Monday, May 30, 2016

R.I.P.: Jan. 25–Paul Nevill, O.S.B. (Updated June 22, 2016)

Dom Paul Nevill, OSB. Portrait by
James Gunn, R.A.
This day in 1954 died Dom Valentine Paul Nevill, Headmaster of Ampleforth College in Yorkshire for 30 years

He was and is widely viewed as one of Britain's great 20th-century headmasters.

I was at that time a student at Ampleforth and the news was reported to us as if a giant revered ancient oak had fallen. 

Nevill went up to St. Benet's Hall, Oxford as Brother Paul in 1902 and graduated with a B.A. in History. He was a parish priest in the Village of Ampleforth for a decade, 1914-24. From then until his death he was in a leadership position at the school.

My brother Randal Marlin was at Ampleforth a year longer than me, and was older and remembers more. He says:

I remember Father Paul very well. I was studying science and he had a special class for science students in which he taught them history. 
He and my Housemaster (St Thomas’s), Father Denis, were very close. Father Paul was very keen on the political reformer William Cobbett and his book Rural Rides. He saw that America was the new power and he wanted to make sure I, as an American, knew the kinds of issues that were ingrained in the British psyche. He explained the Monroe doctrine, without imposing on us any judgement about the absurdity of it. 
Through his historical expositions I got the idea that he favoured beer over tea and coffee. He believed in big plans. Cobbett apparently championed America because there were "no Wilberforces" there. 
Father Paul could be quite terrifying. I remember that one of the Irish boys had played the prank of turning on all the water taps just before our bus left, causing flooding. Father Paul got to the bus before it left and found out who the culprit was and gave him a thorough dressing down. I could be wrong, but I think the idea was that the bus would be going nowhere until the perpetrator 'fessed up.
Father Paul must have been a good teacher for me to remember as much as I do.
It is said that at a Headmasters’ conference he was the last speaker. Others had been saying in so many ways that at their school they prepared boys for life, for good citizenry, etc. The legend is that Father Paul said: "At Ampleforth, on the contrary, our mission is to prepare boys for death, to live a good Christian life in preparation for the final day of judgement."
I should note that not all Ampleforth alumni view Dom Paul Nevill as the very model of a modern headmaster. Someone has written to me to argue that his views were  "reactionary". Certainly they were, by today's standards, and even by the standards of post-WW2 Britain. But he was a good exemplar of the kind of person who gave spine to the British Empire in its heyday.

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