At the funeral of Fr Maurus, Abbot Timothy began his homily by saying that the Fr Maurus we knew and loved was God’s special friend. He explained that he would witness to God no matter the circumstances. He would ask the awkward questions, adopt the hopeless, and champion principle even if it were inconvenient. One might add that at one level, Maurus felt a personal failure, but by God’s grace this was redeemed in him. Fr Abbot discerned the divine thread in Maurus’s life.
He was affectionately known by the nickname “Apostle” in the Focolare movement. Others referred to him as a “Knight in Shining Armour” as he took up one cause after another. Both titles are fitting, as he was a romantic who had not only enthusiasm and zeal for the love of God and the Church, for the true and the beautiful and the morally right. He also had a yearning for martyrdom. He was a devoted monk and priest.
Maurus Green was full of contradictions and goodness. Born 27 December 1919 in Harrow on the Hill of an English Father and an Irish mother, he considered himself more Irish than English. He was both an observant and pious monk and yet could be extremely human, funny, bordering on the irreverent. He was a very good athlete as a young man and retained a physical resilience all his life, yet he could look a wreck of a man well before he was confined to a sick room. He was scrupulous yet audacious, he was very precise in discussions about certain issues, but could be vague and forgetful. He had a way with words, both in conversation and in his writings and he was an expert on the Shroud of Turin. He researched details of theology and biography, and meticulously worked on the books and articles he wrote, but he was not an intellectual. He could be both the most amusing companion and quite infuriating. He could be kind, courteous and compassionate and then sometimes off-hand and even to his own shame, cutting. He was always quick to apologise and quick to start again after mistakes. With all this went an engaging smile, a wonderful sense of humour, a sense of his own unworthiness and a longing for divine mercy for himself and for others. This was the person that God called to become Christ-like as a monk and priest and as Maurus himself would say after surviving more than one near-death experience, “I am not yet cooked well enough to enter heaven”. When one got to know him, he was a good, warm- hearted friend, and this was especially true as he reached the end of his life in the infirmary at Ampleforth and a happy three year “slow-cooking process” of sanctification there.
Maurus’s childhood was like the rest of his life, colourful. His father was himself clearly a kind of genius and played a large influence on his life. He was a staunch Catholic, an author, and an influential career army officer, reminding one of a romantic, military Hillaire Belloc. He was the son of a Buckinghamshire small landowner, at Chetwode Priory. His father was not born a Catholic; indeed his father’s mother was from Irish Protestant stock of Wexford. Maurus tells amusingly a story involving both the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament who were involved in his father’s conversion. The Bosun, as his father was affectionately named (he had been in the Navy before joining the Army where he was on the Staff at Sandhurst) went to Ireland in 1916 after the Easter rising, and there visiting his relatives in Wexford met a Dr Mitchell who had four daughters. He married Amy, and they came to live in England. They had two children, Maurus (baptised Anthony) and Gerald, 18 months the younger. But with his father in the Army, his mother went with him to India and there, when Maurus was seven, went the two boys. They were looked after by a nanny (an Ayah) and then the boys returned and were sent to what Maurus described as “an extraordinary school” run by a priest called Fr Martin Edwards not far from Chetwode. During the holidays they stayed with various aunts with the parents being in India. He was sent to Ampleforth when he was 11 and was in the first group of boys that attended Gilling prep school. He loved Ampleforth, where he was radiantly happy under the benign influences of kindly monks like Fr Illtud Williams and Fr David Ogilvie Forbes who was a major role model for him. When he was still a young teenager his mother, whom he loved, died. His father soon married again, a widow and a non-Catholic with a daughter two years older than young Anthony Green. Maurus took a dim view of this situation and admitted that Ampleforth was an escape from his stepmother and half-sister. But Maurus did not neglect his stepmother, looking after her in her old age, and he remained close to his half-sister. One wonders how a strong religious background, together with long absences from loving parents, not unusual in those imperial days, together with the trauma of the death of his mother and other influences on an impressionable, sensitive and pious young man affected him. At the end of the war came the tragic death of his brother Gerald, whom Maurus missed for the rest of his life.
