David Skeoch remembers the late Bishop of London
Graham Leonard was born on the old feast of the Apparition of St Michael, a date for which he had a particular regard when he moved to Truro, since it was associated with several places in the diocese, notably St Michael’s Mount and the parish church at Helston. His early life was led in South London, in the Evangelical parish church of St Michael, Wandsworth Common, until he was sent to that Evangelical stronghold, Monkton Combe School.
By the time he went up to Oxford, he was seriously questioning his Evangelical beliefs, although he never lost his deep reverence for Scripture. It was at Oxford and during his Army Service that he discovered the importance of the whole sacramental system which, as he once said to the writer, had made sense of the evangelical call constantly to come to the Cross. -is discovery of the Catholic faith helped him through the war, during which he married his wife Priscilla; it was the beginning of a fulfilling and happy partnership.
When the war ended he went to train for the priesthood at Westcott, Cambridge and was ordained by Edward Wynn, Bishop of Ely. Although by now a convinced Catholic, his curacies were in fairly middle-of-the-road parishes. In 1952 he became vicar of Ardleigh, a parish in Essex which had had a strong TraCtarian tradition which was quickly and efficiently revived.
Involvement in education
His interest in church schools and the involvement of the church in education generally was recognized when in 1955 Bishop Gresford Jones of St Alban’s made him Director of Education and a Canon. He soon became a staunch defender of church schools, and it surprised no one when in 1958 he was appointed as Secretary of the Board of Education Schools Council.
In 1962, another educationalist made him Archdeacon of Hampstead and in 1964 Bishop of Willesden, a suffragan in charge of one of the largest areas into which the diocese was soon to be split. It was an inspired but not uncontroversial appointment, for the new bishop was already deeply involved in opposition to the Anglican–Methodist Unity Scheme, which did not make him popular with the establishment hierarchy.
Breath of fresh air
What, however, they could not criticize was his style of episcopacy at Willesden. He believed with the Church Fathers, particularly St Gregory the Great, that a bishop was a teacher and pastor. At a time when a majority of Anglicanbishops were beginning to regard themselves as managers, he came like a breath of fresh air to his clergy and people. His appointment to Truro in 1973 was, again, controversial since Cornwall was a Methodist stronghold. His denigrators were wrong because the bishop soon established good relations with the Methodists. In the diocese his institution of Parochial Visitations soon made him known and respected and he grew to like and appreciate the Cornish. He later said that his time at Truro was the happiest of his episcopate. His translation to London in 1981 was not unexpected and was, indeed, wanted by over two-thirds of the diocese. He soon settled down to regular staff meetings and was an excellent chairman, although some thought him not always firm enough.
As at Truro, bishops and archdeacons were expected to get on with their own work and he never intervened unless asked to do so. His work in the House of Lords greatly increased and his influence on the Baker Education Bill was considerable.
He became increasingly worried at the growing liberalism, moral and theological, in the Anglican church and when told by one archbishop that he did not play by the ‘Rules of the Club’, he was enraged. For him the Church was the Body of Christ, not a gentleman’s club.
His support of women to the diaconate caused great heart-searching and as, in the opinion of many of his supporters, a great mistake. His appointments, as The Times says, were often impulsive, sometimes brilliant, sometimes disappointing, but never dull.
Perhaps he was too trusting and took people at their own evaluation.
A new role
Retirement came as something of a relief to him and he began seriously considering becoming a Roman Catholic, something which he had thought about not infrequently, and his friendship with Cardinal Hume and the then Cardinal Ratzinger helped him to make the decision. Although his health was not as robust as formerly, he was in great demand in his new role of preaching, giving talks, retreats and the like. He exercised a priestly ministry without the strain and stresses of the episcopate in the established church, and his time as an active Roman Catholic priest gave him great satisfaction.
Priscilla remained his great strength and support, especially as his health deteriorated, and his family were close to him until the end. He died on 6 January and we pray that, like the Magi, he met the God whom he had loved and served all his life. ND