Cuthbert Johnson OSB (1946-2017)

The Society notes with great sadness the death early on 16 January 2017 of our President, the Right Reverend Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB.


Born Peter Johnson at Hebburn in County Durham, England, on 11 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. In 1964, with the Second Vatican Council in course, he entered Quarr Abbey, near Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, taking the monastic name Cuthbert, the patron Saint of his home diocese. The monastery had originally been built to house the community of Solesmes during its exile from France. 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 the Henry Bradshaw Society. The young Cuthbert benefitted from this stimulus, and in the first years pursued his musical education at several centres in France. 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 archeology and the doctorate in Sacred Liturgy with a thesis on Dom Prosper Guéranger, the founder of Solesmes. In 1983 he was called to serve in the liturgy sector of the Roman Curia and in the thirteen years spent there 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.

In the summer of 1996 he was elected abbot of his home monastery and returned to take up this new responsability. He was blessed as Abbot in the abbey church on 22 October 1996 by Cardinal Virgilio Noè, then the Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica. He retired after 12 years and was a chaplain in two women`s monasteries and other centres with Benedictine connections. His last posting was at Bellingham in Northumberland.

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 Disciple 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 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 a pioneering archeologist. Giovanni Battista de Rossi and in 2015 he published 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. Especially in younger years he had personally researched the Society’s foundation. The election was an honour Dom Cuthbert appreciated and he accomplished the role with diligence.

Abbot Cuthbert was diagnosed with an incurable tumour in the summer but suffered no pain and died peacefully according to his religious convictions in the early hours of 16 January 2017, aged 70.

Anthony Ward SM, 17 Jan 2017