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The Most Revd Dr Donald Arthur Richard Caird

23 June 2017


Pastoral scholar: Archbishop Donald Caird in 1988

Pastoral scholar: Archbishop Donald Caird in 1988

The Revd Dr Adrian Empey writes:

THE Most Revd Dr Donald Arthur Richard Caird, formerly Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop of Glendalough and Primate of Ireland, who died on 1 June, was born in Dublin in 1925. He attended Wesley College, and went on to study philosophy and divinity in Trinity College, Dublin (1944-50), in the course of which he became a Scholar of the House.

He was possessed of a quick wit, and no one could doubt his intellectual range. His philosophical formation was evident, whether in conversation or indeed in public discourse. It underlay much of his thought — illuminating complex issues, but reportedly, at one confirmation service, leaving the hapless candidates somewhat bemused by references to Aristotle. He earned a BD in 1955, later receiving two honorary degrees — DD and LLD — in recognition of his services to his country.

Ordained deacon in 1950, he served as in St Mark’s, Dundela, in Belfast, for three years, an experience that he found very different from his accustomed cultural milieu, but nevertheless deeply rewarding. Although he seemed destined initially for a teaching career, both as chaplain and assistant master at Portora Royal School (1953-57), and subsequently as Lecturer in Philosophy at St David’s University College, Lampeter (1957-60), his appointment to the incumbency of the parish of Rathmichael near Dublin in 1960 marked a decisive shift towards pastoral ministry.

His charm and luminous personality did not go unremarked for long. He became Dean of St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, in 1969, quickly followed by his election as Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert & Aghadoe in 1970. Six years later, he was translated to the united dioceses of Meath & Kildare (1976-85), whence he was elected Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough, a position that he held with great distinction until his retirement in 1996.

His episcopal career in particular coincided with rapid changes in Irish society, following, as it did, on the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While the ecumenical gains cannot be understated, certain issues affecting the Protestant community were not so easily resolved, such as the vexed issue of inter-Church marriage. Bitter political debates about divorce and abortion raised difficult legislative challenges, not to mention differences between the main Churches, all of which called for cool heads and firm leadership.

The thorny issue of women’s ordination consumed much of the energies of the General Synod: although personally opposed, Donald gracefully accepted the eventual decision of the Church to ordain women to the priesthood. Ticking away in the background was the insistent rumble of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, inflicting much suffering, while simultaneously imposing internal strains between the northern and southern parts of the Church. As he was Archbishop of Dublin, no small responsibility for holding the Church together fell to Donald.

On the face of it, he did appear to be an obvious choice for navigating such shoals. He was famously absent-minded, and that facet of his personality gave rise to innumerable stories. On arriving at Christ Church Cathedral on the day of his enthronement, he made repeated passes of the cathedral in search of a parking space. The person assigned to look after him at the gate waved frantically to attract his attention, only to receive reciprocal waves in return. This happened several times, until the person at the gate practically flung himself in front of the car, explaining that there was a permanent parking spot reserved for the Archbishop of Dublin. “Good heavens!” came the reply. “I am the Archbishop, amn’t I?”

But there was another side to him. He had an exceptional memory, and when the occasion demanded, was capable of resolute firmness. Once he was persuaded that a certain course was the right one, no concessions would be made to convenience. It was an admirable quality, and one for which I personally had reason to be profoundly grateful. He was no less effective in the administration of his dioceses, in part because he made careful choices of clergy in key positions, whom he consulted regularly, with the result that he was very well-informed about diocesan affairs. Not a sparrow fell unnoted.

But while all these things are commendable in themselves, Donald was first and foremost Donald. He had absolutely no ambition to be other than himself, which was a core component of his personal charm. He was extraordinarily affable, talking to whomever he met, whether in the course of his duties, or walking his dog, oblivious of either the passage of time or pressure of duty. His flashes of humour added hilarity to the tedium of councils and committees. He was, in every respect, a real character, admired, respected, and held in genuine affection by many beyond the confines of the Church.

Part of his complex personality involved his love of, and rich fluency in, the Irish language. Like John Millington Synge and Robin Flower, he was fascinated by the oral and literary culture of the Blasket Islands, not to mention his affection for the islanders. His recollection of them, and their vanishing way of life, was deeply moving. It spoke volumes about the commitment of a young Dubliner who spent half a year on these windswept islands in search of something more than a language. For Donald, it also had to do with who he was, with fundamental life values, and with a broader Irish identity.

Unquestionably, the most transformative influence in his life was his American wife, Nancy Ballantyne Sharpe, who brought love and domestic stability into his somewhat spartan bachelor existence. Not only was the Church of Ireland blessed by a reconstructed Donald; it also was the beneficiary of her great personal gifts, warm hospitality, and solid integrity.

Donald is survived by his wife, his daughters, Ann and Helen, and his son, John. May he rest in peace.

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