Obituary: Abbot Leo Avery

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Leo Avery was unusual in coming to the monastic life from a background in aeronautical engineering. For the past four years he had been Abbot of Quarr, in the Isle of Wight, the third abbot since Quarr was raised to the status of an abbey in 1937.

Avery was born in Wakefield in 1938, the second of five children. Soon afterwards his family moved to Maidstone, where he was educated at St Francis's Roman Catholic Primary School and Maidstone Grammar School. He obtained a gliding licence and hoped to become a pilot in the RAF, but did not meet the stringent health requirements. Instead he took a degree course in Aeronautical Engineering at Southampton University as part of an apprenticeship with Vickers- Armstrong, where he worked on the design of the VC10.

While studying in Southampton he went on retreat with a group of other students to Quarr Abbey. Quarr was the second Isle of Wight home of the community of Benedictine monks which had left Solesmes in France in 1901 for the island (the first had been at Appuldurcombe, near Ventnor); in 1907 the community had purchased Quarr Abbey House, near Ryde, adjoining a medieval Cistercian abbey, and begun the building of a new abbey.

After graduation, in 1960, Avery and a university friend joined the community at Quarr. He took his final vows as a monk in 1965 and was ordained priest in 1969. From 1969 to 1973 he was a student at the Benedictine College of Sant' Anselmo in Rome and attended the courses in Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, graduating as a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture. These studies, and especially his study of the Hebrew Old Testament, strongly marked his thinking and spirituality.

On returning to Quarr he began to teach scripture to the young monks and successively held a wide variety of offices within the community. He had a genius for everything practical, and throughout his monastic life the community relied on him for the maintenance and repair of all kinds of equipment. His practical abilities were valued also during the periods when he was responsible for financial administration and for the kitchen. As Abbot his time was more restricted, but he continued to take pleasure in serving the community faithfully on the practical level. With his engineering background he was ideally placed to collect, analyse and interpret data connected with structural problems in the monastery's magnificent church.

He served as Prior (principal assistant to the Abbot) for 12 years, and for the five years before becoming Abbot he was also guestmaster, looking after the guests who came to the abbey on retreat. This responsibility helped him to discover and develop his gifts for helping people, and many were deeply appreciative of him as an adviser and friend.

When at the beginning of 1992 Dom Aelred Sillem retired after 28 years as Abbot of Quarr, Dom Leo was elected by the community as his successor. His new responsibilities as Abbot weighed heavily on him, but also provided him with the stimulus and encouragement he needed to develop his skills in communication; he was in increasing demand as a retreat preacher. Within the community his approachable and easy-going temperament was much appreciated, and in the neighbourhood he made warm ecumenical friendships.

During the spring of 1996 he began to show signs of severe fatigue, but when rest brought no relief a brain scan was performed and a malignant tumour discovered. He died in hospital within a matter of days, meeting his premature end with the strong and simple faith he had shown all his life.

Leo Avery, monk: born Wakefield 5 January 1938; professed as a monk 1962; ordained priest 1969; Abbot of Quarr 1992-96; died Southampton 4 July 1996.