CV  |  Source  |  Index


Born: 22 Dec 1906 –  died: 20 Dec 1993
Clothed - 22 Sep 1924
Solemn Vows- 23 Sep 1928
Priest - 23 Jul 1933

Francis Gerard Sitwell was son of Major Francis and Margaret Elizabeth Sitwell and was born on 22 December 1906 at their home at Woole in Northumberland. He was educated at Ampleforth and ended his school career as Head Monitor and Master of the Beagles. He was a gifted long-distance runner with prodigious stamina. All his life he was a man of the open country who was not at home in the town - except perhaps in Oxford. On leaving school he joined the monastery at Ampleforth and received the Benedictine habit in September 1924. He went up to St Benet's Hall, Oxford to read English and obtained a Second in 1930. For the next three years he stayed on at St Benet's to read Theology at Blackfriars. He returned to his monastery at Ampleforth in 1933 and began to teach English in the College. At the weekends he served in various local chapels, notably at Helmsley. In 1940 came the most improbable episode of his life when there was a crisis in the administration of the Procurator's Office and he joined another distinguished academic (Fr Thomas Loughlin) in the Accounts Office to write up ledgers and draw up bills. It was slightly more convincing when he was put in charge of the Farm. This brought him out into the country which he loved and until 1947 he was a contented farmer - and also Subprior in the last year.

Then came a very big change when Fr Gerard was sent to be Master of St Benet's Hall. He went into a world which had attracted him as undergraduate. He had all the instincts and habits of a scholar even though he had not done himself fully justice in Schools. Besides looking after the young men at the Hall as Master, he gave them an impeccable example of monastic stability and fidelity together with a scholarly absent-mindedness which for the young was alternately endearing and frustrating. He was Master for 17 years and during that time came into his own in scholarly writing on The English Mystics, various topics in Benedictine History and on other spiritual subjects. The following were the most notable publications: St Odo of Cluny by John of Salerno. Translated & edited. Holy Wsdom by Augustine Baker. Edited and translated. The Scale of Perfection by Walter Hilton. Translated & edited. The Ancrene Riwle translated and edited. Medieval Spiritual Writers - Faith & Fact Books. Various Articles in The Ampleforth Journal and the Downside Review. There were articles also in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité.

Fr Gerard left Oxford in 1964 to become Assistant at the Ampleforth parish at Warwick Bridge. In 1966 he succeeded as Parish Priest. It was far from Oxford in more senses than one, but it was nearly in his own Northumberland and appealed to his love of the northern countryside. He came back to the Abbey in 1969 to become parish priest in Ampleforth village. Then he retired from active work in 1977 and his ill-health started with anaemia. He became steadily weaker during the '80s and visibly more frail but got about as much as he could with great cheerfulness and abandon. It was a special cross for him when he ceased to be able to read and then there was a gradual deterioration of his speech until it became almost impossible to communicate with him except through that unforgettable smile which used to shine forth quite suddenly in spite of all frustrations and impatience. He had a long wait for death through years in which his inability to communicate by speech brought the suffering of increasing isolation, although he always had contact with the community through the devoted care of the infirmarians. When at last he was released on the morning of 20 December 1993 it was during the Prayers for the Dying that he gently ceased to breathe and his long vigil was at an end. May he rest in peace.

N.P.B.[Abbot Patrick Barry]

Fr GERARD: an appreciation by a contemporary

Harmon Grisewood (1924) writes, in a letter to the Editor:

I read this morning that Gerard Sitwell has died. He was my oldest friend. Joe Massey (Fr Paulinus), Tom Rittner, Frank Sitwell and I were a quartet of close friends all through our schooldays and beyond. I owe much to the companionship of those three. It is in those formative years that the catholic religion and personal affection become intertwined. Confidences are exchanged which teach one the value of friendship. Jokes are shared, appreciations are enhanced or diminished, weaknesses are confessed and fidelities are confirmed. The insights thus engendered would not have been what they were nor would they have lasted without the influences which each gave to the others. And so it is that I owe to Gerard Sitwell an inexpressible gratitude - a gratitude for more than I can know.

He had a brother who lived near here [Suffolk]. Commander Oswald Sitwell RN. Gerard used to visit him and would visit me at the same time. Oswald had something of same reticent holiness as his brother. He was the mainstay of the Catholic Church at Framlingham and always served the Mass of the parish priest who was blind and old. He said his Mass by heart because he couldn't read. I shall never forget the well-mannered tact with which Oswald would say the passages in the liturgy which poor Fr Jolly had forgotten. Gerard would have done the same.

When Gerard came on to see me after staying with his brother it was a great joy to slip easily into the familiarity which we had enjoyed at Ampleforth. He talked of prayer as easily as he told me of the life he led at the Abbey. As he was leaving one evening he said: 'Keep on saying the Angelus and you will be all right'. It is because of the way Gerard said this that I do 'keep on'. He spoke, too, fluently about the grace of God within us as we pray and of the trust we should have in God. He spoke to me, too, with wonderful insight and sympathy about marriage and its attendant difficulties. He understood the special difficulties for anyone with an artistic temperament. I doubt if I could have received this help from anyone who had not known one as a boy. It relied upon an ease which only the years can bring.

Nor should we omit his kinship with those other Sitwells - Osbert, Edith and Co. Oswald did explain this to me once but the detail has fallen from my memory - except that there is a well known picture of three Sitwell brothers - a Gainsborough or a Gainsborough-like painting - and each of the three had large estates in Northumberland. Renishaw was one. It is from a neighbouring estate that Gerard's ancestors flourished.

Harmon Grisewood


Details from the Abbey Necrology

Francis Gerard SITWELL
     1906 Dec  22   b Wooler Northumberland
                    ed Ampleforth
     1924 Sept 22   Habit Ampleforth    Prior. B. Turner
     1925 Sept 23   Simple Vows    Abbot Matthews
     1928 Sept 23   Solemn Vows    -do-
     1930 Dec 29,30 Tonsure & Minor Orders    
     1931 Jan 2
     1931 Jly 19    Subdeacon       Bishop Vaughan
     1932 Jly  24   Deacon         Bishop Shine
     1933 Jly  23   Priest    

     1927-1930 St Benet's Hall Oxford English 2
     1930-1933 St Benet's and Blackfriars Theology
     1933 Sept Ampleforth School Staff
     1934 May  served Stonegrave (Scrope) 
     1937 -1939     Priest in charge of chapel at Helmsley
     1940 -1947     Assistant Procurator (Farm)
     1946 -1947     Subprior
     1947 Jly  Master of St Benet's Hall Oxford
     1964 Sept Warwick Bridge/Assistant
     1966 Feb   -do-        PP
     1969 Sept returned to Abbey, PP Ampleforth Village
     1977 Feb  retired 
     1993 Dec 20    Died peacefully at Ampleforth
                    Buried at Ampleforth

Sources: AJ 99:1 (1994) 15
© Ampleforth Abbey Trustees   February 2000   Top