by Christopher Took
Anglican Communion News Service
The death on Friday 12th January 2001 of the Very Revd Jack Shearer, Dean of St Ann's Cathedral, Belfast, has been announced. The Dean, who was 74, was taken ill on New Year's Eve with a heart attack. He had been Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Belfast since 1985, and had been due to retire in May.
"I want to express my personal, great regret at Jack Shearer's death," said Archbishop Robin Eames, who led tributes to the Dean. "I want to pay a very warm tribute to the ministry of Jack Shearer whose leadership and influence during his time as Dean of Belfast was immense. He inspired us all by the way in which he dealt with so many problems, the way in which he inspired the whole community each Christmas and the whole way in which he encouraged the partnership between St Ann's Cathedral and St Peter's [Roman Catholic] Cathedral in Belfast in very difficult times."
The Dean was known to thousands of citizens of Belfast as "Black Santa", after his annual Christmas sit outs to raise money for charities. The Dean would sit outside his Cathedral in all weathers dressed in a black coat and balaclava to keep out the cold. In 2000 the Dean raised over £400,000 - £130,000 to support the work of Christian Aid with the hungry and homeless of the third world, and £270,000 for 100 local charities. In fifteen years, the Dean had raised over £2million.
In an article for the Church of Ireland Gazette published the week before his death, the Dean recalled some memorable moments of his 15 sit outs. On one occasion a man emerged from the darkness and left a plastic bag on the table behind the Dean. It contained £30,000 in bank notes and a note saying it came from a man who had just died and left instructions with his neighbour to deliver it to the Black Santa. The following year another anonymous donation of £15,000 came in. However, when asked about the largest gift, Dean Jack Shearer recalls an unemployed man in his thirties with his two sons who apologised because he could only give £5. "That was the biggest amount I ever received."
Speaking from Brisbane in Australia, Archbishop Robin Eames said: "I counted on him as a close personal friend and I admired greatly the way in which he continued his work following the loss of his wife who was such a strength to him. We shall all miss him greatly."