On 17 June 1999, after a short battle with cancer, Cardinal Basil Hume died in St John and St Elizabeth Hospital in London. He was 76 years of age.
Born in 1923 in Newcastle upon Tyne, the Cardinal was educated at Ampleforth College after which he entered the novitiate of the Benedictine monastery from the school in 1941. He was solemnly professed in 1945, then ordained a priest in 1950. He remained at Ampleforth for the next twenty six years after his ordination as a teacher of religious education, history, French and German, continuing to teach when he became Abbot in 1963.
In 1976 he was named 9th Archbishop of Westminster and elevated to the Cardinalate in the same year and given the titular church of San Silvestro in Capite, the same one that his predecessor Cardinal Heenan was given. He continued in his role as Archbishop beyond his 75th birthday by request of Pope St John Paul II but soon contracted the illness that led to his death.
The vastly popular Cardinal was known and loved by many, from those in his hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne to those who saw him to his grave in Westminster Cathedral. To mark 15 years since his death, we asked some of those who knew him best a simple question: How do you remember Cardinal Hume?
Cardinal Vincent knew his predecessor as Archbishop of Westminster, both as General Secretary of the Bishop’s Conference in the 1980s and when he was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1992:
Brenda Roberts is Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese and served as PA to the Private Secretary between 1979 and 2001.
I always enjoyed going in for dictation with Cardinal Hume when his PA was on leave. The Cardinal was always so kind; there was always a bit of banter and invariably he came out with a Latin phrase and chuckled as it threw me! On one such occasion, 16 April 1999, the Cardinal had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He wanted to write to all the priests of the diocese and the Bishops of England & Wales. He had handwritten the letter and I sat beside his desk as he read the two letters out to me in case I had trouble with his writing. In the end I was concentrating more on trying not to cry and he had to tell me to get up and go downstairs and type them. My main memory of that day was his concern for us, as he was upset that we were so upset!
The last time I saw him was the day he received the Order of Merit from The Queen. I went into his PA’s office, not realising he was already in there. I remember saying how lovely it was to see him and he responded by saying “there is not so much left of me to see”, to which I said: “wish I could say the same for myself – since you took sick I’ve been eating like a pig”! He sat back and laughed out loud. It was lovely to see him laugh – though I am not too sure I would have chosen those exact words to be my last words to anyone – but he saw the funny side, as he always did.
Mgr Jim Curry is parish priest of Our Lady of Victories in Kensington and was Cardinal Hume’s last Private Secretary and was with him when he died:
Not being gifted as a footballer, I was always on the back foot when watching Match of the Day with Cardinal Hume. However from his enthusiastic cheering at the screen I did learn one piece of important information. That is; when shooting at the goal it’s important to keep your head down and your eye on the ball.
It’s not bad advice in the spiritual life. Or for that matter for life in general.
I fared better when we were watching Rugby. As for American football, well that’s a series of set pieces. But that’s another story….
Cathy Corcoran is the Chief Executive of the Cardinal Hume Centre in London.
It doesn't seem possible that it is 15 years since Cardinal Hume’s death, especially as his memory is celebrated every day at the Centre, and I hope he thinks we are doing him proud. I was privileged to know him and to travel with him on the visit to Ethiopia which was, he said, a life-changing experience. I think I remember his quite mischievous sense of humour best as well as his insistence that every human being matters. We saw some heart-breaking things but he still managed to make us laugh out loud at the great fuss that sometimes surrounded the visit. What stays with me longest though is the reaction of the people who were hungry, desperate and afraid as he walked quietly among them, a touch here and a blessing there. They had no idea who or even what he was but they knew him for a man of God. That's a very rare gift.
Canon Patrick Browne is the parish priest of Holy Apostles Church in Pimlico and was Private Secretary to the Cardinal between from 1985 to 1989.
Apart from being a gifted writer, preacher and a holy man, Cardinal Hume was sought after by many people, young and old, for his insights and advice into personal relationships and matters of the human heart.
There are two reflections on relationships which have stayed with me. He described true love as “the meeting of two freedoms”; that is to say no matter how much I love another, there can be no true relationship if I or anyone else is pressurising them to love me in return.
And he was always saddened by the breakdown of marriages and said that "one of the saddest things about divorce is that the other party has gone away with all your secrets". He found it sad that those things you may have told your partner in trust and usually in the most intimate moments were now with someone else and the breakdown of the marriage had taken your confidences, your secrets and your vulnerability with it.
Another Basilism is 'The sharing of weakness is the creation of a bond’. Think about it...the people you are closest to are those who have not hidden their vulnerability from you. It is hard to get close to some who is 'always strong.' Intimacy comes when people trust each other enough to say what is really going on in their lives and inside them.