Obituary: Cardinal Gordon Gray

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The Independent Online
Gordon Joseph Gray, priest: born Leith, Lothian 10 August 1910; ordained priest 1935; Assistant Priest, St Andrews 1935-41; Parish Priest, Hawick 1941-47; Rector, Blairs College, Aberdeen 1947-51; Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh 1951-85; Cardinal 1969; died Edinburgh 19 July 1993.

GORDON GRAY, the former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, was one of the great figures of 20th-century Scottish Catholicism.

Born in Leith in 1910, Gray attended Holy Cross Academy, Edinburgh, before beginning his studies for the priesthood in St John's College, Wonersh, in Surrey, whence he was ordained in Edinburgh in 1935. He graduated MA from St Andrews University in 1939, remaining in the town as assistant to his uncle, Canon John Gray, until appointed parish priest in Hawick in 1941.

It was in 1947, on becoming Rector of Blairs College, at that time the national junior seminary in Aberdeen, that his name first came to the attention of the wider membership of the Roman Catholic community. At the age of 41 he was appointed to the Archbishopric of St Andrews and Edinburgh, becoming at the time one of the youngest archbishops in the Catholic world.

The succeeding decade for Gray was one of pastoral engagement. Britain was slowly recovering from the economic shortages of the war years. Local authorities were committed to a huge expenditure in massive programmes of public-sector housing. Thousands were uprooted from the old town and city centres and housed in suburban estates. The inescapable response for the Church was in the provision of new parishes for those communities.

In Edinburgh city alone, during that decade, Gray founded eight new parishes and provided them with the buildings required. Many others were founded in the Lothians, Fife, Stirling and the Borders. A diocesan seminary was established in 1953 to provide local training for those offering themselves in substantial numbers at that time as candidates for the priesthood. Gray settled to the role, as if to the manner born, in the light of his considerable administrative ability. If he did not anticipate being overtaken by the great upheaval for the Catholic Church of the Second Vatican Council, and I rather think that he did not, then he was but one of many at the time. Theological controversy was alien to him.

Nor did Gray see the forthcoming Council to be other than the continuation and completion of the work of the interrupted Vatican Council of 1870-71. I saw much of him during the years when he attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It remains my impression that his deep and abiding loyalty to the Church overcame the sense of discontinuity with much of what had gone into the making of him as a priest and a bishop. The windows had been thrown open. Renewal, not tradition, was to be the watchword for the future.

The death in 1963 of the Archbishop of Glasgow, Donald Campbell, then the senior partner, meant that Gordon Gray was to be the main force in the implementation of the council's reforming principles in Scotland. It was a task which he undertook with dedication rather than with relish. His sound sense of the Catholic community in Scotland and his instinct for caution rather than adventure were to prove singularly correct for the time.

'Steady as she goes' seemed to be the word from the bridge. The message was heard with relief by the great majority of Scottish Catholics, alarmed by the fall-out from heady atmospheres elsewhere.

In 1969, to the delight of Scottish Catholics as well as many others in the wider Scottish community, Gray was created the first resident Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation. But the Red Hat is not an honorary decoration. It is an invitation to service at the highest level within the Church. He served on various Roman Congregations, principally those on communications, the liturgy and Christian unity over the following 16 years. In 1978, sometimes called the year of the three popes, he took his place at the conclave which elected Pope John Paul I, and, a few weeks later, Pope John Paul II. On his 80th birthday, three years ago, Cardinal Gray, while remaining a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals, was excused from the burdens of that role.

On a glorious June day in 1982, he led the Catholic community's welcome to Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to Scotland. I am in no doubt but that it was the high point of Gray's life. He saw the Catholic community come together as never before in centuries. There was more. He heard a Polish Pope invite that community to walk hand in hand, in a pilgrimage of faith, with their Christian brothers and sisters of the reformed Churches. It was a vindication of much that Gray had tried to sow quietly over the years with the leaders of other Churches in Scotland.

Cardinal Gray retired from office as Archbishop on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1985, moving to the Hermitage of the seminary which he had founded in Edinburgh. He was much decorated over the years, by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in 1960; by St Andrews University, as an honorary Doctor of Divinity, in 1967; by the Educational Institute of Scotland, as an honorary fellow, in 1970; and by Heriot-Watt University, as an honorary doctor, in 1981.

The Scottish Catholic community will remember him best for his steady leadership and sure guidance during a period of great change in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. He was a beloved shepherd, an increasingly admired father-figure as the years unfolded. All who met him were impressed by his simplicity, his profound love for Church and country. Until the last three years of his life he enjoyed freedom from serious illness. His passion for gardening was legendary, his bolthole from the cares of office, a simple pursuit for a simple man. And that was his secret, to be true in heart to what he wanted to be most of all in life, but was allowed for only a very short time, a simple parish priest.

The Catholic Church asked much more of him and his obedience was guaranteed. In him the church found the good and faithful servant of the gospels. In its own way, so did Scotland.

(Photograph omitted)