OBITUARIES : Mgr Bill Purdy

There could be no mistaking the obviously English cleric making his way through the narrow streets of Rome's centro storico, especially if gazing upwards not so much to the heavens, but at the admirable proportions of a baroque church: it could o nly be Bill Purdy.

William Arthur Purdy was born in Derby in 1911. He left school at 14 to work in the office of a garage. Having expressed a desire to be a priest, he was sent by the Bishop of Nottingham to Panton School in Lincolnshire, and thence to the English College,Rome, at the age of 17.

While in Rome, he obtained a doctorate before his ordination, in 1934. He then returned to England, and spent three years at St Edmund's Hall, Cambridge, gaining a First Class honours degree in history. For 10 years he taught at the Westminster diocesan seminary, St Edmund's College, Ware, before becoming parish priest of St Winefride's, Shepshed, where he remained for a further two years before joining the staff at St Hugh's College, Tollerton.

His academic career then took him back to Rome for the next 30 years; he lectured first of all at the Beda College from 1959 to 1966, before occupying a key Vatican ecumenical post as Assistant for Anglican and Methodist relations at the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. He was much involved in preparing the Agreed Statements and Final Report (1981) of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Mixed-Marriage Commission, of both of which he was Co-Secretary. He also worked behind the scenes for the Papal visit to Great Britain in 1982.

Bill Purdy's contribution to Anglican-Roman Catholic relations was not inconsiderable. He was an historical interpreter rather than a theological drafter. If the Anglican Roman Catholic Agreed Statements avoid ecumenical cliche, this is in large part dueto Purdy's love of elegant English prose. One particular piece of Vatican drafting must specially be mentioned - Pope John Paul II's approval of the ecumenical method of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in 1980. Purdy was no great lover of ecclesiastical titles but proud of his English Catholic tradition. Though a Papal Chaplain - a Monsignor - as well as being a Canon of his home diocese of Nottingham, he once said: "Monsignori are two a penny in Rome, but ther e's only one Canon of Nottingham here."

Purdy was also the Rome correspondent of the Tablet for over 25 years from 1960, a frequent contributor to periodicals in Britain and the United States, and the author of two books, Church on the Move (1966) and Seeing and Believing (1976). At the time of his death a further book, Searching for Unity, was being prepared for publication.

His love of cricket properly equalled his commitment to Christian unity. Indeed a car-sticker seen in Rome brought joy to an East Midland archdeacon, if incomprehension to Roman citizens: it read "Support Derbyshire".

Frank Daly and Christopher Hill William Arthur Purdy, priest: born Derby 6 May 1911; ordained 1934; died Derby 17 November 1994.