Maurus the schoolboy enjoyed seven years at Ampleforth, where he distinguished himself as an athlete, a long distance runner. He was also a whipper-in and master of the hounds. He loved scouting, Fr Mark Haidey befriended him and he admired Fr Paul Neville, the headmaster. He grew in his love for Our Lady, and in 1938 with the guidance of Fr David Ogilvie Forbes he entered the noviciate. All his life Maurus was enthusiastic about various causes. As a boy it was his pious devotion that marked him out and his zeal for the Young Christian workers, League of Christ the King, and the cell movement. These and other causes, together with zealous devotion as a young and scrupulous monk continued to captivate him all his life. At the end, while in Leyland, he enthusiastically promoted the Divine Mercy devotion that began with a Polish nun, Sister Faustina. This has caught on, and now largely due to Maurus’s influence we celebrate “Divine Mercy” in Leyland each Low Sunday alongside many other Parishes all over the world.
One of his noviciate companions was Fr Kenneth Brennan, an Irish diocesan priest of the Glasgow Archdiocese. The sanity, common sense and experience of the young Kenneth were a great help to the group, especially Maurus. He discovered Fr Maurus Bluté, a huge Frenchman who had transferred his stability to Ampleforth from a French monastery. He loved the Frenchman’s pronunciation of English and to the end of his life, Maurus would mimic him, and others, and he could be the life and soul of the party. He was also a good mimic of Pope John Paul II.
Since his youth Maurus was profoundly deaf. It did not prevent him teaching, preaching, conversation or life at university. In many a gathering you would hear whistling from his hearing aid and generally he would sort it out with a gracious smile.
He was accepted for solemn vows in 1942 and went to St Benet’s in Oxford during the war where he read modern languages, gaining his degree. He came back to Ampleforth for theology, teaching, and was involved in scouting. He was soon put on parish work around the Abbey, looking after Oswaldkirk from 1950-1954. In 1956 he was sent to work on our parish of St Austin’s in Liverpool. He spent until 1998 in our monastic parochial ministry on five parishes, St Austin’s Liverpool, Maryport, St Benedict’s Warrington, St Peter’s, Seel Street, Liverpool, St Mary’s Warrington and St Mary’s Leyland. All those years he heard ringing in his ears the departing phrase of Abbot Herbert Byrne as the young 35-year old, zealous and earnest Maurus, sad at leaving Ampleforth, left on his first mission experience: “Try, Father dear, not to do too much harm”. It is still a good axiom for monks today.
Maurus was unconventional as a Parish Father. He had very broad interests, and a mind and heart that truly saw everyone as his brother and sister. He was interested in other Christians, in those of other faiths, in those who had no faith. He was interested and supportive of people of other countries, cultures and races. He was ready to take on causes, groups and needy individuals, and this meant that he would not fit neatly into a generally accepted pattern of life for a monastic priest. Maurus was never a Parish Priest and although this is not unusual in our Ampleforth community’s parochial life, it rankled. Yet he also knew that such responsibility would cramp his style. Personal contacts led to long-lasting friendships and made deep impressions on peoples’ lives that changed them forever. Maurus remained loyal and loving, sometimes when the “parishioner/friend” was not congenial. So he is affectionately remembered by the ramblers at St Austin’s, those he helped in the work for the unemployed in Warrington, his youth group in Maryport, the parents and children who went with him on his family outings in Leyland. He opened an ecumenical centre for the unemployed in Warrington, where he also founded the Samaritans. He was closely involved with The Catholic Marriage Advisory Council in Warrington, and was a supporter of Natural Family Planning. He supported many traditional moral causes, and was a champion for Victoria Gillick in her campaigns against giving the pill to teenage daughters without parental consent. He worked with national bodies to uphold family values. He would write to Cardinals, Archbishops, politicians and the press and researched carefully to get the right facts. He wrote to the Queen asking her to withhold her consent to proposed legislation in Parliament that was opposed to traditional morality. He had written to various Prime Ministers and senior government ministers. He would get very angry at the thought that legalised abortion began in Britain and he had many personal contacts among the British pro-Life lobby, some being distinguished old boys of Ampleforth. He was well known to the SPUC and LIFE officials both in the north-west and nationally. There are many different campaigns in which he was involved. He would invite others to join him in these causes, thinking nothing of asking you to write letters, campaign, give money and time to what he saw so clearly as being morally right.
