News Centre

Mgr Ralph Brown RIP

It is with great sadness that we announce the news of the death of Mgr Ralph Brown, who died on 6 January 2014.

A man who loved people and enjoyed their company, Mgr Ralph Brown put his sharp mind and warm heart at the service of family, friends, colleagues and the Church.  He was truly ‘a son of the Church’.

Kind, generous and hospitable, his company was always enjoyable, and his infectious laugh fondly remembered.  He embraced life and gave and received much love.  His family will remember gatherings at Christmas over the years, when Ralph would bring his roulette wheel and act as banker once lunch was over and a period of rest observed. Winnings were donated at his request to the charity ‘Crisis at Christmas’.  He is also remembered for his ability to make a good cocktail, favouring Margharitas.  He was also gifted at photography, capturing people and events then carefully cataloguing pictures in albums, of which there are several.  Another interest was history, latterly focused on the Plantagenets, while maintaining an interest in all things military.

The third child of John and Josephine Brown, Ralph was born on 30 June 1931 in Warsenaar in The Netherlands. Schooling took place at St Aidan’s, Grahamstown in S Africa and from 1946-49 at Highgate School. In December 1949 he was called to national service and joined the Middlesex Regiment.  In 1950 he was sent to Korea, where he was wounded and hospitalised.

He entered Allen Hall, the seminary of the Diocese of Westminster in Ware, Hertfordshire, in 1953 to study for the priesthood.  His gregariousness, good humour and sheer energy became evident.  He was ordained to the priesthood on 23 May 1959 in Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Godfrey.   After ordination he was sent to Rome to study for a doctorate in Canon Law. In 1963 he returned to the Diocese to take up his appointment as curate in Bushey.  After a relatively short period of pastoral ministry he was to spend the rest of his ministry in administration and teaching, mostly in the Westminster Metropolitan Tribunal where he began a very fruitful partnership with his great friend the late Monsignor Edward Dunderdale. From 1964-1971 Mgr Ralph served as Vice Chancellor and Vice Officialis of the Diocese of Westminster, then as Officialis 1971-77.  On his appointment as Archbishop of Westminster, Basil Hume appointed Mgr Ralph Vicar General. He served in this post until 2001, bringing his intelligence, common sense and knowledge of the Diocese to bear in its inner councils.  He continued to serve as Judicial Vicar until his retirement on 30 June 2006. 

The 1960s and 70s had seen important developments in the field of matrimonial jurisprudence which opened up the possibility of people in broken or irregular marriages bringing petitions for annulment before diocesan tribunals, thus enabling many to enter into new unions.  He found this work, ‘though of its nature legal and exacting, immensely pastoral.  He was very much at the cutting edge of these advances and the Westminster Tribunal helped to train canonists from abroad.  His book Marriage Annulments in the Catholic Church was to be an important reference work for many canonists.  He contributed to many learned journals and he served with distinction for two terms as Judicial Vicar of the Tribunal.  During this period he gave some time as lecturer in Canon Law at Allen Hall. 

He was prominent in the work of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland which was to play an important role in the revision of the Code of Canon Law when it advised the Bishops’ Conference then considering their responses to the various schemata sent from Rome.  He took a major part in the translation into English of the new Code in 1983 and was pivotal in the preparation and publication by The Society of a Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.  He became Secretary then President of the Society, in which capacity he travelled the world in company with Edward Dunderdale, attending the various canon law society conferences of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, countries where he was an honorary member of their Canon Law Societies.  Since 2006 he served as the Judicial Vicar of the Oslo Tribunal.  He served as the canonical consultant to the Polish Catholic Mission to England and Wales.  For outstanding service Mgr Ralph was awarded the honour of Commander of the Order of Merit of Poland in 2008. Until shortly before his death he was still editing the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland Newsletter.

He was appointed national coordinator for the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II to our countries in 1982.  Mgr Ralph worked with numerous people, mainly volunteers, inspiring them with his energy, enthusiasm and attention to detail.

In 1984 Mgr Ralph celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his ordination with four generations of the Brown family, including his mother (then nearly 90), his father (88) and his brother Norman and sister Lydia (now deceased) and their children and grandchildren.  His Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 2009.

In the course of all his appointments Mgr Ralph proceeded through the three ranks of Monsignor (Chaplain to His Holiness,  Prelate of Honour,  then in 1999 Protonotary Apostolic) and he was also honoured with election to the Old Brotherhood of the Secular Clergy in 1987 and went on to become  Secretary then President.  Other honours and distinctions came his way from international and learned bodies in recognition of his work. 

Mgr Ralph was an active member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, having joined in 1984 and becoming a Commander in 1991. He was also a member of the Friends of the Holy Father.  He generously gave of his time to individuals and organisations seeking his advice, and at heart he remained a faithful and devoted priest.  He was an indefatigable worker and he did not rest until he had accomplished work in hand.  He did not allow problems leading to, and following, major surgery to dampen his spirit, and did not want the spirits of friends affected either.  He remained cheerful and busy, especially with work for the Oslo Tribunal.  He will be mourned by his many lay and clerical friends, and his focus, energy, enthusiasm and compassion will be missed too.

Mgr Ralph’s remains will be brought to Westminster Cathedral on Monday 20 January at 4.30pm.  Vespers will follow at 5pm.  His Requiem Mass will be on Tuesday 21 January at 10.30am.  Archbishop Vincent Nichols will preside and Archbishop George Stack will preach.  Concelebrating priests are asked to bring their purple Diocesan vestment.  Mgr Ralph was a member of the Deceased Clergy Association.  May he rest in peace. 

Archbishop Vincent, Cardinal Cormac, Auxiliary Bishops, Priests and Deacons of the Diocese offer condolences and prayers to Mgr Ralph’s brother Norman and to all family members and friends.

Mgr Brown’s Requiem Mass will be celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday 21 January at 10.30am.  Archbishop Vincent Nichols will preside, the homily will be given by Archbishop George Stack.