Mgr Martin Molyneux

Vice-Rector of the Beda College
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The Independent Online

Martin Seddon Molyneux, priest and teacher: born Westhoughton, Lancashire 30 April 1923; ordained priest 1965; staff, Pontifical Beda College 1968-86, Vice-Rector 1976-86; Parish Priest, Claughton-on-Brock 1987-99; died Allithwaite, Cumbria 22 November 2006.

Martin Molyneux was responsible for the formation of a generation of Roman Catholic priests. He taught for 18 years at the Beda College in Rome, latterly, from 1976 to 1986, as Vice-Rector with some 60-70 seminarians in his charge. His intellectual rigour was exacting, even for some daunting, but balanced by warmth, humour and wit. He came from a generation that eschewed self-aggrandisement, and personally was so modest and self-effacing that he would never have suspected his influence.

A former distinguished student wrote of him: "Martin Molyneux was everything that I would have liked to be, but could never achieve."

The Pontifical Beda College, as it was formally called from 1898, was founded in 1852 by Pope Pius IX to prepare English convert clergy and "late vocations" for the priesthood, and it remains Rome's priestly training school for English-speaking men of more mature years.

Molyneux himself had been a convert. Born in 1923, he was one of a number of intellectually distinguished Lancastrians whose early promise was nurtured by the education they received at Wigan Grammar School - albeit if, in Molyneux's case, he attended less regularly owing to ill-health. He came from an old Westhoughton family - his brother Edward traced their line back to Norman times - and he grew up at the family's terraced home at 89 Market Street, Westhoughton, which doubled up in the front room as his father's shoemaker's shop.

However, his parents did provide him with a home tutor, and he was also coached at home by "Eddie", his equally brilliant older brother, and he once said he could not have received better tuition. Other notable ex-pupils of Wigan Grammar School included the brothers' lifelong friends Derek Latham, a future Professor of Arabic at Edinburgh, and James Crompton, another Westhoughton boy and the authority-to-be on Wyclif and the Lollards and church architecture.

After Italian and Philosophy at Manchester University, Martin followed Eddie up to what was then St Catherine's Society, Oxford, living for some of the time in the home of Professor Paul Kahle, editor of the critical edition of the Hebrew Bible. He read Theology, graduating in 1950, and his BLitt was on Dante. While at Oxford he won the Italian Essay Prize. After the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, his academic abilities were put to use teaching. He was ordained in 1965 and joined the staff of the Beda College three years later.

He was much at home in Rome. A considerable linguist (he served as a holiday replacement for priests in French- and German-speaking countries, even giving sermons in Swiss-German), he was a master of Italian, yet infinitely patient with those who struggled in vain to emulate his own expertise in that language. He introduced seminarians to famous places like the Opera and Santa Cecilia for music, and the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, where the fireflies glow at eventide; he schooled his student priests in the delights of traditional Italian cuisine. He was a deeply learned teacher and a cultural and theological universalist.

As a former Anglican, Martin Molyneux was keenly ecumenical and applied himself in Rome to developing good relations between the English-speaking Christians there, being a close friend of Harry Smythe, for long the Director of the Anglican Centre. Back home he carried on his ecumenical work, both in his parish of Claughton-on-Brock in the Forest of Bowland in central Lancashire, and on a national level, eventually as Chairman of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission.

As his health declined and retirement loomed, his retreat to Boarbank Hall, near Grange-over-Sands, and the community of Augustinian Sisters saw, as Brian Noble, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, put it in his funeral homily, the wheel come full circle. Years before, when afflicted with the illness that had left him permanently susceptible to chest infections, Molyneux had gone there and found

an environment of wholeness and holiness. Being able to return for his last years, he never failed to regard as a total blessing and a gift for which he constantly gave thanks.

His funeral mass in Boarbank's chapel was concelebrated by three bishops and more than 30 priests.

Roger Noël Smith