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Born: 10 May 1906  –  died: 11 Feb 1986
Clothed - 22 Jun 1928
Professed - 26 Jun 1929
Solemn Vows- 8 Dec 1932
Priest - 17 Jul 1938

During the night of 12 April 1979, while he was staying at Parbold with his family for a period of convalescence after a prostate operation in York, Father Anthony suffered a severe heart attack. He thought he was dying and was not alone in thinking that, but he made a good recovery and was back in the Abbey on 9 June. He was a man always sensitive to the help he received from others and ready in his appreciation, but prayer was the first recourse for him in times of trouble. On his return he expressed his gratitude for the 'immense kindness' and care that had been showered on him, but he attributed his recovery principally to prayer. 'It is a joy to be home:' he wrote, 'and to know what it is to face death.' That return was the beginning of the last phase of his life and his comment at the time summed up the spirit in which he lived the seven years to come. He was at home in the Abbey and at home in the prayer through which in strong faith and hope he faced death and eternity.

There was a gradual deterioration in his health during those last years. He had to go carefully and there were times of anxiety and crisis. In February 1985 he had another heart attack and was in hospital again, but he recovered, seemed to be restored to his former self and returned to his quiet and prayerful life in the monastery - not giving in, as cheerful as ever and involved in the life around him so far as his health would allow.

It was during these years of retirement and threatened health, when he could no longer be active and fully involved in work, that Fr Anthony came into his own and radiated an influence which never failed to draw the best from anyone who responded to it. It was not surprising that an old boy wrote at the time of his death describing him as a 'holy, kind and courteous man who gave more than he received', and he added that in his opinion Father Anthony had done much to make Ampleforth - monastery and school - so highly valued. Father Anthony had always been approachable as a confidant and guide. This was especially so during these latter years. It was not only his kindness and sympathy that made him a source of encouragement through advice and example; he had on him the mark of one who has known difficulty in his path of faith and stability and obedience and who, because of his experience of fidelity and perseverance, knew how to help those who came to him because of the radiant peace which grace had brought to him. It was never through analysis, argument, theorising that he had an effect on others; that sort of thing did not come readily to him. It was his own personal influence and the example of his faith and charity that did it. He was valued for what he was rather than for any theories he might hold or expound. His theories and thoughts about life were simple and uncomplicated: sincere devotion, fidelity, obedience: they were held with unshakeable firmness; it was the transparent fact that he lived what he professed and taught that impressed. Perhaps also there was another thing: his unfailing sense of humour was particularly captivating and powerful in its influence; he never took himself too seriously and always tended to puncture self-importance and pretentiousness in others.

Anthony Lawrence Ainscough was born at Woodlands in Parbold on 10 May 1906. He was the third and youngest son of Thomas and Jane Ainscough. When Anthony was about 12 they moved to Lancaster House, the old family home. This brought him even more to the centre of the extended family in the midst of which he grew up. It was an exceptionally secure base in an increasingly insecure world. In the heart of Lancashire stability and certainty were dominant values during Anthony's child hood: they have survived in Lancashire longer than elsewhere. In more recent times another Ainscough responded to an invitation to London by saying that he never left Lancashire for London except to see Lancashire play at Lord's. Together with all around him Anthony breathed the air of strength and security as a child. It was the Benedictines of Ampleforth who served the Parbold parish in the Church built by the Ainscoughs and that perhaps justified the move to Yorkshire for schooling at Ampleforth. Ampleforth had a further claim to respectability because the community there had been built up from the Ribble valley after 1830 and in Anthony's youth it was still overwhelmingly Lancastrian.

He was eight years old when he came to school here. He was the youngest in a school of about 150 boys. It was 1914 - the beginning of the war in which there was such indiscriminate slaughter of young men; even in a small school the roll of honour became depressingly long. At first Anthony did not like school at all and had to be corrected from hiding at home for the beginning of term. He was only twelve years old at the end of the war and so the main and formative part of his school life fell during the more expansive period after the war while dreams and hopes of better things were still in the air. He began to enjoy life at Ampleforth and even asked to stay on an extra year at school. It was a time of change and development.

When he reached the sixth form the Choir of the New Church was being built. In 1924 there was a new Headmaster, Fr Paul Nevill. There were plans and murmurings of changes to come. Shortly after Fr Paul had taken over he was amused to overhear Anthony speaking words of warning to some of his companions in the sixth form. They were to be careful, he told them, not to let this new Headmaster interfere with the established traditions of the school; they had to teach him how things should be done.

