Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, 1901-1998
Friends of Mgr Alfred Gilbey, who died last week, remember a uniquely holy man
Cardinal Basil Hume: "I first sat at Mgr Gilbey's feet at the age of 15 when he preached at a school retreat and ever since that time I have known that he was an exceptionally holy priest. Charity and courtesy in every situation characterised his pastoral activities."
David Watkin of Peterhouse, Cambridge: "He was a saintly figure, a priest of extreme holiness."
Archbishop Couve de Murville: "I was one of the first of the state-funded students who came to Cambridge after the war. Fr Gilbey, as he then was, made us wonderfully welcome at Fisher House, the Catholic Chaplaincy. He was always, and above all, "our priest", who was at the service of any student, whatever his background or religion. He was an outstanding Chaplain who influenced many generations of students."
The Hon Christopher Monckton: "Alfred Gilbey received my father into the Church when he was at Cambridge, married my parents and baptised all their children including me and was present at our wedding. He has had more effect on the growth of the Church in these islands than any other priest in his lifetime. More than 80 priests are priests today because they were received into the Church by Alfred Gilbey. His excellent course of instruction on the Catholic faith, We believe, is still malting converts to this day."
Fr Ronald Creighton Jobe, who is to say the Requiem Mass for Mgr Gilbey at 1 lam on April 4 at Brompton Oratory: "His worldly exterior belied an intense interior life. His priestly life was dominated by an asceticism of total availability to those in need of him. His life was a tribute to the realisation that civilised life is not about the externals but the inner man."
Fellow Traveller Page 9 MONSIGNOR ALFRED GILBEY, who died on 26 March aged 96, was one of the most influential priests of his generation and a unique figure in the English Church. During his time as Catholic chaplain to Cambridge University, from 1932 to 1965, Gilbey instructed some 170 undergraduates in the Faith, many of whom who were attracted to the Church by his serene, civilised and luminous piety. His personality was a magnetic composite of good humour and asceticism, personal sanctity and worldliness.
Alfred Newman Gilbey was born on 13 July 1901, in Harlow, the youngest of seven children of a wine merchant from the gin family, and a Spanish mother who passed on to her son a devout religious faith. From his father he inherited an enthusiasm for the traditional pleasures of the English countryside continuing to hunt with the Trinity Foot Beagles until late in his life and for heraldry. He attributed his excellent health to the fact that he was physically active.
Gilbey was educated by the Jesuits at Beaumont, in accordance with his mother's wishes, and in 1924 he took a pass degree at Trinity College Cambridge, after which he studied for Holy Orders at the Beda College in Rome. He was ordained in the family chapel at Mark Hail, Essex, in 1929, "upon his patrimony", meaning that he was not incardinated in a particular diocese.
Gilbey remained at Cambridge until it was decided that women should be allowed into the monastic environment of Fisher House, the chaplaincy which he partly financed out of his own pocket. He was not a misogynist, however; he merely thought there was not enough space, and women anyway had a separate chaplaincy of their own.
Not long after leaving Cambridge he became the only long-stay guest of the Travellers's Club in Pall Mall, where he kept a private oratory. His slightly stooped figure could be readily identified in the streets around Piccadilly dressed in gaiters, frock coat, hat and purple-trimmed cassock (he was created a Monsignor and Domestic Prelate to the Pope in 1950). Cardinal Heenan permitted him to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine rite. But although the egalitarian spirit of Vatican II may not have been consonant with his understanding of the world, he remained entirely faithful to the authority of the Church, whose teaching he encapsulated gracefully in his book, We Believe (1983). This surprise bestseller took as its epigraph the words of Fr Vincent McNab OP: "Truth alone is worthy of our entire devotion." It was based on his courses of instruction to converts and was acclaimed by, among others, Cardinal Hume.
In 1993, Gilbey published The Commonplace Book of Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, an anthology of excerpts from authors who had inspired him. In an interview with the Catholic Herald in 1996, he said: "The older I get, the more I believe in Providence. We enter this world and we leave it at precise moments that are not of our choosing. Both of these moments Our Lord has known through all eternity; both are absolutely plum right."
He is survived by nephews (lames Gilbey, a friend of the Princess of Wales, was a great-nephew), nieces and cousins.