Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Fr. Benedict Webb OSB RIP

Considering his influence on my 69 years of life (today's my birthday!), it seems a pity I can't find a photograph of my housemaster in what I laughingly call my back catalogue. This one - dating I guess from 1957 - was not of course taken by me (I am in it).

Fr. Ben sits amidst an obviously happy bunch of 13/14-year-olds, the founder members of St Hugh's. One of them, Tony, now Fr. Jonathan, Cotton, once made a point that I needed to hear at the time: we are here in order to be happy. That happiness was the secret of Fr. Ben's success, I suggest - certainly if you count vocations to the priesthood as an indicator (and why not?). No less than four of us went on to be ordained, three at Ampleforth, and one, the distinguished church historian, Norman Tanner SJ. Alongside St Hugh's from year two of its existence was St Bede's, the housemaster of which was a certain Fr. Basil Hume. And the tally of vocations during his longish term as housemaster? Nil.

Fr. Benedict died earlier this month, and his funeral took place before my return from France. The Abbot, like Fr. Benedict, a medical doctor, preached a wonderful sermon.

I last saw Ben. on Easter Day 2011: I was visiting one of the others in this photograph in the monastic infirmary, Fr. David Morland, then patiently awaiting his death, which came later last year. Making my sad way out, I became sadder still: bumping into Fr. Benedict on his zimmer in the corridor, I stopped for a chat, but he no longer recognised me.

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