Obituary: Fr Anthony Ross

Donald Ross
Thursday 27 May 1993 00:02 BST

Ian (Anthony) Ross, priest and writer: born Windhill, Invernesshire 18 June 1917; entered the Dominican Order 1939; ordained 1945; Roman Catholic Chaplain at Edinburgh 1959-79; Rector, Edinburgh University 1979-82; Provincial of British Dominicans 1983; died Blairgowrie, Perthshire 24 May 1993.

FATHER Anthony Ross, former Provincial of the British Dominican Order, theologian, writer and broadcaster, died on Monday after a decade of fighting a series of strokes which forced him to learn once more to speak and write. Such a fight epitomised the remarkable courage, humility and intellect of Father Anthony's life from boyhood in Caithness and Inverness-shire to his last peaceful days at Blairgowrie.

Born Ian Ross, into a community of crofters and gamekeepers at Beauly in 1917, the eldest of five children, he was educated at Beauly School, Inverness Academy, Edinburgh University and Oxford. 'Books attracted my attention from an early age,' he wrote in his autobiography The Root of the Matter (1988). 'It was wonderful what could be discovered from the Bible.' His upbringing was Presbyterian, however, and he spent many long hours debating Christianity with his father, a Scottish Labour sympathiser discouraged by the absurdity of the First World War. Ross grew to love the countryside of the Black Isle. 'To learn to love plants or animals or people it was necessary to look and listen carefully . . . one way or another we were taught to regard everyone with respect, to look for the good in people.'

At the age of 20 Ross was received into the Roman Catholic Church and entered the Dominican Order, taking the name Anthony, in 1939, when the world was slipping fast into savagery. An outspoken critic of violence throughout his life, it was then he decided to dedicate himself to Christ's teachings and was ordained in Oxford in 1945. He became profoundly involved with the care and support of innumerable people. At the Chaplaincy Centre in George Square in Edinburgh he befriended the homeless, convicts, addicts and many other friendless and frightened people on all levels. He created, with the support of the Order, a safe, happy house and taught by example, often enjoying impromptu bouts of boxing or wrestling with anyone who wanted to relieve their anxieties.

Father Anthony carried out extensive work on comparative penology in Scandinavia and elsewhere and played a major part in the professionalisation of Scottish Catholic historical studies. His first book, a little collection of legends of saints' lives, The Golden Man (1955), as well as The Gude and Godlie Ballads which he edited for the Saltire Classics Series, illustrated the promise to come. With Professor Peter Walsh of Glasgow he produced the definitive editions of St Thomas Aquinas, De Fortitudine, and the subject was appropriate since he was often forced to challenge established authority in the causes of the many groups he championed.

Later texts included contributions to Essays in the Scottish Reformation and Modern Scottish Catholicism, Psycho-Sexual Problems and Pastoral Approaches to Homosexuality. He was the co-author of a wonderful book, John Knox (1976), with his friend and philosophical adversary Hugh MacDiarmid. ('In the impossible event of my abandonment of atheism,' MacDiarmid paid tribute to him, 'I would follow Ross.') He also nurtured the Scottish International Review and the Innes Review, whose first editor and long-term chairman he was.

In 1979 Father Anthony was elected Rector of Edinburgh University over Ludovic Kennedy and six other candidates. He made the office a focal point of agitation in stemming the tide of university cynicism and the erosion of ideals. He was always available, day and night, and proved a popular and influential student leader.

He became a skilled commentator and broadcaster, never over-fussy, straightforward, speaking with his soft Highland lilt that enlightened audiences during his STV commentary on the Papal visit to Scotland.

Travel was an important and frequent part of his life, particularly to cherished haunts such as Eigg, Rhum, Morar and the Black Isle. His knowledge of natural history was substantial and from boyhood enjoyed writing poems about the things he saw. 'Love Covers Over All Offences' was one of his favourite lines from Proverbs. He will be remembered for a generous humility, creative spirit and unwavering dedication, particularly since he carried on his missionary work as best he could while recovering from strokes. Strangely, he was able to take Mass, and spoke perfectly well during its canon, but at other times speaking proved a strain. Nevertheless he met his prolonged illness with fortitude and gentle humour.

Father Anthony Ross devoted his life to the service of those wearied and tortured by the complexities of life. He gave a clear way forward to countless people. He will also be remembered, by those who knew and loved him, as one of the finest intellects and spirits that Scotland has produced in the 20th century.

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