OBITUARY: Abbot Placid Hooper

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The Independent Online
Placid Hooper was the fourth abbot of the restored Buckfast Abbey in Devon, and the first English one. He set the monastery on its course from a German community belonging to an Italian grouping of abbeys to an English Benedictine community.

Founded in 1018 with the authority of King Canute, Buckfast was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and only became a monastery again in 1882, when monks expelled from France by anti- religious laws moved there. With them were two young Germans from Swabia, a Catholic district of the kingdom of Wurttemberg. When, a few years later, the penal laws in France were repealed, most of the community returned to the mother house. The two Germans did a recruitment campaign in Swabia, and Buckfast became a German community.

By 1903 they had become independent of the French mother house and able to select their own abbot. The first, Boniface, was one of the original Swabian monks; the second, Anscar, elected in 1906, oversaw the rebuilding by the monks of the abbey church on its original 12th-century foundations; the work was completed in July 1937, a few months before Abbot Anscar died. His successor, Abbot Bruno Fehrenbacher, guided the mostly German community through the difficult years of the Second World War. He resigned as Abbot in 1956 and the community elected Father Placid Hooper.

Father Placid was born Thomas Hooper, in 1911, into a family of Taunton grocers. He was educated at Huish's Grammar School in Taunton and in 1929 joined the community at Buckfast, where he was given the name of Placid. He made his profession as a monk the following year and after the prescribed theological studies was ordained priest in 1935. In those days of clericalism and triumphalism in Catholic circles, the intricate ceremonial of liturgical functions required dedicated specialists; Father Placid, who had been keenly interested in the liturgy since he was a junior monk, was appointed Master of Ceremonies.

In the Second World War Placid Hooper was one of four English members of the community allowed to offer their services as Chaplains to the Armed Forces. He was called up in 1939 and attached to a medical unit, seeing service in France and Belgium (escaping via Dunkirk), then with the Eighth Army in the Middle East, Italy, Greece and Austria.

On his return to Buckfast in 1945 he was appointed Novice Master, whose task is to train the aspirants to the monastic life according to the Benedictine Rule as lived at Buckfast. With his interest in the liturgy and his phenomenal memory of Buckfast's history he was well equipped for such a role.

On his election as Abbot in 1957, Hooper realised that, with a community now almost entirely English, it would be easier if the administrative links with the Continent were broken in favour of closer links with the other Benedictine monasteries in England, such as Downside (the senior house), Ampleforth and Douai. In 1960 Buckfast was officially transferred to the English Benedictine Congregation.

Benedictine monasteries in England have been prominent in the field of Catholic education, and under Hooper's leadership the Buckfast community opened a prep school for boys. The school prospered until changing circumstances brought about its closure in 1994.

Buckfast lies between Dartmoor and the "English Riviera", and receives some 500,000 visitors a year. The abbey is also a parish church. To avoid clashes between groups of visitors and parish services Hooper launched the building of a Blessed Sacrament chapel at the east end of the church, cut off from the main body by a glass partition. Thus services can be held without interference from visitors.

Placid Hooper's term of office ended in 1976. He spent the next 18 years welcoming the many visitors to Buckfast and as a guide to the abbey church. On 8 December he celebrated the diamond jubilee of his priesthood. Three days later he died.

Thomas Hooper, priest: born 17 July 1911; clothed a monk as Dom Placid 1929; ordained priest 1935; Abbot of Buckfast 1957-76; died 11 December 1995.