Obituary: Fr Conrad Pepler

Stephen Pepler, priest, editor, publisher: born London 5 May 1908; clothed a friar 1927 as Brother Conrad; ordained priest 1933; died Cambridge 10 November 1993.

CONRAD PEPLER - priest, Dominican, lecturer, editor, publisher, writer, bed-maker, washer-up and much else - was responsible for setting up the first Roman Catholic conference centre in the UK, Spode House, in Staffordshire.

He was born Stephen Pepler, in 1908, the second son of HDC Pepler and his artist wife, Clare Whiteman, in Hammersmith, west London, where his father was running a working-men's club. 'I was, alas, an uplifter, much concerned to change the habits of the people,' quoted Fr Brocard Sewell in an appreciation written at the time of Hilary Pepler's death in 1951. He was involved in Borstal schools and the Home Office wanted to recruit him. He wrote one or two books. This restless, highly talented man decided he could not bring up six children in the city, and in 1916 followed his friend Eric Gill to Ditchling in Sussex. There he and Gill, largely with Pepler money, set up the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a lay community of band workers, farmers, craftsmen and printer, St Dominic's Press; Pepler was the printer.

Stephen, whose father had become a Roman Catholic in 1916 under the auspices of Fr Vincent McNabb and Eric Gill, went to the Dominican school at Hawkesyard Priory, Staffordshire, and after he left worked for three years in the printing shop with his father. In 1927 Stephen decided himself to become a Dominican; and he became Conrad Pepler OP.

He found himself in the community at Hawkesyard. Among the students were some brilliant men; he always thought that he had been educated by them rather than by the official teachers. After his ordination at Blackfriars, Oxford, in 1933, and his first theology degree, he went to Rome to get the second, the licence to teach. He returned to Rome to teach there himself, in 1939, but, with Italy's entry into the war, came back to England in the summer of 1940.

He started there the unlikely story of his various careers. He was appointed acting editor of the Dominican review Blackfriars, when the editor became a chaplain in the RAF; and editor in 1942.

During these years he went with his violin into the tube shelters in London, packed with potential platform sleepers. There, with the help of some of the brethren, with laity, and the enthusiastic encouragement of the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Hinsley, he collaborated in hymn services and readings - the danger of bombs above, and the singing down below.

After the end of paper rationing Pepler found himself the editor of two monthly periodicals, Blackfriars and Life of the Spirit, and, under the imprint Blackfriars Publications, a publisher. Under his direction these periodicals were in no way 'sectarian' in the sense of taking a particular line; some might have thought that he was too catholic in the breadth of his acceptances. He hoped that the reviews would be 'scientific without being academic, popular without being cheap or vulgar', in fact in the tradition of Vie Intellectuelle and Vie Spirituelle of the French Dominicans. For anyone who chooses to look, Pepler's edited publications are full of still fascinating items.

When, much against his wishes, Pepler was told to go from Oxford to Hawkesyard to set up the old house as a conference centre, he sacrificed the time that had been consumed by his writing and reading for the service of others. Here again, his scope was very wide - from novice mistresses to priests who had left to get married.

Somehow he overcame all the difficulties that a time of change could richly provide. Spode House in his time had a character all its own, acknowledged by all the many thousands who visited it. There was nothing smart about it. It was, if anything, dingy; but this was overcome by the characters of the warden and his helpers, warm, delighted when people wanted second helpings, and himself at the hotplate, and later in the pantry. All were welcome, and, he hoped, felt at home. There had been a number of other conference centres started. None of them had the 'atmosphere' of Spode; most were materially superior. The question was, what was to happen when Father Conrad, this all-present personality, retired in 1981. Much against his will, he was sent to Cambridge, leaving the dreams, successes and ideals behind him. 'I never thought I would ever retire,' he said.

I asked someone who knew Conrad Pepler well what was his most notable characteristic; the answer, 'He was so humble, never pushed himself forward for his own sake.' But for the sake of the work it was quite another matter: for Conrad there was no other way.

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: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
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'