James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker Samuel Beckett Sam Hanna Bell William Carleton John Hewitt Rosamond Praegar Bernard (Barney) Hughes

Dean Samuel Crooks (1920 - 1986):
Clergyman and charity activist


The Very Reverend Samuel Bennett Crooks OBE, TD, MA, was born on 20th January 1920 in Killough, County Down, where his father was Rector. Rev Crooks senior was later installed at St Stephen’s Church in Millfield, central Belfast. The Rectory at that time was located in Mount Charles, near Queen’s University, and even 70 years later a neighbour of three houses away would recall Samuel as a well-known figure in the district, outgoing, friendly, popular, with many a wave to a passer-by from his bicycle. He was educated at Down High School, followed by studies (and rugby – he was very athletic) at Trinity College, Dublin, ultimately leading to his ordination as a priest in the Church of Ireland, following in his father’s footsteps.

After a period serving as Dean’s Vicar and Vicar Choral at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, he was instituted as Rector of St John’s Parish Church, Orangefield, in the east of the city, where he raised funds and supervised the building programme. In due course, he became Rector of the Church of Christ the Redeemer, Lurgan, better known as Shankill Parish, or “the Big Church.”

His energy and organising abilities were further recognised when he was appointed Archdeacon of Dromore and Rural Dean of Hillsborough, County Down. These posts involved service on various Church of Ireland committees at diocesan and General Synod levels. Then, in 1970 at the age of 50, Archdeacon Crooks was installed as Dean and Vicar of Belfast in St Anne’s Cathedral, a place that held many fond memories for him. His 15 years there were often rewarding ones, but they were not without challenges as Northern Ireland was experiencing one of the darkest periods in its history.

Sammy Crooks, as he was often affectionately known, was never one to be daunted by difficult situations and he actively set about raising major funding to complete the Cathedral, a project that had been ongoing since 1899. He presided over the building of both transepts, housing a military chapel, and the aptly named Chapel of Unity, which became a vibrant ecumenical centre, bringing together people from across the religious divide in the city, and from far beyond.

Dean Sammy, dubbed the “People’s Dean” by the media, was a charismatic man with the common touch. He could be straight talking and was intolerant of time wasting, but he was also warm, jovial, compassionate and welcoming. His dedication to his office was shown, amongst other things, by his Saturday evening routine of staying in and bed-by-eight regimen e was also dedicated to the game of cricket which he followed avidly, even far into the night if a test match was being covered by radio commentary from the other side of the globe. But first things: his family and his beliefs were at the centre of his life and he never lost touch with these firm foundations.

In 1975, after severe flooding in Bangladesh resulted in the deaths of many thousands of people, the Dean decided to stand on Donegall Street outside his Cathedral to collect money for the disaster appeal. This impromptu collection was so successful that he was persuaded to repeat it the following Christmas, using the slogan: “Give and let live. Save the children, feed the hungry, heal the sick. Please don’t pass them by.”

He realised that those in Northern Ireland had given generously to his building fund over the years, and it was now time for the Cathedral to be seen to support our many local charities, along with Christian Aid whose life-saving work continued in the poorer areas of the world. And so began the “Dean’s Sit-out” which has become a major part of the Christmas tradition in Northern Ireland. Dean Sammy was dubbed “Black Santa” by the media, a name which immediately caught the public’s attention. It is thought, however, that the term was first used by a child who was fascinated by the idea of seeing a “black” Santa as opposed to the usual “red” one, and was determined to visit the Dean in Donegall Street. Dean Crooks was awarded the OBE in 1981, chiefly for his services to charity, and something of which he was rightly proud. He was awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s University, Belfast, and was appointed a Chaplain of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem by the Queen.  

Shortly after his retirement, on what was described as a “dark and gloomy” day, news broke of his tragic sudden death, at the early age of 66, as the result of a car accident near Carryduff on his way to a meeting at St Anne’s Cathedral. The cricket-lover’s last words to his wife, Isabel, on leaving the house, were a reuest that she keep a note of the test match then underway. A headline in the Belfast Telegraph caught the public mood: “The Pilgrim passes on… Thousands mourn the man who touched the heart of Belfast.” The hundreds of mourners at his funeral represented the most distinguished representatives of religious and public life, including Church leaders (of all main denominations), Parliamentarians, members of the judiciary, and the Lord Lieutenant for Belfast. The mourners were led by his wife Isabel, son Sam and daughter Anne.

