Obituary

Dom Cuthbert Johnson

On Monday 16th January 2017, our beloved brother, the Right Reverend Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, fourth Abbot of Quarr, died peacefully, aged 70 at Holy Cross Care Home in Sunderland (England).

Peter Johnson was born on 11th July 1946, the feast of St Benedict. He was greatly influenced by this fact and by the proximity of his home and his schools to the sites of ancient monasticism at Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose, Lindisfarne and Jarrow-Wearmouth. The family of four children lived at Hebburn on Tyne where his father was a welder in Leslie's shipyard. He entered the White Fathers minor seminary, following the example of his elder brother Stephen, a priest of the diocese. Aged eighteen, he joined our novitiate where he took the name of the famous Northumbrian abbot St Cuthbert. He made his first profession on 8th September 1966, together with our present prior, Fr Gregory Corcoran.  At Quarr, the community kept the tradition of the chant and had a good level of scholarship, exemplified in monks such as Dom Frederick Hockey, Dom Louis Brou, Dom Henry Ashworth, the latter two long involved with the Henry Bradshaw Society. The young Brother Cuthbert benefited from this stimulus.         

He was ordained a priest in 1973. In 1975 he was sent to begin further studies in liturgy at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at Sant'Anselmo, in Rome. Later he completed a diploma in Christian archaeology and a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy with a thesis on Dom Prosper Guéranger, the founder of Solesmes. In 1983 he was called to serve the Church in the Congregation for the Divine Worship, where he worked until 1996. In those thirteen years he developed many international contacts, travelling in the Americas, the Far East and Africa. His affability made him many friends and he was well known to the Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Following the sudden death of Abbot Leo Avery (abbot from 1992-1996), he was elected the 4th Abbot of Quarr. He generously accepted this unexpected mission and did his best to give his community a new impulse. As Abbot, Dom Cuthbert began to realise the potential of Quarr as a place where all could discover that peace which it is so difficult to find in the world today. With this in mind he used a legacy to establish our new guesthouse, opened a substantial area of the monastic gardens to the public and provided the teashop and other facilities. Significant improvements were made in public access to the church. He also provided new workshops and re-established our book bindery. His temperament made of him more a man of intuition and vision than an administrator. He certainly contributed a lot to opening Quarr to a larger public, but he was less successful in the management of persons.

Abbot Cuthbert had great interest in the Island, and his cheerful presence became familiar. He served for a time as chairman of Fishbourne Parish Council.

After his resignation in 2008, he served as chaplain in various houses of nuns and eventually took on the parishes first of Swinburne then of Bellingham in his native diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. He remained a scholar who published regularly in liturgical reviews, and a historian who wrote widely appreciated books. From 1992 he had been a member of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses and from 1997 till the time of his death, he was a Consultor of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, appointed by Pope John Paul II and reappointed also by Pope Benedict XVI. In the long years 2001-2015 he was an advisor to the Congregation’s Vox Clara Committee, as well as serving as the Holy See’s liturgical liaison with the Carthusian Order, visiting the Grande Chartreuse in person.

He was known for a large number of liturgical studies, though his bibliography has yet to be published. Several volumes were issued in the Instrumenta Liturgica Quarreriensia, and others concerned the sources of texts appearing in the current Latin form of the Roman Rite. In 2003 he published an edition of correspondence between Abbot Guéranger and the pioneering archeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi and in 2015 an edition of papers of Mgr Lawrence McReavy, of Ushaw College, recounting his work as an expert at the Vatican Council. In April 2007, after serving for nearly 20 years as a member of the Council of the Henry Bradshaw Society, he was elected the Society’s President, being re-elected annually till the year of his death. He had personally researched the Society’s foundation, especially in his younger years. The election was an honour Dom Cuthbert appreciated and he accomplished the role with diligence.

During the summer of 2016, he suffered a stroke. He was diagnosed with three tumours in the brain for which no treatment was possible. His condition making impossible the return to Quarr which he desired, he accepted this last trial with faith and simplicity. He had been visited regularly by his family and members of the community when he died peacefully, two days after his brother of profession Dom Gregory had given him the anointment of the sick.