There is one strand in Maurus that helps us to understand his vision. This was his involvement in the Focolare Movement from 1961 until his death. The ideal of the Focolare is to live for the unity that Jesus prayed for in his last testament (John 17, 21). There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been helped by this Charism of the Spirit all over the world, and Maurus met people from many different countries, and saw God’s love in them. Authentic witness appeals and in Britain, Maurus was the first priest to be involved. Maurus knew that the Focolare Movement was accepted by the Church and was theologically and spiritually sound. However it has associates and even members who come from many different Christian denominations and other world religions or those of no faith. But its origin is Catholic and formed in the Word of God. It does not easily fit with standard Catholic structures, and corresponds to Jesus’s saying about the scribe who becomes a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven and brings forth from his storeroom both new and old (Matthew 13; 52). The Focolare spirit simply strengthened and supported Maurus. The founder of the Focolare, Chiara Lubich knew Maurus and recognising his importance in this spiritual family of people in Britain and Ireland sent a personal message on the occasion of his funeral 17 September 2001. It reads: “I participate with emotion in the celebration of the last greeting for our dear friend Fr Maurus Green who left us on the feast of the name of Mary (12 September), whom he loved so much. Fr Green was a true witness of our ideal from the beginning since its diffusion in Great Britain and Ireland, and for this reason we gave him the name “Apostle”. How many of us have known the Movement personally from him! He was prodigal in bringing the light of the Charism to as many people as possible, being a model of a monk and priest according to the heart of God, full of mercy. With much gratitude we pray for him and ask him to help us still to accept God’s gifts and use them well for His Kingdom. With many greetings to all… .”
The vision and motivation of Maurus became increasingly that of St Benedict and the Focolare. This did not prevent him being involved in many other spiritual currents, especially Marian ones. He was a great devotee of Medjugorje and of the Divine Mercy. He loved the spirit of the Marian Movement for Priests, and he loved Fatima, Lourdes, Garibandal and Knock. But the three books he wrote (one is a translation) let us into his deepest convictions.
His first book, She Died, She Lives is about a young girl called Maria Orsola from a small parish near Turin whose cause for canonisation is under way. She was deeply involved in the Focolare, and Maurus was fascinated by her story and by meeting her companions and her family. His book allowed him both to tell the English speaking world about Maria and to express his own convictions though her. Maurus followed his father’s example and She Died She Lives published in 1977 was written under the pseudonym of George Francis. His father wrote under the name B.G.Sandhurst. Maurus thought that were his name attached to the book, then the brethren and others from the dioceses in which he served would be prejudiced against it! All publications of monks have to be approved by a censor of books, and when Abbot Ambrose asked Fr Aelred Graham to read it, he surprised Maurus when he likened Maria Orsola to Therèse of Lisieux. Fr Aelred added that he found Maria more attractive as she spoke openly of her boy friends, her dancing, her singing and her life in the modern context.
The next book is not his, but is his translation from the Spanish. It is called Our Father St Benedict, written by two Benedictine Spanish nuns of Montserrat, and was published in 1982. Maurus writes the preface and in that he links St Benedict with Jesus, his master. He realised the heart of the matter for us monks is to live as Benedict would in today’s world: “If Benedict were to return today he would surely recognise himself in this fresh portrait” a revealing statement!
His last book was called The Vanishing Root published in 1994. It is about Eddie McCaffrey, a young boy with muscular dystrophy who lived with his parents in St Austin’s parish, Liverpool. Later Eddie and his mother (who is still alive) moved to his stepfather’s native Dublin. Maurus knew him well at St Austin’s and in Ireland. Eddie was in a wheel- chair from a young age, and he could have ended a bitter young man. In the event, through the spirit of unity of the Focolare that he lived and loved, he became a source of new life for many people in Ireland. The first friends of the Focolare in Ireland used to meet in Eddie’s house. Maurus recognised the greatness of Eddie and wanted to make him known. He was a remarkable young man, dying at the age of 30 with almost every muscle in his body broken and useless after his life of love for God and others.
One of the secrets of Maurus was his loving understanding of the cross. He writes about it in his own books, and he lived it in his life in many different ways. We used to see the great smile and the love in his heart, and behind it all was a sense of spiritual and human failure that was redeemed. For him failure is the way ahead. Maybe this is another good lesson for us all. He never reached high rank in the monastery, but as Fr Abbot said at the funeral, he was God’s special friend. May he rest in peace and pray for us all.
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