Obituary: David Mann

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The Independent Online
David Mann's life provides a stark allegory of a generation of Anglican priests whose costly efforts to Catholicise the Church of England from within as a true expression of Christianity proved unavailing, but who nevertheless influenced innumerable lives for the good by their integrity and selfless dedication.

The years immediately following the Second World War were a period of strong Anglo-Catholic confidence in the Church of England. There was a Labour government, industrial and city parishes to revive, frequently in the face of slum clearance - and new housing estates where churches were built for the first time and work had to start from scratch.

Foremost among Anglican theological colleges which met these needs was Kelham, in Nottinghamshire, the house of the Society of the Sacred Mission. The society was a religious order unique for two factors: it provided a long, thorough and disciplined priestly formation and admitted bright working-class students, thus enabling men who would otherwise have been debarred from ordination. Many of the most effective priests of the post- war years were trained there. Among them was David Mann.

Mann was born in New Cross, south London, in 1929, the second son of Thomas Mann, a clerk in the Woolwich Dockyard. He never ceased to be an Old Kent Road cockney. He was educated at St Olave's School, Southwark, and when war was declared in 1939 was evacuated with the school to Torquay, in Devon. He was billeted with a family of two spinsters and a bachelor brother, the Pristons, who ran a tobacconist's and were devout members of St Luke's Church. There Mann came under the influence of Father Peter Clynick, an Anglo-Catholic warhorse, and was prepared for confirmation. When he returned to London he did National Service, worked for a year at the Gas, Light and Coke Company, Lambeth, and in 1951 was accepted as a Southwark ordinand for training at Kelham.

Mann had a keen intelligence, was a fast reader and easily assimilated knowledge. He was a conscientious student and was decisively influenced by Father Stephen Bedale, the director of studies. He earned the nickname "Chopsy" because he would seldom keep his mouth shut; he maintained a barrage of jokes, mimicry and caustic observations and showed a tendency towards cynicism. This disguised a warm, affectionate nature. He was very funny and was mistakenly thought a buffoon, an impression he found hard to shake off.

Kelham produced priests trained to get on with the job, centre their lives on prayer, the office and the Eucharist, and equipped them with an theological education. Discipline was severe, the ethos was Catholic, extremism was discouraged. Students were sent to their first curacies on the assumption that the college knew what was best for them; few errors of judgement were made.

Mann was ordained in 1955 by Bishop Noel Hudson, of Newcastle, to the parish of St Matthew's, Newcastle. Hudson was an outstanding bishop; he embodied the solid, if undemonstrative, strain of Tyneside Anglo-Catholicism to which Mann quickly adapted. In 1959 he was presented to Christ Church, Shieldfield, a difficult, run-down parish in a poor district of Newcastle; he remained there for 16 years.

Mann introduced the Company of Mission Priests, a body set up during the war by Kelham and the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, to work in hard parishes. It was based upon a common life; two priests would combine their stipends to provide for a third; living was frugal; cars were prohibited as luxuries. It was during this period that Mann became known as a shrewd trainer of curates and a relentless worker. His maxim was keep praying, keep smiling, keep marching. This had disadvantages. He left no time for affective friendships and his definite opinions and overbearing manner could at times drive his colleagues to distraction. But as a rule he had good relations with his staff, especially those with whom he could row without recrimination.

In 1975 the Crown presented David Mann to the parish of St Andrew's, Kingsbury, in the Diocese of London. Kingsbury was part of the vast inter- war suburban expansion of Middlesex. When Mann arrived the parish was changing, a Jewish, Indian and West Indian population had moved in and a settled white community was replaced by transients. He established a policy of assimilation, refused to tolerate racism and broke down the possessiveness of an old guard resistant to change. He valued St Andrew's architecture and the magnificent furniture by Street, Pearson and Burges but did not become enslaved by it; he kept the church open throughout the day and was only once robbed. The grandiose vicarage was abandoned and replaced by a simple modern substitute.

Mann rarely allowed his inner feelings to come between himself and his people. He presented himself with cockney insouciance but behind this facade he became subject to black depression and a downward spiral of negativity which his wisdom could not mitigate. What had begun as mild cynicism turned into a progressive strain of bitterness. His natural accomplishments as a parish priest seemed to bring him little satisfaction.

This decline was partly caused by weakening health but more by the changes that had taken place in the Church of England in the late Sixties and Seventies, the rise of liberal Protestantism, secularism, the waning of Anglo-Catholicism and its ebb into decadent ineptitude.

Mann maintained loyalty to the National Church, defended its Catholic claims and refused to believe that the parent Church of Anglicanism would ever sanction the ordination of women, despite devolopments in other parts of the Communion. When this was perceived as an inevitability that no opposition, however informed, or well organised, would prevent, he lost faith and in 1989 retired from Kingsbury and was quietly received into the Roman Catholic Church at Ampleforth.

Mann's final years were dogged by failing sight and deteriorating health. He was 60 when he became a Catholic; he realised that his age and enfeebled powers would act as an obstacle to re-ordination and so did not offer himself for the priesthood. He moved to a small house at Norton-on- Derwent, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, where he chose to live an isolated, ascetic, lonely life relieved only by correspondence, gardening and occasional visitors. He cut himself off from his friends and installed a telephone only after he had had a heart attack. He continued to say the office and attend Mass daily; he made generous gifts to his local church including altar plate, but took hardly any part in parish life.

Mann appeared to find little happiness as a Catholic but his dejection was motivated more by regret that his work had, in his view, come to nothing and he had wasted his life in a body that proved to be Protestant and congregational.

Anthony Symondson SJ

David Peter Mann, priest: born London 9 September 1929; ordained deacon 1955, priest 1956; Curate, St Matthew's, Newcastle 1955-59; Vicar, Christ Church, Shieldfield 1959-75; Vicar, St Andrew's, Kingsbury 1975-89; died 2 March 1997.

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