Monks have little in their lives for a biographer, or even for the writer of an obituary notice. Their lives are submerged in the monastic family. The routine in cloister, school and parish has its own momentum, not theirs: there is, generally, little incident. Its interest is in God's eyes, and not for us to tell. Or is it? No one can write about Father Gabriel without thinking of that: this is something we all know. His life was full of diffusing goodness.
Peter Hubert Gordon Gilbey was the elder son of Gordon Gilbey and his wife Grace. On the death of his grandfather, the seventh Lord Vaux of Harrowden, in 1935 the family peerage was called out of abeyance in favour of his mother who became Baroness Vaux of Harrowden in her own right in 1938.
I first knew Father Gabriel when in 1923 at the age of eight, he came to Ladycross. My memory is of a small fat boy, his fist permanently screwed into his eye, his face purple with grief, and howling his head off. It did not seem to be a happy time in his life. After two years he was removed to the larger air of Ampleforth where the atmosphere, if not the climate, was more tender. The present writer had no such soft option and had to stick it out until 1926 when they were reunited, and eventually found themselves in the same House, St Oswald's, and sharing the same inestimable and unforgettable privilege of having Father Stephen Marwood for Housemaster. Peter was a very pious boy - but solid. Anything less like the frail young aristocrat would have been hard to imagine. He developed a huge devotion to St Gabriel Possenti, a young Italian Passionist canonized in 1920. We found this strange, and it prompted not a little comment. Peter was undeterred, and when he entered the novitiate in 1932 he took the name of Gabriel on receiving the habit. He was rock solid in his vocation. His mother, a devout and sensible woman, was aghast at his decision to become a monk. Peter simply told her to remember the feelings of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross. We cheered this to the echo. But not all of us would have given quite the same advice in quite the same terms. But his priorities were simple to him, and he always ran true to form. At that age (how strange sound the mores of our youth) I had always been told that no one (but no one) wore a brown suit. We welcomed Peter, I remember, in the Cloister one September evening in 1932 when he came to join the novitiate; and it was no surprise to find him in a suit of brightest chocolate. He was always more robust than refined.
Our novitiate overlapped by a year, and then he came up to St Benet's, Oxford in 1935. There had been at first some thought of him reading Honour Moderations, but he was not that kind of man. He ended by reading Pass Moderations and taking a Pass degree in 1938, and returned to Ampleforth. We were ordained in the same year, 1940 (another bond between us) and then began his monastic work at Ampleforth, teaching in the Junior House as Assistant to Father Peter Utley where he was very happy. He worked there for thirteen years. In 1953 he was sent on to the Mission, first to Cardiff and then in 1957 to St Alban's, Warrington. Here, in 1958, on the death of his mother, he succeeded her as ninth Lord Vaux of Harrowden. He accepted this with characteristic simplicity. He was neither embarrassed nor side-tracked. He took his seat and spoke once or twice in the House - once, at least, in a debate on Youth Service which was something about which he knew at first hand. He was made Parish Priest of St Mary's, Warrington, in 1962, and there he remained until 1976 when increasing ill health led to his retirement. He continued to live at St Mary's, in and out of hospital, and had the joy of seeing the centenary celebrations of the Church there. He died peacefully on 1st November 1977 and was buried at Warrington.
Like so many monks Father Gabriel was to find himself most successfully fulfilled not so much in his teaching (though he was very happy in that) but on the Mission. There he found the flowering of his monastic family service, and he was a most successful and greatly loved missioner and Parish Priest. Here his qualities of simplicity and sympathy found full scope. He felt, as so many Ampleforth men, the pang of leaving monastery and school. But there can be no doubt that he enjoyed the success he found in the new sphere of monastic work in a parish. It was in Warrington and in his parish that he belonged, and here his powers came into full play. The manifestations of affection at his funeral were a just tribute to the way in which he had identified himself with, and endeared himself to, his parishioners. There lay his gifts, and there his reward. May he rest in peace.
PETER GABRIEL GILBEY 1 November 1977 9th Baron Vaux of Harrowden 1914 28 Jun Born Denham Bucks 1923-25 Educ Ladycross School 1925-32 Educ Ampleforth 1932 19 Sep Habit Abbot Matthews 1933 21 Sep Simple Vows " " 1935-38 Oxford SBH Languages 1936 21 Sep Solemn Vows Abbot Matthews 1937 Apr Tonsure & Minor Orders " " Jul Subdeacon Bishop Shine 1938 17 Jul Deacon " " 1940 21 Jul Priest " " 1940 Sep Assistant at Junior House 1953 Sep Cardiff 1957 Oct St Alban's Warrington 1958 11 May Succeeded his mother as 9th Baron Vaux 26 Nov & 27 Nov Took seat in H of Lords 1962 Sep Parish Priest St Mary's Warrington 1976 Jun Retired as Parish Priest - seriously ill 1977 1 Nov Died in Borough General Hospital 4 Nov Buried in Warrington Cemetery