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Campaigner’s soul

05 December 2014

Bernard Palmer on a MOW veteran who went over to Rome

Bread Not Stones: The autobiography of an eventful life
Una Kroll
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IN HER prime, Una Kroll achieved notoriety as a rebel with a feminist cause: several causes, in fact, of which the principal one was the ordination of women to the priesthood. In 1978, she hit the headlines in a big way, when, after the General Synod had rejected a motion urging the Church of England to begin the legal process towards accepting women priests, she shouted from the gallery of Church House, Westminster: "We asked you for bread and you gave us a stone" - hence the title of her latest book.

Since then, she has faded from the limelight: not so much because her public protest in 1978 was considered by her opponents as "unseemly" and "unladylike" as because of her fear that it might prove counter-productive. In 1980, when she was in her mid-fifties, she experienced some sort of spiritual breakdown, which brought her, in her own words, to an "unpleasant full stop". But she was soon able to pick up the reins again and resume her activities, though on a less vociferous scale than in the past. Those activities involved much else besides religious campaigning.

She was a medical doctor, a professional counsellor, and a successful writer with many books to her credit. At one time, she had been a nun; and her husband, Leopold Kroll, was an ex-monk; he was 25 years her senior, and died in 1987 after a stroke. She was ordained priest in the Church in Wales in 1997, but 11 years later became a Roman Catholic.

Surprisingly, she has links with the Church of England establishment: her mother's mother was a niece of Archbishop Frederick Temple - but anyone less like an establishment figure it would be hard to imagine. As both doctor and priest, she has been an outspoken advocate for feminist causes. Some of the most moving passages in the book concern cases with which she had to deal as a counsellor.

As an autobiography, however, Bread Not Stones is less satisfactory. Parts of it are indeed autobiographical, but the book as a whole is far from being a full-life memoir. Parts of it are philosophical in tone and discuss such topics as "creative energy" and "unconditional love" and her periods of genuine religious doubt. At times, one would like to know more about her achievements and less about her thoughts. There is, for instance, little about her family life, and virtually nothing about her four children.

Nevertheless, anyone who remembers Kroll in her 1970s prime as a fearless champion of women's causes will gain much from reading this frank account of what made her the person she was - and still is.

Dr Bernard Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times.

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