Nuclear engineer and permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church

Born: December 16, 1924;

Died: March 25, 2019

THE Reverend Deacon Jacques Cooke, who has died aged 94, was a nuclear engineer at the Dounreay plant in Caithness who became the first Roman Catholic to be inducted as a permanent deacon in Scotland for over a millennium.

The principal celebrant at his funeral mass in St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Inverness was appropriately the Most Rev'd Archbishop Mario Conti, Emeritus Archbishop of Glasgow, who encouraged Cooke to follow a career in the church.

Conti first met Cooke whilst serving as the parish priest of St Joachim's & St Anne's (Wick & Thurso) in the 1960s when some of the best brains of Britain came north to work at the new Dounreay plant. Cooke was among them and became a prominent layman at St Anne's where he often undertook voluntary tasks.

After his appointment to Aberdeen in 1977, Bishop Conti played a key role in re-establishing the permanent diaconate in Scotland. It became the first of Scotland's eight Roman Catholic dioceses to do so and in Jacques Cooke, the bishop had in mind a suitable candidate.

There are now over 70 Roman Catholic permanent deacons in Scotland attached to the church's eight dioceses. They assist priets and can baptise, witness marriages and perform some funeral services.

Cooke was a child of the Great War, born to a British Army officer from Ulster and a Belgian woman who met on Armistice Day, 1918. Her family's home in Mouscron, near the Franco-Belgian border, had been requisitioned by the Germans; later British officers were billeted there. Just hours before the German army invaded Belgium again in May 1940, Cooke's fled to England.

After school, Cooke joined the RAF, although his training as a Bomber Command aircraft navigator had not been completed by the end of the war. In May 1947, he married Mary 'Moira' Corrigan.

The family home was Wolverhampton, where Cooke qualified as a chemical engineer. He was then recruited to the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Windscale, now Sellafield, and in 1950 with toddler Anthony in tow, the couple moved to nearby Whitehaven, Cumbria, where their family-of-five was completed – two more boys and two girls.

In 1963 Cooke took up the offer of a transfer to Dounreay, UK AEA's linked series of reactors and process plants at the cutting edge of Britain's energy technology. Cooke raised his children, Anthony, Christopher, Pauline, Martin and Jacinta in Thurso.

After being accepted and undertaking four years of study in the early 1980s, Cooke qualified as Scotland's first Roman Catholic permanent deacon, taking early retirement from Dounreay in 1986 to devote himself to his new role on a full-time basis, initially in Caithness and then in Inverness, where he served until early last month.

His wife's health began to fail in late 2009, and she died in January, 2011. The second decade of the 21st century was to bring further family heartache to the Cookes: firstly, Anthony, who had built up a construction company in British Columbia, Canada, died in 2013, then in 2016 son Christopher died whilst on an oil and gas industry assignment in Egypt.

Son Martin rose as a middle-manager in education services in Hertfordshire; Pauline Halliwell lives with her IT computer-specialist husband in Vancouver, Canada; Jacinta is a civil servant in Edinburgh.

In 2011, when the silver jubilee of Jacques Cooke's ministry was marked, he observed that he could not have followed this path if it had not been for the support of his wife Moira. He told close family that he firmly believed he would be rejoining her in the life hereafter.

The Rev Deacon Jacques Cooke, who had looked after himself in good health at his home in Inverness since his wire's fatal illness, suffered a fall on March 18, 2019, and was diagnosed by doctors at Raigmore Hospital as suffering from a broken hip-bone. He died less than a week later.

He is also survived by his brother Robert-Claude, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

At Rev. Deacon Jacques Cooke's funeral mass in Inverness, the Emeritus Glasgow Archbishop was assisted by retired Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen and by Rev James Bell, parish priest of St Mary's in Inverness. A large gathering of parish priests in the diocese were present to pay their last respects.