In his last year Anthony was in the rugger team and Captain of Cricket and a school monitor. He stayed until December in 1925 so that he was only five months short of his 20th birthday when he left school.It was not unusual in those days for boys to stay until they were 19 or 20. Except for the few who went to university, they were expected, when they left school, to plunge straight into the commitment of a career. For that reason they were glad to stay longer than now and the last year at school had something special about it. When he did leave Anthony began an apprenticeship with a firm of cotton brokers in Liverpool. Somehow it is difficult to picture him in that sort of career but he persevered in it for the next two years. He played rugger for Birkenhead Park and cricket at Ormskirk. He took every opportunity that offered for shooting and fishing and developed his interest in racing. Given his background it was a predictable life, until the unpredictable happened. He was accepted in 1928 for the novitiate. He had applied a year earlier but Abbot Matthews had told him to wait for a year. During that year his father died, in November 1927. After that he came back again and was accepted.

It was in June 1928 that Abbot Matthews gave him the habit. It was unusual to start a novitiate in June. He might have waited to join Br Peter Utley and Br Bernard Boyan, but somehow he stole a march on them; by doing so he qualified for the Juniors' holiday in 1929 while they stuck it out in the novitiate. Anthony's life in the monastery continued smoothly through Solemn Profession in 1932. He was up at Oxford at St Benet's Hall from 1931 to l935 when he returned with a third in Zoology. He was a junior still, doing his theology with a little teaching. In those days an assistant was usually appointed for the Novice Master - someone young enough to relate easily to the novices and not too solemn to give them some relief. Br Anthony, back from Oxford, was the ideal choice and he filled this not very demanding role for the next few years. No one could doubt his stability and the good influence he would have.

In 1938, after a last minute panic because he was taken suddenly into York in May to have his appendix out, he was ordained on l7 July. To mark the occasion his mother gave a gold watch, which had belonged to his grandfather; to Abbot Matthews. She had it inscribed 'In gratitude for the vocation of my son Anthony Ainscough to the Order of St Benedict'. It was a loving gesture, a seal of approval and thanksgiving which meant much to Fr Anthony. He was 34 and already his life in the community had that quality of centrality which gave it particular strength. His readiness for whatever was asked of him, his fidelity, his devotion, his humour were all attuned to the life of the community in monastery and schooL It was no surprise when he was appointed Games Master in the September after his ordination in succession to Fr Terence, when he became Housemaster of St Aidan's.

Before he left the school in 1925 Anthony had seen the beginning of change. The building of the choir of the Abbey Church was far advanced but work on the first of the new school buildings (St Cuthbert's and the Science Block) had only just begun. During all his 11 years experience as a boy at Ampleforth the school consisted of the Old House, the Study Wing, the Theatre and the Gymnasium. In those years the central focus of the school inside was the Headmaster's Room at the top of the circular stairs; outside it was the bounds in front between Theatre and Ball Place. Br Anthony came back from Oxford to find the House system established and then a year after his return the whole balance altered with the Headmaster's move to the Lower Building. Now the Old House was taken over by St Oswald's and the new building of Bolton House (to which St Wilfrid's had moved from the Old House in 1934 being joined by St Edward's in 1935) was a remote outpost approached by crossing a field.The games room was in the centre and Fr Anthony very naturally became a central figure.

Fr Anthony's management of the games was done with efficiency in face of great difficulty during the war period. There were many who owed much to his encouragement and he nurtured marksmen over many years right into the 70's when he took over the shooting team and prepared them for Bisley and other competitions. With such work and his teaching he was making a notable contribution to the school; yet his most important contribution (the one remembered especially by many Old Boys) was what is best described as pastoral work - his influence, general and particular exercised from his niche in the games room. Long before the canons of the art of counselling had been revealed in paperbacks, Fr Anthony knew that the most important thing is to listen; he was exceptionally good at doing that. He was never a man of new ideas and special insight, he had no message which he might seek to press upon others to fashion them in some ideal mould.The only ideas he had were the ones he lived - faith and prayer and stability. Not naturally very articulate, he would pause for words and then shut his eyes. It wasn't that he was thinking what to say, because he often made some trenchant comment with his eyes still shut. This could be disconcerting, but in the end what was remembered was his readiness to hear a whole story with real sympathy and his ability to give firm guidance; there was usually a twist of humour which made the advice come home. Fr Ralph Wright, on hearing in St Louis of Fr Anthony's death, wrote a little verse about him:

He looked into our hearts
through closed eyes
and then
with bridled laughter or
unbridled grin
told with a stark comment
what he saw concealed within.

