is.

"Men who worked there still talk of their sense of achievement and that was down to Friar Colum's inspiration."

Born Vincent Devine in Belfast in 1930, he joined the Passionists' junior school in Ormskirk, Lancashire.

He was professed at 17 in 1947, and took the name Colum. Following ordination in 1955, he went to the Angelicum University in Rome, and gained a Doctorate in Theology.

His was posted to Minsteracres, in charge of teaching theology. The Passionists bought Minsteracres Hall from the Silvertop family in 1949 and transformed it into a monastery.

Most of the funds were used up dealing with dry rot and replacing the roof.

Fr Colum faced the task of converting the stable block and coach house and he turned to the Catholic community for help.

Every Saturday morning for ten years, a van collected men at St Patrick's Church in Consett, who carried out the construction work, plumbing, wiring and decorating.

Fr Colum raised the cash for the materials with a series of garden parties and the Retreat opened in September 1967.

Fr Colum moved to Highgate, London, where he died earlier this year, aged 73. He was buried in Finchley.

A service to mark his life takes place in Minsteracres on Friday next week at 7.30pm.