Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ (1929-2013)
One Saturday morning in 1992, the 75th anniversary of the founding by Pope Benedict XV of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome (the Orientale), the Rector, Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ, took a phone call from Mgr Stanisław Dziwisz, personal secretary of Pope John Paul II. Did Fr Clarence have anything planned for that evening and, if not, would he care to join His Holiness for some supper? And, could he bring his vice-Rector with him? There could, of course, be but only one reply and that in the negative once and the affirmative twice. The vice-Rector, it should be noted, was the late Fr. John F Long SJ, an American Jesuit known as the “the grand old man of Catholic-Orthodox relations” (died aged 80 years on September 20, 2005; he retired from the Orientale in the same year as Fr Clarence stood down as Rector, 1995).
That evening over a memorable supper His Holiness explained that he was much troubled with the state of dialogue with the Orthodox Churches and thought that Fr Clarence might be able to help. Could he arrange to bring some of the Orientale’s experts to brief him? Fr Clarence later said: “I thought we would hear no more about it. I thought he had just got a bee in his bonnet and that he would soon forget about the whole thing.”
Two weeks later he got another phone call from Mgr Dziwisz: Could he bring his experts along on Tuesday morning at 11? This time only one affirmative was required!
In all Fr Clarence arranged eight seminars in this series for the Pope. They were all held on a Tuesday morning at 11 o’clock in the papal private library. After about two hours they would wind it up by paying a visit to the private chapel and then sit down to lunch. Fr Clarence would later remark that Pope John Paul II was a “splendid host. The conversation was always brilliant. He had a tremendous intellect, one of the best I have ever come across, along with Fr Kolvenbach (Peter Hans, SJ, Fr General, 1983-2008, and a predecessor of Fr Clarence as Rector of the Orientale, 1981-83). He had a remarkable memory, especially a wealth of stories about things that happened when he was a young priest, and a great sense of humour. And the food was always marvellous…”
Fr Clarence explained that a Tuesday was in theory the Pope’s day off. His Holiness told him: “I try to use some of it for reading, to catch up on my theology.” This latter point accompanied by a deprecatory broad grin.
And it was thus that Fr Clarence became to Blessed Pope John Paul II “rettore magnifico”. It also got him into trouble with the Grand Chancellor of the Orientale, His Eminence Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
A wealthy widow, Mrs Anna Maria Gruenhut Bartoletti Aletti, had bequeathed one of the homes she had inherited from her late husband, Dr (possibly Count) Ezio Aletti, to the Society of Jesus. This was a late nineteenth-century liberty-style palazzo in via Paolina, just round the corner from the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (the other home was in Trieste). The good widow expressed a desire that it might become a centre of intercultural meeting and reflection. The Father General of the Jesuits thought to ask Fr Clarence if he could do anything appropriate with it. Fr Kolvenbach was not noted for asking stupid questions, or, for asking questions to which he did not already have a shrewd idea of the answer.
Fr Clarence recruited a young Jesuit, Fr Marko Rupnik SJ (a Slovenian and then about 37 years of age), who was both a theologian of some standing and, and more importantly, a brilliant artist in the Byzantine tradition of iconography and mosaics to be Director of what was to become the Centro Aletti. Its purpose was described most aptly by Blessed Pope John Paul II at its formal opening on Sunday, December 12, 1993:
“(T)he Ezio Aletti Study and Research Centre… was recently founded as a part of the Pontifical Oriental Institute with the aim of creating privileged opportunities for meetings and exchanges on the subject of Christianity in East Europe. Its particular goal is to encourage research among the Orientales themselves on the meaning of faith following the collapse of the Marxist regimes, and with regard to the spread of the achievements and of the false myths of Western culture.”
Two-and-a half years earlier, on July 15, 1991, when its founding was first announced, Fr Kolvenbach had indicated that Centro Aletti was to be primarily aimed towards scholars and artists with a Christian perspective, whether that be Orthodox or Oriental-rite Catholic or Latin-rite Catholic, from Central and Eastern Europe with the purpose of creating an opportunity for them to meet and live and work for a time together with their Western European colleagues thereby preparing all for the future and the challenges that it would bring.
It was over the plans for the formal opening of Centro Aletti on that Sunday in December of 1993 that Fr Clarence was to seriously discomfit Cardinal Silvestrini. In the course of discussion on some routine matters, Fr Clarence happened to observe that everyone connected with Centro Aletti would be delighted to welcome Pope John Paul II at the formal opening. Cardinal Silvestrini observed that sadly they would all be disappointed as His Holiness never accepted invitations to that sort of thing on a Sunday. Fr Clarence then pointed out that he already had gladly accepted! Exit one seriously dischuffed Cardinal bearing a thunderous expression upon his countenance.
Rettore Magnifico had simply asked and his Pope couldn’t dream of refusing. Not the way it was supposed to be done at all, at all.