As to his teaching biology was a somewhat neglected subject when he went up to Oxford in 1931. The biology lab here was built in 1934, when the science block was extended south, but it was appropriated to incubate the new house, St Edward's, until in the summer of 1935 Fr Raphael was able to transfer his embryonic house to the new building over the road.The lab was put into commission during Fr Anthony's first year of teaching in 1935. This was the principal scene of his teaching until his illness in 1979. He was a very successful teacher indeed who consistently obtained excellent results.He was so unobtrusive about it and so lacking in the ability or will to sell himself that his real skill in teaching was not always recognised; but it was recognised by the boys who benefited from it. It was his careful and meticulous preparation of his work, his understanding of the difficulties of boys and his own high standards that made him so successful. Although his natural bent was not academic, he was a very good schoolmaster as a classroom teacher quite apart from his success as Games Master and Housemaster.

It was in 1948 that he became Housemaster of St Aidan's, following Fr Terence. The high reputation of his house during those years testifies to his success, but it made him less available to the school as a whole. St Aidan's had been known as a House of spirit and good achievement, especially on the games field but the image was not without a suggestion of toughness which could be forbidding. It was widely noticed that Fr Anthony, while giving up nothing of the manly and honest values which characterised St Aidan's, much softened and humanised the outlook of the House. He was an unfussy Housemaster and never required lengthy conferences with individual boys: it was up to them to come to his welcoming door. He was apt to rattle his keys as he arrived down a passage. On the other hand his eyes were open and his communication with senior boys was good. There were limits to his understanding and judgement, but those were the limits of his temperament and nature. His good will was always patent, his steady consistency an invaluable point of reference for the adolescent.

In 196O Fr Anthony was called back to the monastery to become Prior, and he held that post until 1975. From 1961 to 1963 he was also Junior Master. His time as Prior covered a period of great difficulty and change in the country, in education, in the church as a whole. He did not find it easy to cope with the aftermath of Vatican II - the new liturgy, the loss of Latin, the effervescence of new ideas, the iconoclasm and irreverence of the late sixties and early seventies. For him it was particularly hard to adjust and he acquired an image of conservatism and extreme caution. In the end he adjusted in many things, but not all. It was a painful time for him. However; it was the values not subservient to fashion that saw him through, his faith, his prayer; his fidelity to obedience and there was a sense of balance which kept reasserting itself. As he came through those times a calmness came to prevail in his life; his fidelity to the Church never wavered. It was thus that he came to help others who sought some firm reference point in a changing world. His steadfastness was often a stay and inspiration to others but the cost was not light to himself.

After Fr Anthony's retirement as Prior he was elected to the Council for another year. He had first been elected by the community in 1946, and so he had served on the Council for thirty years. Now he settled down to a quieter round, still a little teaching, the prayer of the Community, his occasional ministrations in the chapel at Sledmere, meeting and talking with friends and many Old Boys, his care of the fishing and the lakes with Fr Gervase, occasional shooting in season. All his life Fr Anthony had been a real countryman. It went beyond shooting and fishing. He noted in his diary when the house martins and other migrants came and went, noted the effects of winter on wildlife, what date the harvest began and when it was completed. He served for many years on the Farm Board and came to know personally those who worked on the Farm and on the estate and always had time to talk to them. His style did not change as his health declined. He never looked for sympathy; he was ever more ready to give it.

That evening of his life we should all have loved to prolong, but it was not to be; and he was ready. He noted on 31 December last year that, 'Fr Oliver; bless him, remains serene and expressed his happiess. What better way to pass through his remaining days prior to being gathered into heaven?'. Next day, 1 January, Fr Oliver 'was called to everlasting happiness on the feast of the Mother of God'. On 7 February he noted that Fr Kenneth was 'called to his creator R.I.P. D.G.'

On 10 February Fr Anthony himself had another heart attack. It was not too senous and he remained fully conscious. He was taken into hospital in York and had a severe attack early next morning. He recognised his brethren who came in soon after and died peacefully during the prayers for the dying. It was, he would have loved to note, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Patrick Barry OSB


for Fr Anthony – by Cardinal Basil Hume

I trust I shall be forgiven if I confess to feeling a bit strange on returning to Ampleforth to find the Old House gone, new buildings being planned and built. Of course, it has to be so-there will always be changes in every monastery: newbuildings, new policies, new members of the community - all these are signs of life.

I find it, however; less pleasing to accept the changes that inevitably take place in the ranks of the Community. I am speaking of the loss of the old and familiar faces. I notice the gaps and feel sad until I remember that one after another we leave the monastery or another home where the vision of God rivets us for ever; the ceaseless song of praise and an outpouring of love. The monastery after all is but the antechamber to eternity.

