Thursday, 17 August 2006

The Cardinal and the Boat Race

Here's another picture from my brief visit to the English College, Rome - a difficult one to take (you can just make out my reflection in the glass of the frame) but a fascinating one nevertheless. This is the Oxford Boat Race Team of 1907. Not a very successful one because Cambridge won that year by four and a half lengths. The Oxford rowers in the faded photo are now long forgotten - except one, William Theodore Heard (possibly the guy sitting at the front). He later became Auditor of the Roman Rota and Cardinal. Here's the story of the Cardinal with the Oxford blue.

William Theodore Heard was born in Edinburgh on 24 February 1884, the eldest son of the headmaster of Fettes College, where he was sent to school. Later in life, he usually took his vacations in Scotland and, at the time of his elevation to the Sacred College, was declared to be the first Scottish-born Cardinal since the Reformation. However, it was to Balliol College, Oxford that the young William was sent in 1903, and at this quintessentially English institution he took part in Union debates and, as we've seen, was a keen rower. Heard was a contemporary at Balliol of another future Catholic convert, Ronald Knox, who later said that ‘my clearest recollection of him is his coming hurriedly into my room one day and asking my weight. This I gave him, and he was off again in a moment with a murmur of vague dissatisfaction that it was no use at all. Apparently he was looking for a rowing cox and my poundage let him down.'

Armed with a Third Class degree and rowing blue, he was articled to a legal firm in London and was admitted as a solicitor in 1910. The same year he was received into the Catholic Church at Farm Street and started running a Catholic boys’ club in Bermondsey, where he was inspired by the example of the parish priest, Canon Edward Murnane.

In 1913 Heard entered the English College in Rome as a student for the diocese of Southwark. Among his fellow students was William Godfrey. He also became acquainted with Mgr John Prior, Vice-Rector of the Beda and Auditor of the Rota. After Ordination at the Lateran on 30 March 1918 and the completion of his doctorates in Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law, Heard returned to his beloved Bermondsey in 1921 as curate to Canon Murnane.

In 1927 he was called to Rome on the death of Mgr Prior to succeed him as Auditor. He remained in Rome for forty-six years, dealing with marriage annulment cases – including that of Evelyn Waugh’s first marriage to the Hon. Evelyn Gardner. He also worked for the Congregation of Rites, saying that he preferred to deal with annulments in the mornings and canonisations in the afternoon; the canonisations were less depressing because even the failed candidates had at least tried to be good!

For much of his time in Rome Heard lived at the English College, where he acted as confessor, spiritual director and eventually as its last Cardinal Protector (1961-73). One student, Gerald Creasey, later wrote : 'he was a very popular figure despite his apparently grumpy exterior…I owe much to him since he lent me endless books from his library which distracted me happily from the tedium of scholastic philosophy. He had a very healthy attitude to one’s transgressions, usually blaming them on the weather ("that damned scirocco").'

According to another Venerabile student, Anthony Kenny, 'Heard was an impressive figure, and some of us treated him as an oracle. He lived a solitary and austere life, rarely eating in Hall since his health permitted him only the most meagre diet. He slept little and rose early to make himself available for confessions to those who might wish to confess, before Communion, any sins that might have been committed during the night. He had decided and outspoken views on a variety of topics from dental surgery to the history of cheese.'

Promotion came late in life, although he had been mentioned as a possible successor to Cardinal Bourne in 1935. At the end of 1958 Heard succeeded Cardinal Julien as Dean of the Rota, and the following December, at the age of seventy-five, was created a Cardinal Deacon with the newly re-established diaconia of San Teodoro in Palatino. In 1962 he was consecrated titular Archbishop of Feradi Maius by Blessed John XXIII, and took part in all four sessions of the Council. He was the only British cardinal at the 1963 Conclave, and was raised to the rank of Cardinal Priest in 1970.

In the summer of 1973 he holidayed in Scotland as normal, but returned to Rome in an agitated state and was taken to the hospital of the Blue Nuns at San Stefano Rotondo. He died there peacefully on 16 September at the age of 89. This thoroughly English Scots cardinal was buried far from home in the English College vault at the Campo Verano cemetery, but it would have pleased him that his last Mass had been celebrated in Glasgow.



Anonymous Peter in Dublin said...

VERY interesting! The man in the centre (behind the cox) may have his initials embroidered onto his sweater. I can't see in the scan, but you may be able to see yourself on the original if they are the initials of Cardinal Heard.

10:34 pm  
Blogger Peter said...

WT Heard is back row, far left, according to this print:

11:12 pm  

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