Over lunch after the formal opening, His Holiness dropped into the conversation that he had been reading a work by Sergei Bulgakov. This was directed towards Fr Marko who immediately replied “Oh, Holiness you have been reading…” And whatever it was, he had. Fr Clarence recalled that this gave rise to a lively discussion and that afterwards, as he was being escorted to his car, His Holiness said to him, and Fr Marko, that he would have to arrange another few seminars for him. It was as a direct result of this further close association between Fr Clarence and his experts and Blessed Pope John Paul II that Fr Marko was invited to oversee the transformation of the Capella Redemptoris Mater, the larger of the private papal chapels, on an Eastern Theological theme devised in cooperation with Fr, later Cardinal, Tomáš Špidlík SJ. This project was to be funded by the “handsome gift of money”, as Fr Clarence put it, that the His Holiness had received from the Cardinals on, if memory serves, the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood.
The current Rector of the Orientale, Fr James McCann SJ, has kindly informed that Fr Edward Farrugia SJ, a Maltese Jesuit who has been Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Oriental Patrology at the Orientale since 1981, who took part in these seminars, recalls that apart from himself, Frs Long, Rupnik and Špidlík, other members of Fr Clarence’s team of experts included Fr. Richard Cemus SJ (a Czech scholar of Eastern spirituality who had just returned from working in the Apostolic Delegation — this was before it became a Nunciature — in post-Soviet Moscow), and Michelina Tenace (a religious sister affiliated with Centro Aletti and a Professor of the Pontifical Gregorian University).
Clarence Gallagher was born in Detroit on November 17, 1929, second son of Charles Gallagher, a painter and decorator, and his wife Mary (McNally). Clarence’s older brother, John, was also born in Detroit. Sometime after the end of the First World War the McNally family had immigrated to Detroit from Bellshill, Lanarkshire. So, too, did Charles Gallagher and his sister, Nan, from the adjoining village of Mossend. Mary McNally and Nan Gallagher were friends, both families having been parishioners of Holy Family, Mossend, and the girls having been at the parish school together. Soon they became sisters-in-law. When the USA became convulsed with the Great Depression, Charles and Mary, with their sons John and Clarence, returned to Mossend about three years after Clarence’s birth. A daughter, Mary, and a brother Gerald were added to the household.
Clarence was educated a Holy Family Primary School and Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell (which produced more Catholic priests than any other school in the UK, and probably Ireland, including Thomas Joseph Cardinal Winning). However, he completed his Secondary Education at St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen. From there he went to the Scots College, Rome (in 1948, The Motherwell Times reported that the family of Cardinal Winning met him at the Scots College when they were in Rome for His Eminence's priestly ordination). However, after the three year course in Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University (the Greg), in 1950, aged 21 years, he left and joined the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, entering the Novitiate at Harlaxton, Lincolnshire (the Jesuits had bought the Manor three years earlier, in 1948). At his funeral, in the course of an oration his friend, Fr Gerry J Hughes SJ, noted that the decisive motive for this change of direction was that “he admired the combination of spirituality and learning in the Jesuits he met in Rome.”
Over the next thirteen years he undertook further study at London (Teacher Training), Oxford (Campion Hall, Classics and Philosophy), Heythrop (Theology). This period also included two years teaching at the former Jesuit school St Michael’s College, Leeds. Priestly ordination at Oxford in 1963 was followed by Tertianship, the final period of Jesuit training which includes a thirty day silent retreat based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, at St Beuno’s (1964/5).
Fr Hughes observed that it was after having finished at St Beuno’s that Fr Clarence was “perhaps rather to his surprise” asked to go to Rome to study Canon Law. This was to end, if not in tears, then certainly in serious disappointment. Fr Hughes explained that another student elsewhere in Italy completed his doctoral thesis on the very topic that Fr Clarence had chosen and no-one had thought to check. Clarence’s time and effort had been wasted. And so in 1969 he returned to England. Eventually he was appointed Assistant for Formation while undertaking teaching duties in Canon Law and Ecclesiology at the new Heythrop in London.
In 1975, Fr Clarence returned to Rome to complete his doctorate and then to teach for a brief time at the Greg. In 1979, much to his surprise, he was nominated to fill the post of Socius, personal assistant, to the Father Provincial, Fr Maher. He seems to have been, to put it mildly, a difficult man to keep up with but Fr Hughes observed that “it is a tribute to Clarence’s selflessness as well as his administrative tact that he coped with an almost impossible job so successfully.”
1981 saw Fr Clarence return to his native West of Scotland as both Parish Priest of St Aloysius, Garnethill, and Rector of St Aloysius College. The next four or five years was a time of rapid development of the facilities of the College. It also saw the launch of the post-Vatican II Code of Canon Law 1983. Clarence during this time served as a judge of the Scottish National (Marriage) Tribunal. At the invitation of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference, he toured the country lecturing to clergy, religious and laity on the new Code.