Today we are assembled to pray and to speed Fr Anthony on his way to God. It is a deep Catholic instinct to pray for the dead. It is instinctive to want to say something about the man, to praise and thank God for what he was and what he did among us. And there is always grief to be sanctified. Grief has to be offered to God and any wounds it may inflict be healed by Him.T here are always two families to grieve when a monk dies, his monastic one and his relatives. In this case the two families, the Ainscoughs and ourselves, have for many a year been so closely united; to all of them we offer our sympathy.

I spoke a moment ago of change, both within the ranks of the community and in the matenal environment where we live and work. But those changes do not ever affect those profound and timeless values which characterise every monastery. Nor those special qualities which are the atmosphere and the ethos of this or that monastic family. No two monasteries are ever the same. Now I would think that the monk whom we are burying today was typical of our Community and, to a remarkable degree, loved and lived those values we know to be important. What were the special characteristics of Anthony Ainscough? Doubtless we should have our own list; here is mine.

First, he was a very obedient monk. There was nothing conformist or servile about his attitude: a strong faith made him free to embrace God's will as it was shown to him through that combination of persons, circumstances and events whereby God speaks and calls. It was the school that Fr Anthony served longest and perhaps (but who can judge?) most effectively, as Games Master; as Biology teacher and especially as Housemaster. He did all this supremely well because he believed in what he was doing and he enjoyed it. That was one of his strengths. It was, I think, far less congenial for him to become Prior; it is not easy to be the Prior of a monastery. St. Benedict, rather grudgingly, saw the need for that official and every abbot discovers pretty quickly that need also. The Prior must be always there with the Community, in the choir, in the refectory, in the calefactory, in his room, available to all. It needs special gifts and much virtue. Fr Anthony had them in abundance.

In the second place: his fidelity. He was faithful to all those monastic exercises expected of every monk whether actually resident in the monastery or living outside it. He was meticulous too in his school work. He had a firm principle; what was right and important for the boys was to be done as well as possible. If you dropped into his room, either the Games Master's room or St Aidan's or, later on, the Prior's Room, you would find him preparing a class or doing his spiritual reading, though often enough he was sorting out his fishing tackle or being disturbed by one of his many callers, and he had many of them because he was a man who had a remarkable capacity for friendship. And that gathering of friends, that extended community of old boys and parents had admiration and respect: witness this congregation today. They all knew Fr Anthony's remarkable and beguiling charm and courtesy but they knew these to be but the expression of his respect and his concern for others. And he was faithful to the community, he was everyone's friend and we were all his friends. It is rare for a person to be disliked by no one but Anthony was one such. I believe also that under God, Fr Anthony owed much to Abbot Matthews, who was a family friend, to Fr Paul, to Fr Stephen and Fr Sebastian, all these great monks. The Ampleforth which they had fashioned was a stable place, remarkably effective and very good.

Fr Anthony was more at ease in their world than in the one that took its place as a result of the Council and the profound change of our society so prevalent in the 1960's. It was a struggle for him to accept so much that he did not understand and with which he had difficulty in having sympathy. His mind was never really won to what was new. His finest achievement was precisely this, to accept decisions about the monastic life, about the Offices, the manner of saying Mass with which he found it difficult to agree; and he stayed with the community always a much respected and loved figure and he kept true to what he knew to be fundamental and important for a monk. He understood the real meaning of the vow of stability.

So l come to the end, sad like you to have lost a good friend, grateful, like you, for so much given by one who was just a thoroughly good and holy monk. Do any of us wish for any other epitaph?


Details from the Abbey Necrology

DOM ANTHONY AINSCOUGH            11 Feb 1986
1906 10 May    born Parbold  Lancs
1914-25        edc  Ampleforth College
1928 22 Jun    Habit at Ampleforth     Abbot Matthews
1929 26 Jun    Simple Vows               "      "
1932 26 Jun    Renewed Simple Vows       "      "
1932  8 Dec    Solemn Vows               "      "
1936    Apr    Tonsure  Minor Orders     "      "
1936    May    Minor Orders              "      "
1936 19 Jul    Subdeacon         Bishop Shine
1937 18 Jul    Deacon              "      "
1938 17 Jul    Priest              "      "
1931-35        Oxford  St.Benet's   Zoology
1938    Sept   Gamesmaster
1948    Sept   Housemaster - St.Aidan's
1960-75        Prior
1961-63        Junior Master
1975-86        at Ampleforth - 'honorary Prior' style VRev - teaching -
          later illness and retirement
1986 11 Feb    died in York District Hospital
     18 Feb    Buried at Ampleforth

Sources: McCann Obituaries
© Ampleforth Abbey Trustees   25 Jan 2000   Top