25 March 2009

On the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord

On this day I pause in memory of Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville. He was archbishop of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. He was ordained to the episcopacy on the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord (March 25th) 1982. He was archbishop until 1999, and he passed away November 3, 2007.

In some circles he was not very popular. This may have stemmed from the fact that he went from university chaplain to archbishop in one step. He was also from an aristocratic family. When I lived in England, he was the only Catholic prelate whose coat of arms was officially recognized, because of his person and not his office.

I fondly remember "His Grace". Back in the early 90's, second year seminarians at Oscott College had a common apostolate at Dudley Road Hospital in the city of Birmingham. One woman Imet at the hospital lived literally in the shadow of the seminary with her family in a "council house." She asked if I would visit her when she went home, and one day early in May I did. Her Husband and children met me at the door, and soon I was offered a cup of tea. As she was home-bound, I asked her if she ever received visits from her parish. She told me about Monsignor Maurice visiting her home.

She had no idea that this man was the Archbishop of Birmingham. She told me that she was embarrassed that her children take the gold cross out of his pocket to look at it (ie, his pectoral cross). One of her kids asked if the cross was real gold and how much it costs. I asked her if it was the Archbishop, and she only knew that he lived at the Archbishop's House on St. Chad's Queensway. Well the only Maurice in that house was the Archbishop himself.
So when people referred to His Grace as being aloof and out of touch with the common person, I would relate this story.

I really this think that it is quite extraordinary that this man who was an archbishop and a prince (but not a prince-archbishop) would visit people in this lower working-class neighborhood. And it is one of the reasons while he will always have my respect.

Maurice Couve de Murville (1929 - 2007) Requiescat in Pace et Ora pro Nobis

An obituary from The Telegraph can be found here.

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