He was the only person ever to have edited the publication twice

Former Catholic Herald editor Gerard Noel has died aged 89.

He edited the newspaper first in 1971-76 and then in 1982-84, becoming the only person to have edited the Catholic Herald twice.

The Hon Gerard Eyre Wriothesley Noel was born on November 20, 1926, to Arthur Edward Noel, 4th Earl of Gainsborough, and Alice Mary Eyre.

He was educated at Worth, at Georgetown University and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he was narrowly beaten for the presidency of the Oxford Union by Tony Benn.

In 1947 he had the privilege of a private audience with Pius XII at Castel Gandolfo.

He was called to the Bar in 1952. But he did not spend long practising as a barrister before deciding to devote himself to the world of letters.

The author of more than 20 books, his extensive writing career included biographies of Paul VI, Pius XII and Queen Ena of Spain, a history of the popes and, more recently, a study of the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes.

He wrote not only for the Catholic Herald, but also for the Church Times, Baptist Times and the Jewish Chronicle – the latter a sign of his life-long commitment to improving Catholic-Jewish relations.

He was also a Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

He married Adele Julie Patricia Were in 1958. She survives him, along with their three children.

Damian Thompson, editorial director of the Catholic Herald, said: “We at the Catholic Herald are so sad to learn of the death of Gerard Noel, our former editor (twice), just a few months’ short of his 90th birthday.

“Gerry was an old-school Catholic gent with delightful manners, a schoolboy’s sense of humour – rarely have I encountered a more brilliant mimic – and many fine books to his name.

“The son of the Earl of Gainsborough and therefore ‘the Hon’, Gerry was in appearance the most conservative of St James’s clubmen, a member of White’s and (at various times), Brooks’s, the Beefsteak, the Garrick, the Athenaeum. As a Catholic, he was a Vatican II progressive of the sort I often mock (though I would never have mocked so learned and pious a Catholic as Gerry).

“When I was a young man he was a mentor to me despite our cheerful disagreement on so many topics. All of us at the Herald extend our sympathy to his wife, Adele, and his children. He was a great servant of the Church. We shall really miss him.”