Rome-Oxford-Cambridge-Geneva: there was, as Richard observed, a certain logic and appropriateness in the successive staging posts of the first twenty-eight years of his life as a priest. After his time at the English College a short curacy was followed by his return to Oxford where, a decade earlier he had obtained two firsts (in Mods and Greats) as assistant to its chaplain, Michael Hollings, from whom he learnt (in Ronald Knox’s phrase) ”˜the whole arte of chaplaincraft’. It was a rather uncomfortable experience, but it was Hollings who – when Cambridge members of the chaplaincies board were at their wits end to find a suitable Cambridge-bred priest willing and free to succeed Alfred Gilbey, whose 100 terms as chaplain had ended in much unhappiness – suggested that they might consider an Oxford man whom he believed could do the job. (Hollings also introduced Richard to prison chaplaincy – which he was to continue even after he had retired from his final parish in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton.)
The new assignment was not an easy one. There were wounds to be healed; the academic year was already a term old; Fisher House needed furniture (Gilbey had his own); the congregation at Mass had, for the first time, to be confronted with a collection plate; and the bishop of Northampton was receiving complaints about deviations from the rubrics. Then, before term was out, Richard was struck by serious illness (which dogged him for much of his life) and, while convalescing, news reached him of how, at a Fisher Society meeting, one eminent (but excitable) Jesuit had accused another (an archbishop no less) of heresy.
At Oxford Richard had worked in an open chaplaincy: one in which not only women and graduate students, but dons and their children, townspeople, and the homeless were all welcome – and which, accordingly, continued to function in vacation was well as in term. He brought this model to Fisher House developing it with the help of his assistants (notably David Standley) and priests who were students at, or scholars visiting, the University. His own skill as a preacher flowered. He gradually reduced the number of visiting celebrities, believing that a chaplain was better placed than a visitor to offer his congregation a focused and connected approach to faith and the religious life: a visitor would, perforce not know what had been said last, or would be said next, Sunday. And Phil, the first of Richard’s King Charles spaniels and a regular Mass-attender, was of the same mind. Becoming aware, as a homily began, that today it would not be his master’s voice that he would be hearing, he would get up, stretch, and walk out. As Anthony Keefe says, many students found Richard’s sermons thrilling, while stern critics among the dons declared that they had never heard better.
While this model of university chaplaincy was being developed, the fire-brand editors of SLANT and the brilliant young graduate student Rowan Williams were among those sometimes to be found at Fisher House – others who, as lay people, were to contribute greatly to the life of the church in England (including Julian Filochowski, CAFOD’s long-serving director) were being helped to find their vocations. Close and warm relations were built with clergy at “the Catholic” and other churches in the city centre -St Columba’s Presbyterian Church took in the Fisher House congregation during the redevelopment of its chapels – and many members of the inter-collegiate Deans, Chaplains and Tutors group – particularly the tutors whose customary view of deans and chaplains was strictly pragmatic – came to admire Richard’s intellect, insights and integrity. He valued his membership of the Churchill high table and enjoyed being a guest in other colleges where, when the conversation turned from gossip to more serious matters, the richness of his mnd and the breadth and depth of his reading (evident too in his sermons) was well deployed. After returning to England from Geneva he rarely declined an invitation to dine in Cambridge, maintaining that on full-dress occasions a frock-coat was a priest’s proper attire – and very handsome he looked.
Tension between chaplain and CUCA had evaporated overnight, and its Council was always welcome to meet in the building it owned and maintained. Then, out of the blue, came news from the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia that the Cambridge chaplaincy was the only surviving residuary legatee of Butler Hallahan who had been an undergraduate at Trinity Hall in the 1930s. His estate was big enough to make feasible the redevelopment of the site of the two chapels (on their two floors), and the Fisher Room, but not large enough to pay for all that was wished for. The resolution of the financial, legal and planning problems Richard was content to leave to CUCA’s small team of officers, led by Trevor Gardner, the extraordinarily able University Treasurer (another Jesuit-educated Oxonian), intervening only occasionally to indicate his view of pastoral priorities. Sometimes, indeed, the CUCA officers would have welcomed a greater show of interest by the chaplain who continued to concentrate on his true work. As he was later to say, the undertaking of major building projects by his congregations in both Cambridge and Geneva was but another instance of Providence’s inscrutable ways. But he did, in the end, provide the priestly conduit down which flowed to CUCA the previously unavailable trust funds that Alfred Gilbey had gathered.
