Obituary: Fr Bryan Houghton

Bryan Richard Staples Houghton, priest, born Dublin 1 April 1911, died Montelimar France 19 November 1992.

BRYAN HOUGHTON was a priest set apart. He was a convert Catholic, fiercely loyal to the Papacy though not above the belief that liturgical changes that have swept through the Roman Catholic Church in the past 25 years were ill advised. He was not alone in the view that the reforms to the liturgy had their origin in a theological modernism which was entirely inappropriate to the Faith of Ages, eternal and true. He may have correctly come to the conclusion that the question of his appointment to the hierarchy of England and Wales in the 1960s was determined when he declined to acknowledge the orthodoxy of Teilhard de Chardin when so asked by the Secretary of the Higher Studies Conference of the English hierarchy.

Born in Dublin Castle in 1911 where his father, a professional soldier, was garrisoned, Bryan Houghton was intensely English. His mother was steeped in English liberalism and the privilege of wealth. She was sent as a young girl to Berlin as a Hoffraulein in the household of Princess Victoria. Bryan Houghton's parents spent long periods apart during his father's service overseas and, in consequence, Bryan was brought up in his youth in Europe where his mother had homes in Paris, Berlin and the Cote d'Azur. He spoke little English until, at 13, he was sent as a pupil to Stowe School, then in its infancy. He described himself as 'a goof with little ability save for an understanding of good claret'. He was placed in a remove class. Plainly life prospered for he ultimately obtained an open scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, and took a First Class degree in Modern History. In reality he always considered himself an historian in upbringing and a priest by choice. It was while at Oxford he came under the influence of Fr Martin D'Arcy SJ, who subsequently became a firm friend.

Houghton returned to Paris, where he practised his profession as a banker and he remained in banking until his mother's death in 1936. He was received into the Catholic Church in Paris following a visit to the Soviet Union with his acquaintance Christian Dior who was then advising the Soviet Government on factory system building. He was particularly outraged by the cruelty of the Bolsheviks to the minority groups then trapped in the Soviet Empire.

Following his mother's death he went to the English College in Rome, ultimately to be ordained priest in England in 1941. His was an independent spirit and he was of independent means. He offered his services to the diocese of Northampton and put substantial sums of money into the development of the Catholic church and schools in Slough. He moved to Bury St Edmunds in 1955 as parish priest and set about the development of Catholic schools in the heart of Suffolk. His vision in the field of schools development in the diocese is legendary.

Houghton was a people's priest. He was loved throughout his parish for his piety, understanding and spirituality. His humour was sparkling and infectious. His sermons attracted congregations from far and wide. His parish prospered. He revived in the Church of St Edmund King and Martyr, a Jesuit foundation, sung celebrations of the mass on St Edmund's feast day each November assisted with full choir and orchestra. He is well remembered for the warning he delivered his congregation that they could not expect to 'pop up to heaven like champagne corks', yet he provided, after such a St Edmund's Mass, a champagne reception following the ceremony.

He retired from his parish immediately following the Feast of St Edmund in 1969 and on the introduction of the new Order and English Liturgy. He found the new order unworthy of the Mass he loved so much. He was forever grateful to Cardinal Heenan, who had succeeded in obtaining for the existing retiring English Catholic clergy a Papal Indult, or licence, granting them permission to continue to say Mass according to the Tridentine Rite, though privately. He retired to France at the early age of 58 and settled in Viviers on the edge of Provence. He planted his garden with fruit, flowers and vegetables, busily set himself to becoming domestic, and looked after himself until his death.

He loved beautiful things and surrounded himself with them in his home. He gained a reputation in France as a writer, wit and 'savant', and contributed regularly to French theological reviews. His correspondence was enormous and he acquired a well-deserved reputation in France never fully accorded to him in England. He was perhaps too intelligent and above all too independent for the English hierarchy to accommodate.

The French Church has good reason to be grateful to Bryan Houghton. He was well known to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose 'integrisme' he found quite unacceptable. At least one great abbey in France was attracted by the obvious spirituality of Lefebvre and his retention of the traditional rite. As Fr Houghton explained to the aged monsignors, 'You do not save the Faith by destroying the Church.' Sadly, Lefebvre removed himself from the Church and his sect lost influence and credibility.

Father Bryan said Mass daily until a week before his death at the high altar of the beautiful Cathedral of St Vincent in Viviers. He wrote a number of books of which the first was a monologue, St Edmund King and Martyr. Perhaps his best was produced early in retirement, Mitre and Crook, published ultimately in the United States in 1979 and subsequently translated and republished with other works in France.

A recent review, inevitably American, said of him, 'Fr Bryan Houghton writes just about the best English prose around today - up there with Waugh and Ronald Knox - elegant, clear, concise, severe, humorous, light, cantankerous and bright; in a word consummately British, surprisingly humane and even more, as if Waugh were suddenly Dickens.' That gave him pleasure. His own literary heroes were the great Dr Johnson and PG Wodehouse.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power