The “Charity” window in the Ambulatory of St Anne’s was dedicated in his memory on 23rd September 1988.The Very Reverend Samuel Bennett Crooks OBE, TD, MA, was born on 20th January 1920 in Killough, County Down, where his father was Rector. Rev Crooks senior was later installed at St Stephen’s Church in Millfield, central Belfast. The Rectory at that time was located in Mount Charles, near Queen’s University, and even 70 years later a neighbour of three houses away would recall Samuel as a well-known figure in the district, outgoing, friendly, popular, with many a wave to a passer-by from his bicycle. He was educated at Down High School, followed by studies (and rugby – he was very athletic) at Trinity College, Dublin, ultimately leading to his ordination as a priest in the Church of Ireland, following in his father’s footsteps.

After a period serving as Dean’s Vicar and Vicar Choral at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, he was instituted as Rector of St John’s Parish Church, Orangefield, in the east of the city, where he raised funds and supervised the building programme. In due course, he became Rector of the Church of Christ the Redeemer, Lurgan, better known as Shankill Parish, or “the Big Church.”

His energy and organising abilities were further recognised when he was appointed Archdeacon of Dromore and Rural Dean of Hillsborough, County Down. These posts involved service on various Church of Ireland committees at diocesan and General Synod levels. Then, in 1970 at the age of 50, Archdeacon Crooks was installed as Dean and Vicar of Belfast in St Anne’s Cathedral, a place that held many fond memories for him. His 15 years there were often rewarding ones, but they were not without challenges as Northern Ireland was experiencing one of the darkest periods in its history.

Dean Sammy, dubbed the “People’s Dean” by the media, was a charismatic man with the common touch. He could be straight talking and was intolerant of time wasting, but he was also warm, jovial, compassionate and welcoming. His dedication to his office was shown, amongst other things, by his Saturday evening routine of staying in and bed-by-eight regimen e was also dedicated to the game of cricket which he followed avidly, even far into the night if a test match was being covered by radio commentary from the other side of the globe. But first things: his family and his beliefs were at the centre of his life and he never lost touch with these firm foundations.

He realised that those in Northern Ireland had given generously to his building fund over the years, and it was now time for the Cathedral to be seen to support our many local charities, along with Christian Aid whose life-saving work continued in the poorer areas of the world. And so began the “Dean’s Sit-out” which has become a major part of the Christmas tradition in Northern Ireland. Dean Sammy was dubbed “Black Santa” by the media, a name which immediately caught the public’s attention. It is thought, however, that the term was first used by a child who was fascinated by the idea of seeing a “black” Santa as opposed to the usual “red” one, and was determined to visit the Dean in Donegall Street. Dean Crooks was awarded the OBE in 1981, chiefly for his services to charity, and something of which he was rightly proud. He was awarded an honorary degree by Queen’s University, Belfast, and was appointed a Chaplain of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem.  

Shortly after his retirement, on what was described as a “dark and gloomy” day, news broke of his tragic sudden death, at the early age of 66, as the result of a car accident near Carryduff on his way to a meeting at St Anne’s Cathedral. The cricket-lover’s last words to his wife, Isabel, on leaving the house, were a reuest that she keep a note of the test match then underway. A headline in the Belfast Telegraph caught the public mood: “The Pilgrim passes on… Thousands mourn the man who touched the heart of Belfast.” The hundreds of mourners at his funeral represented the most distinguished representatives of religious and public life, including Church leaders (of all main denominations), Parliamentarians, members of the judiciary, and the Lord Lieutenant for Belfast. The mourners were led by his wife Isabel, son Sam and daughter Anne.

The “Charity” window in the Ambulatory of St Anne’s was dedicated to his memory on 23rd September 1988.



Born: 20 January 1920
Died: 21 August 1986
Richard Froggatt
Acknowledgements:

Additional research, Richard Froggatt (www.belfastcathedral.org/heritage/); personal reminiscence, Sir Peter Froggatt