And then in 1985 the hand of God came to rest most kindly upon Fr Clarence’s shoulder. He was appointed lecturer in Oriental Canon Law at the Orientale, the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome. This is located on the Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, a walk of no more than a minute or two from Stazione Termini. Over the next twelve years Fr Clarence was to at last feel that he had truly found his niche in the Society and the Church. Despite the fact that his appointment had originally much perplexed him. Asked what he knew about the Oriental Canon Law upon his appointment, he paused, thought, rubbed his chin and said ruefully something along the lines of “very little, really” (although in fact in very minor Scots vernacular, which nonetheless was a great surprise!).
He became in turn Professor and then Dean of the Faculty of Law by appointment of the Father General, Fr Kolvenbach, and then finally (but not quite) Rector by appointment of Pope John Paul II. During this time he would provide expert advice to the committee for the redaction of the new Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Rite Churches; advise the Vatican’s team of prelates involved in the highly fruitful negotiations with the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church on the vexed question of Inter-Church Marriages; act as a judge of the tribunal of the Diocese of Rome; and, conduct an Apostolic Visitation of the Church in India. Fr Hughes reflected that he “knew the Pope well, (and) dealt with Cardinals and Patriarchs as one to the manner born.”
He gained much personal satisfaction in the supervision of doctoral students. Notable amongst these were James Michael Cardinal Harvey, formerly Prefect of the Papal Household but now Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (but this was probably during his earlier spell at the Greg), and Mgr Gerard McKay, the Scottish judge of the Sacred Roman Rota.
Moreover, Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, was a student under Fr Clarence. Ordained priest in his native Slovakia in 1987 and having obtained a degree in Theology from the University of Bratislava, he went to Rome and the Orientale. He earned a license in canon law (JCL) in 1989 and a doctorate (JCD) in 1994. Between times, on October 15, 1990, he entered the Society of Jesus, being solemnly professed in 2001. He would later follow in Fr Clarence’s footsteps as Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Orientale before himself being appointed Rector. It seems highly unlikely that he would not have discussed his desire to join the Jesuits with Fr Clarence, the man who was successively his Professor, Dean and Rector. No doubt His Excellency, again like Fr Clarence “admired the combination of spirituality and learning in the Jesuits he met in Rome.”
Stepping down as Rector in 1995 was not quite the end of Fr Clarence’s work at the Orientale. He remained in Rome for about another two years before returning once more to Oxford and to Campion Hall. Far from enjoying a much deserved retirement, together with Fr Robert Ombres OP of nearby Blackfriars, he helped establish at Heythrop College, London University, the first undergraduate degree course in Catholic Canon Law in the UK since the Reformation. Typically, he also acceded to Fr Hughes’s request that he assume the task of being Home Bursar.
The photograph below was taken by Fr Antoni Üçerler SJ, at “old Heythrop” sometime during this period. Fr Antoni was a colleague of Fr Clarence at Campion Hall and is Associate Professor of History and East Asian Languages and Culture at Georgetown University.
In 1999 (17-21 May), Fr Clarence presented a paper at the Annual Conference of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland held at the Dean Park Hotel, Renfrew near Glasgow in his (almost) native Scotland. His topic was “Diversity in Unity: Rome and Constantinople in the Ninth Century”. He was preceded at the lectern by Mgr Raymond Leo Burke, then Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA, now Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. His Eminence’s topic would be even more topical today: “Administrative Justice in the Suppression of a Parish”.
A fitting tribute to Fr Clarence would be that paid to another great Scottish jurist of Holy Mother Church, William Theodore Cardinal Heard, whose final appointment in the Roman Curia was as Dean of the Sacred Roman Rota (1958-59) before being raised to the cardinalatial dignity in that latter year by Good Pope John. For the panegyric delivered at His Eminence’s Month’s Mind Requiem Mass held at his titular church, San Teodoro al Palatino, on October 16, 1973, Mgr, later Cardinal, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then Rector of the Venerable English College, where Cardinal Heard had resided for many years, chose as his text from the Book of Wisdom:
I, therefore, determined to take Wisdom to share my life, knowing that she would be my counsellor in prosperity, my comforter in cares and sorrow; I shall be reckoned shrewd when I sit in judgement, in presence of the great I shall be admired. By means of her, immortality shall be mine; I shall leave an everlasting memory to my successors. When I go home I shall take my ease with her, for nothing is bitter in her company, when life is shared with her, there is no pain ― gladness only and joy. (Book of Wisdom, chapter 8.)
Had the ecclesiastical authorities here in Scotland, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in London (Archbishop Bruno Heim), and the Congregation for Bishops in Rome in 1985 not decided, contrary to the expectations of many, that after all they couldn’t appoint a Jesuit as Archbishop and Metropolitan of St Andrews and Edinburgh, then one cannot but think that we, together with Fr Clarence, would all be in a far, far better place today!
Without presumption, recall the words of St Matthew (according to King James): “His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”