All this came after the publication of Humanae Vitae which, for Richard, as for many other priests, was a turning point. He made no secret of finding its reasoning unconvincing and its authority dubious: a Catholic should consider it carefully, but was not obliged to assent to it. Cardinal Heenan, whose slick, theatrical appearance as a retreat-giver to students at the English College had not been to Richard’s taste, summoned him to Archbishop’s House to tell him that what might be said in the confessional was not to be said from the pulpit. His card was marked and the institutional church deprived itself of an outstanding (if demanding) seminary rector and a diocesan bishop who would have brought great distinction to the episcopate. Whether Richard saw it this way is not altogether clear. He undoubtedly found much fulfilment, and gained a multitude of devoted friends, as a chaplain and parish priest – and not a little satisfaction at his election to the Old Brotherhood – it dates from the seventeenth century and from it bishops are excluded.
Born in Gibraltar, spending time as a child in South Africa, educated at Beaumont College, at Trinity College Oxford, and at the English College Rome, ministering as a priest in Worcester Park, in both Oxford and Cambridge, in Geneva, and in various parishes in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton (Haslemere, Chichester, Send) Fr. Richard Incledon may truly be said to have been an embodiment of the first homily (or “conference” in Cambridgespeak) which I heard him deliver, which bore the title “No Abiding City”.
That was in the Michaelmas term of 1968, when I had arrived as the freshest of freshmen, away from home for the first time, making landfall on what appeared to be a different planet, a land of “demos”, sit-ins, and seething discontent, where even Holy Mother Church, riven by the storms stirred up by the publication of the encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, seemed light years away from the placid Northern, working-class parish with which I was familiar. “Never mind,” I thought to myself. “Do what you were brought up to do. Find the Catholic church and make yourself known to the priest.” And so, within days of arrival, I found myself sitting at tea in the large first-floor room of Fisher House, making the acquaintance of its presiding genius, and beginning a friendship which continued unbroken for almost forty-four years.
From that first encounter, I was conscious of the deep interest and pastoral concern which Richard displayed towards everyone. It was, I suspect, a combination of the breadth of his experience; of the background of a loving family, given added poignancy by the loss of his elder brother, killed in the Second World War; and of his God-given generosity, which enabled him to empathise with all manner of people, while a prodigious memory allowed him to remember most of them.
Moving from a post as Assistant Chaplain at Oxford to Fisher House in 1966, Richard had transformed the Cambridge Chaplaincy from the all-male, somewhat aristocratic establishment which he inherited into a reflection of post-conciliar Catholic life: vibrant, puzzling and indeed troubling at times, its windows thrown open after the example of the fairly recently deceased Pope John XXIII, challenging yet always welcoming, fulfilling the role assigned to the Church of comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. Having experienced difficulties with his own bishop in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae, Richard was particularly generous in his support of priests whose superiors had been especially heavy-handed””but then generosity was his watchword. Fisher House was always a refugium peccatorum , yet it was not permitted to be a hiding-hole. Richard demanded of Catholic students that they play their part in the wider world of the university: to that end he disbanded the Fisher Society, which he considered too insular and as encouraging “chaplaincy mice”.
A man of deep prayer himself, he encouraged prayerfulness in others by example, and in his preaching I would describe him as thrilling. Each term during my undergraduate career he had a programme of visiting preachers, but I am sure that I was not the only member of the congregation who looked forward most keenly to his own contributions.
Finally, I should mention that the physical redevelopment of the Chaplaincy buildings was made possible in Richard’s time by a legacy, and inevitable by the dangerous condition of the old, much-loved chapels. He was the first of a new breed of chaplain, a breed which I hope is thriving.