Dom Edward Crouzet is a Benedictine monk, a member of the community of Downside Abbey in Somerset, though presently serving the parish of Bungay in Suffolk. He first came to Downside at the age of 7 as a member of Worth Preparatory School which had been evacuated there during the Second World War. He completed his school education at Downside and went on to read Modern and Mediaeval Languages as an Exhibitioner of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. In 1957 he returned to Downside as a novice, made his Solemn Profession in 1961 and was ordained priest in 1964. During this period he also spent four years studying Theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
Between 1964 and 1969 Dom Edward taught Theology to the junior monks and modern languages to the boys at Downside. From 1969 to the end of 1971 he was a member of the Worth Abbey Mission in the Apurimac Valley, Peru. Here, in addition to pastoral work in the area, he set up a trading co-operative which enabled local farmers to transport their produce out of this remote jungle area and market it in the larger centres of population. The most valuable crop, coffee, was sold directly on the international market, thereby gaining a fair price for the producers. This venture aroused hostility from certain local traders who had previously enjoyed a monopoly in buying and selling the produce and there were occasional threats and physical intimidation against the Cooperative.
Dom Edward returned to his Community at Downside in 1972, once again teaching in the School, taking on the additional duties of guest master, looking after the many visitors who came to the Abbey for conferences and retreats, of monastic choirmaster, in 1974, and running a ‘house’ of between eighty and ninety 14-18 year old boys from 1975 to 1984.
In the autumn of 1984, with a view to establishing a retreat centre when he finished teaching, Dom Edward undertook a three-month course of apostolic spirituality at the Jesuit house of St Beuno’s in North Wales, where Gerard Manley Hopkins had written the ‘Wreck of the Deutschland’ and other poems. He took up temporary residence at the Catholic Chaplaincy here in Bristol in order to work on this project. However as it turned out, and happily for us, the retreat centre project did not work out. After two terms as assistant to the previous Chaplain, Father Thomas Atthill, Dom Edward became Catholic Chaplain at the University of Bristol in the autumn of 1985.
The majority of students perhaps never come into contact with a Chaplain and may be hardly aware of their existence. However Chaplains from across various religious and spiritual traditions work within the University to support students whatever their religious persuasion may or may not happen to be. Chaplains have a role, of course, in encouraging those who have faith along their spiritual journey – and not least in helping to explore the way our faith and spirituality relates to and is worked out in the whole of our lives. And they are certainly glad to discuss matters of faith and spirituality with all who come to them – religious or not – as well as be a listening ear for anyone who wishes to talk about any of many concerns and difficulties that we all face to a greater or lesser extent, at one time or another – to do with the course we’re studying, work crises, relationships, accommodation, health and bereavement and so on, all of which have a spiritual aspect to them. But beyond the specifics they have a role too in being a physical reminder of the ultimate questions to do with life – that there are ultimate questions – what is it all for, this life we are living in all our struggling and striving and hoping and achieving? What do we want to be? Who do we want to be? The Chaplains certainly don’t have all the answers, but perhaps they have some of the questions.
So Father Edward became a University Chaplain which, by his own admission, was something of a culture shock after nine years as a housemaster in a public school – a position of authority with a ready-made structure for relating to those for whom he was responsible. Here his life was much more of a blank sheet ready for him to write on and make of it what he would. And what he made of it was a creative and engaging ministry that had a profound and continuing impact on those who found themselves involved with it – some later finding themselves working with the poor throughout the world as a result, including one former Student Union Vice-President who went on to work with street children in Guatemala.
Nearer to home, Father Edward involved many students over the years in the soup-run to down-and-outs and homeless people on the streets of Bristol, and the Catholic Chaplaincy itself became something of an evening drop-in centre for homeless men, offering them tea, shelter and conversation with students. This open-door policy challenged the students and other members of the congregation to reassess their values and assumptions about life on a daily basis. At the residential Catholic Chaplaincy students took it in turns to prepare a common meal for other residents and their guests furthering opportunities for discussion and contemplation.
There was an evolving programme of events and speakers at the Chaplaincy and a number of student retreats and visits, for example to Taizé in France and to Belfast with the wider Ecumenical Chaplaincy visiting groups both Protestant and Catholic involved in working for peace in Northern Ireland. Through all of this students were able to widen their horizons and engage with those who were different from themselves, people they would otherwise never normally meet.
Father Edward played a full part in the Ecumenical Chaplaincy and for a number of years was the Chair of the Chaplains Group. This was not without tension as Father Edward sought to steer the course between ministering to Catholic students and staff whilst contributing to the wider University community and working with colleagues from other denominations in the very early days of the Ecumenical Chaplaincy Centre. Looking back today, now that the Chaplaincy is a fully Ecumenical Partnership, it is easy to forget that this has not always been the case and I take courage from this as we begin the tentative steps towards developing the Chaplaincy in a multi-faith dimension, seeking to make provision for and build relationships and understanding between students of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and other traditions.
In 1993 after eight years as a Chaplain at the University of Bristol, Father Edward entered parish ministry – in Bungay, Suffolk where he still is. During this time he has been able to return to a concern that first arose for him in 1974 when reading an article in the Observer about a priest in Chile, Michael Woodward, who was tortured and ‘died-in-custody’ shortly after the military coup in 1973. Like Father Edward, Woodward had been a student at Downside, though about five years his senior. Father Edward’s experience in Peru gave a further affinity with Michael Woodward in his concern for the plight of the poor in Latin America. Out of this came the determination to find out the truth about what happened to him and to tell his story – from his beginnings as a child born in Chile to an expatriate family, through his schooling there and later at Downside, his vocation to the priesthood and his identification with the workers of Chile and his growing political activity, distancing from him the institutional Church which had effectively disowned him by the time of his death. The story is told in Edward Crouzet’s book Blood on the Esmeralda (named after the prison ship on which Woodward was held) published in Spanish in 2001 and in English in 2002 to widespread critical acclaim, particularly in Latin America. Its contents have led to moves to bring those responsible to trial.
When I mentioned to a university colleague recently that Edward Crouzet had been put forward for an honorary doctorate, he responded, ‘I’m so glad – Edward thoroughly deserves it – he is such a good man; intellectually, practically and socially … he was popular amongst students and also well liked and respected by others who wouldn’t normally go near a Church. And his book is brilliant: no pressure on the reader, in one sense, but actually lots of pressure in the sense of a challenge.’
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I present to you John Edward Crouzet as eminently worthy of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.