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Cardinal George Basil Hume
posted on 11 January 2005
George Basil Hume
George Basil Hume

Born George Hume in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1923 to a Scottish father and French Catholic mother. He is remembered for his work with the homeless, his love of football and for uniting his church to a state of harmony not previously seen for 400 years.

Hume decided to become a monk at the age of ten. He joined Ampleforth Monastery in 1941, taking the name Basil, and his solemn vows in 1945. He studied in Oxford and Fribourg then was ordained in 1950.

Returning to Ampleforth, he became Assistant Priest in the village and a teacher in the school, eventually becoming Head of Modern Languages and school rugby coach. He also taught dogmatic theology to the monks in training.

Hume progressed fast: he was elected to represent Ampleforth in the General Chapter of the English Benedictine Congregation in 1957, then elected Magister Scholarum. In 1963, he was elected Abbot of Ampleforth and it was in this role that his talent for keeping the peace and promoting harmony started to show.

Following Vatican II and the Church’s resulting internal dissent, Hume supported both the conservatives and the progressives, allowing both sides to think that his sympathies lay with them. Indeed, he said that his head was progressive while his heart was conservative. He formed friendships and connections with people from other denominations, always believing that the love of God was central to religion and to solving conflicts between individuals.

After his promotion to Cardinal in 1976, Basil Hume’s first act was to lead the monks of Ampleforth to Westminster Abbey to sing vespers for the first time in 400 years. A great lover of music, he saved the Cathedral Choir of Westminster from being disbanded. He encouraged work with young homeless people through the Society of St Vincent de Paul and in 1986 founded the Cardinal Hume Centre for young people at risk. He even opened the Cathedral Hall to those sleeping rough. He also turned his attention to other forms of social injustice and was instrumental in the release of the Guildford Four.

He was president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences between 1978-87 and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales 1979-99.

When the Church of England introduced the ordination of women, some of its clergy converted to Roman Catholicism. Cardinal Hume managed their conversion and, whilst initially excited at the idea that the two churches might be reunited, he learnt how best to help by skilfully smoothing over a period that might have led to a massive rift.

Throughout his life he remained a humble and approachable man, preferring to wear a monk’s habit instead of his Cardinal’s robes. So adept was he at keeping the peace that he promoted the position of Roman Catholics in Britain from one of slight suspicion to one of unthinking acceptance. The Queen rewarded his remarkable achievements shortly before his death on 17th June 1999 with the Order of Merit.

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