His independent spirit was not happy being a curate in his first assignment, nor was his pastor happy having one. Three years later he was moved to Brighton, where eventually he combined parish work with a chaplaincy at the new University of Sussex. Ever the historian, he took an advanced degree in Assyro-Babylonian studies, and had finished translating a history of the Church in China just before he died. For five years, starting in 1977, he thrived as Catholic chaplain at Cambridge. This was his métier, and the cheerful affability with which he made solid doctrine a benevolent contagion converted and re-converted many, as in the golden years of Ronald Knox at "the other place."
His visits to Oxford, which was in his archdiocese, would cause a flurry as he arranged every detail for receptions. Once he decreed that we would have Pimm’s Cup, assigning me to slice the lemons as he humbly mixed the drinks in the kitchen, while wearing zucchetto and feriola. What friends would have called panache, critics called hauteur, and Couve was not without critics for a noble reason: He was rare among the English bishops in his example of confident evangelical orthodoxy in the mold of John Paul II.
Lush acres of his boyhood were not the best training ground for the perfect cultural storm that struck him as archbishop. But the contrast enabled him to see its brutality more clearly than progressivists who treated the Devil like a naughty child. The confluent winds in the storm were secularization supported by the state, theological chaos, and demoralization of the clergy made worse by sexual scandals. The latter was so beyond his comprehension that he admitted to making a muddle of discipline. A bout of cancer let him retire five years before the canonical age of 75, and he lived a dozen more years. Lasting legacies were his promotion of family life, which was "being battered . . . and aren’t we seeing the results of it!" and the creation of the Maryvale Institute as a college for training the laity to be orthodox catechists.
Rev. George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of our Saviourin New York City. His latest book,Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, is available through Crossroads Publishing.