BISHOP Ambrose Griffiths, a Benedictine monk who succeeded Cardinal Basil Hume as Abbot of Ampleforth, has died aged 82.
A significant part of his life was spent with the North Yorkshire Benedictine community beginning with his schooldays.
It was in 1976, following the appointment of the then Abbot, Basil Hume, as Archbishop of Westminster, that the monks elected Ambrose Griffiths OSB (Order of St Benedict) to be their fifth Abbot.
He saw his office as one of service to his brethren, and his humility made it natural for him to be found helping with any job that needed doing.
He was born in London as Michael Griffiths and educated at Ampleforth’s then preparatory school at Gilling Castle, followed by Ampleforth College.
In 1946, he won a place at Balliol College, Oxford gaining a First in chemistry then, in 1950, joined the monastic community and was given the religious name Ambrose. He was sent to Rome where he studied theology before returning to Ampleforth six years later on the college’s teaching staff and in 1957 being ordained priest.
He had several roles in both the monastic community and the school. As procurator, or bursar, he was responsible for the abbey’s day-to-day running and he was the first person to produce a blueprint for future development.
Overseeing a number of buildings on the campus, ranging from new boarding houses to a sports centre, revealed his grasp of what was physically needed by way of replacing old buildings and reducing running costs.
After eight years as abbot, he was not re-elected and went to work as parish priest of St Mary’s, in Leyland, Lancashire. He was also given the title of Abbot of Westminster.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, and although it cannot have been an easy transition from monastic community to bishop, he took it in his stride. He made a point of knowing both his priests – for whom he had a particular concern, especially the newly ordained – and lay people, and was genuinely interested in everyone he met.
His time at Ampleforth also meant that he understood young people and was at ease with them.
When he retired as bishop in 2005, becoming emeritus bishop, he returned to St Mary’s, Leyland, serving as assistant priest until in January this year he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
In addition to his diocesan role, Bishop Ambrose had a number of roles within the Bishops Conference. He had been episcopal adviser to the Charismatic Renewal, a member of the British Methodist-Roman Catholic Committee, and its chairman from 2001-2006, chairman of the Bishops Conference Committee for Community Relations between 1997 and 2001, episcopal adviser to the Association of Catholic Chaplains in Education, and president of the Catholic Youth Service.
Bishop Seamus Cunningham, who was Newcastle Cathedral’s administrator during Ambrose Griffiths’ time as bishop, said he died as he had lived – full of gratitude and hope.
An appreciation of Abbot Ambrose, written at the end of his abbacy in 1984, said: “His reign as abbot made it possible for the Community both to accept change and also to appreciate the need for a clear sense of direction that is shared by all. However, what we value most in him are his personal qualities of humility, fairness, kindness and generosity of which he gave so unstintingly. Few were more surprised than he was when we elected him; nobody was more grateful than he was when we elected another.”
A funeral Mass will be held in each of the key churches associated with Bishop Ambrose’s ministry, the final one being held at Ampleforth Abbey on Saturday, July 2, at 11am followed by burial in the vault under the abbey church