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Lives remembered: Bishop Alexander

Bishop Mervyn Alban Alexander, eighth Bishop of Clifton, was born on June 29 1925. He died on August 14 2010, aged 85

By on Thursday, 26 August 2010

Bishop Mervyn Alexander

Bishop Mervyn Alexander

Mervyn Alexander died at St Angela’s Home in Clifton, Bristol. He was born in Highbury, north London, the eldest son of William and Grace Alexander. The family moved from London to Salisbury, Wiltshire, when he was one.

He began his schooling at the Bishop Wordsworth Grammar School in Salisbury and later went to Prior Park College, Bath. He trained for the priesthood at the Venerable English College, Rome and was ordained priest on July 18 1948 in the Leonine College, Rome. He continued his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and obtained his doctorate in divinity in 1951.

Returning to England he was appointed assistant priest in the Cathedral parish, Clifton, Bristol, where he served from 1951 to l964. He acted as chaplain to the Bristol maternity and homeopathic hospitals. He also became part-time chaplain to the University of Bristol in 1953 and was appointed full-time chaplain in 1964. During this time he opened the university Catholic chaplaincy on Queens road as a study and residential centre for students. The chaplaincy continues to serve students today.

In 1967 he was appointed parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Weston-super-Mare, until he was appointed auxiliary bishop in the Clifton diocese on April 25 1972. On December 20 1974, he was made Bishop of Clifton.

In addition to his work in the diocese he held a number of national posts. He was a member of the Vatican secretariat for non-believers (1973 to 1983), and chairman of the national commission for non-believers (1973 to 1983), vice-chairman of the liturgy commission (1977 to 1983), and episcopal president of the Catholic child welfare council (1976 to 1983).

His interest in ecumenism was reflected in his role as co-chairman of the Roman Catholic/Methodist Committee (1976 to 1980), and his appointment as co-chairman of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1977. In 1982 he was chairman of the committee concerned with spiritual preparation for the visit of Pope John Paul II to England and Wales. He was chairman of the committee for art and architecture (1983 to 1999), as well as episcopal adviser to Marriage Encounter from 1980. He presided at a diocesan synod which took place from 1987 to 1988.

In the Clifton Diocese Bishop Mervyn encouraged the growth of pastoral collaboration between clergy and laity. Under his leadership the diocese became one of the first to set up a diocesan pastoral council and was the first Catholic diocese to appoint a lay person as financial administrator.

Having served as chaplain to the University of Bristol he saw the need to encourage young people to become involved in the life of the Church. He also maintained the links between the diocese and South America and visited diocesan priests working there a number of times. His personal hobbies and interests included reading, sport, in particular golf, music and walking.

In February 2001 Bishop Mervyn was recognised by the University of Bristol for his contribution to the life of the city and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws. The commendation speech was given by the then Bishop of Bristol, the Right Rev Barry Rogerson. Bishop Mervyn was succeeded as Bishop of Clifton by Bishop Declan Lang on the March 28 2001.

On his retirement he returned to Weston-super-Mare as parish priest of St Joseph’s, a role he fulfilled until 2008. He then moved to live at St Angela’s Convent in Clifton, Bristol.