Obituary: Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ
Former Parish Priest, St Aloysius, Garnethill, Glasgow (1981-85)
Former Rector, St Aloysius College, Garnethill, Glasgow (1981-85)
Former Rector, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome (1990-95)
Founder, Centro Aletti, Rome (begun 1991; formally opened 1993)
Born: November 17, 1929
Died: May 5, 2013
Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ, who has died aged 83, was widely regarded as the favourite to succeed Gordon Joseph Cardinal Gray as Archbishop and Metropolitan of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 1985 when His Eminence retired. The Eastern Coast vineyard of the Lord’s loss was to be the Eastern-rite study within the Western-rite Catholic Church’s gain. Ultimately, it was also to prove the Catholic Church in Scotland’s loss too. And how.
For four years, Fr Clarence had, unusually, been both Parish Priest at Garnethill and Rector of the College. He had also served as a judge on the Scottish National (Marriage) Tribunal (founded in 1970 under Fr, later Cardinal, Tom Winning). In 1983, when the new, post-Vatican II Code of Canon Law was promulgated on January 25, he was asked by the hierarchy to tour the country to explain it to priests, religious and laity before its coming into effect at the beginning of Advent, on Sunday, November 27. Fr Clarence thus became much better known to a far wider range of the Catholic community throughout Scotland than he, and the hierarchy, and his bosses both in London and Rome, might have expected. He impressed everybody as a brilliant expositor of this driest of subjects and as an immensely intelligent but likeable and humble man. And as a good priest.
Born on Sunday, November 17, 1927, in Detroit, Michigan, nineteen days after the Wall Street Crash on Black Tuesday, October 29, when Clarence was three years old his parents, Charles, a painter and decorator, and Mary (nee McNally), confronted with the tragic realities of the Great Depression returned with Clarence and their older son, John, to Scotland and to Charles’s home village of Mossend (the McNally’s came from the adjacent Bellshill). A sister, Mary, and another brother, Gerald, were born after their return.
Clarence attended Holy Family Primary School, Mossend, and then Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell. Our Lady’s, up until the imposition of Comprehensive Education, produced more Catholic priests than any other school in Great Britain, including Cardinal Winning. Imbued with a vocation to the priesthood, Clarence left Our Lady’s and completed his secondary education at St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen. In 1947, equipped with six excellent Highers including English, Maths, Latin and Greek, he enrolled in the Pontifical Scots College, Rome, as a student for the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
By the time he started his second year of Philosophy studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Greg, the Diocese of Motherwell had come into being. However, Clarence did not go on to be ordained for his new home diocese. Instead, on completing the Philosophy course in 1950 he left the Scots College and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Harlaxton, Lincolnshire. His friend, Fr Gerry J Hughes SJ — not the Fr Hughes who was Catholic Chaplain at Glasgow University in the late 60s and early 70s — noted that “he admired the combination of spirituality and learning in the Jesuits he met in Rome.”
Further studies at Oxford (Campion Hall, Classics and Philosophy), London (Teacher Training) and Heythrop (Theology) followed and he taught for two years at St Michael’s College, Leeds. Priestly ordination at the hands of Archbishop Francis Joseph Grimshaw, Birmingham, in the chapel at the old Heythrop College, Oxford, on the Feast of St Ignatius Loyola, July 31, 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, at St Beuno’s, North Wales (1964/5).
He then returned to Rome to study Canon Law at the Greg. The Licentiate was obtained without difficulty but his doctoral research was to end, if not in tears, then certainly in serious disappointment. Before he could complete and submit his thesis, another student in a Northern Italian institution completed his doctoral thesis on the very same topic that he had chosen. His supervisor had not thought to check. Clarence’s time and effort had been wasted.
Dejected and angry, in 1969 he returned to England where he served as Assistant for Formation and taught Canon Law and Ecclesiology at the new Heythrop College in London. In 1975, he was persuaded to return to Rome to complete his doctorate. During a brief spell teaching there, he supervised the doctoral thesis of James Michael Harvey, now Cardinal Archpriest of St Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls, the former Prefect of the Papal Household.
Asked in 1979 to serve in London as Socius, personal assistant to Fr Maher SJ, the Father Provincial in the UK, he hesitated. However, Father Pedro Arrupe SJ, Father General of the Jesuits, personally intervened to persuade Fr Clarence to accept this appointment saying that “it was for the greater good” rather than Clarence being just “yet another part-time canonist in Rome.” Later, Fr Arrupe explicitly spoke in the most laudatory terms of the way in which Clarence displayed Ignatian discernment in this whole question saying that he “was truly an obedient man.”
His reward for undertaking this onerous job — Fr Hughes observed: “(I)t is a tribute to Clarence’s selflessness as well as to his administrative tact that he coped with an almost impossible job so successfully” — came two years later in 1981 when he was asked to return to his native West of Scotland, to Garnethill, at a time of great development at the College.
At the beginning of 1985 it was already known that Cardinal Gray did not wish to carry on after August 10, the date upon which he would reach the age limit of 75 stipulated under canon law. There would have been absolutely no question of Blessed Pope John Paul II asking His Eminence to soldier on regardless. In the event, his resignation was accepted just over two months early, on May 30, only weeks before the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Bruno Heim, was to retire. To the dismay of many, for a reason or reasons unknown, Keith Patrick O’Brien, Rector of St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen, Scotland’s national Junior Seminary, was preferred to Fr Clarence. All that can be said is that clearly this decision was not based upon an honest appraisal of either their respective intellects or characters, priestly or otherwise.
But even as this decision was being botched in the Vatican, nearby in the Jesuit Curia on the Borgo Santo Spirito, Fr Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ, who had eventually replaced Fr Arrupe as Father General, had to fill a vacancy in the Canon Law Faculty of the Pontifical Oriental Institute on the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. He chose Fr Clarence. He was to become in turn Lecturer, Professor and then Dean of the Faculty of Law and then finally (but not quite) by papal appointment Rector (1990-95).
During his thirteen years at the Orientale, he would provide expert advice to the committee for the redaction of the new Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Rite Churches (promulgated 1990); advise the Vatican during the highly fruitful negotiations with the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church (initially on the vexed question of Inter-Church Marriages); conduct an Apostolic Visitation of the Church in India; and, conduct two sets of seminars for Pope John Paul II. He and the Pope became such good friends that the Pope always referred to him jocularly as “rettore magnifico”.
In 1991, Fr Clarence became the only Scotsman to found an educational institute in Rome. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the founding of the Centro Aletti was announced. This 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. Through Clarence’s personal relationship with Pope John Paul II, the atelier of the Director of the Centro Aletti, Fr Marko Rupnik, an excellent theologian but a better artist in the Byzantine tradition, was invited to do the artwork in the larger private papal chapel, the Redemptoris Mater.
Fr Clarence stepped down as Rector in 1995 and stayed on as a Professor for about a further two years before returning to Campion Hall, Oxford. Far from enjoying a much deserved retirement, together with Fr Robert Ombres OP of nearby Blackfriars, he helped establish at Heythrop College, by then part of London University, the first undergraduate degree course in Catholic Canon Law in the UK since the Reformation.