Maurice Couve de Murville (bishop)

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Maurice Noël Léon Couve de Murville
Archbishop of Birmingham
Archdiocese Birmingham
See Birmingham
Appointed 22 January 1982
Installed 25 March 1982
Term ended 12 June 1999
Predecessor George Patrick Dwyer
Successor Vincent Gerard Nichols
Ordination 29 June 1957
Consecration 25 March 1982
by Bruno Heim
Personal details
Born (1929-06-27)27 June 1929
St Germain-en-Laye, France
Died 3 November 2007(2007-11-03) (aged 78)
Littlehampton, West Sussex
Denomination Roman Catholic
Styles of
Maurice Noël Léon Couve de Murville
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference style The Most Reverend
Spoken style Your Grace
Religious style Archbishop

Maurice Noël Léon Couve de Murville (27 June 1929 – 3 November 2007) was the seventh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham from 25 March 1982 until his retirement on 12 June 1999, having formerly been a priest of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and chaplain of Fisher House, Cambridge.

Early career and priesthood[edit]

Maurice Couve de Murville was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris, into a distinguished French family who moved to Mauritius at the end of the 18th century. He was a cousin and namesake of Maurice Couve de Murville (1907–1999), a French politician in the Huguenot branch of the family, who served as Foreign Minister (1958–1968) and briefly Prime Minister under General Charles de Gaulle. In 1936, his father took him from France along with his mother and twin brothers to settle at Leatherhead in Surrey, at the age of 7. His mother died in 1945 in England. She was buried alongside other Souchon family members in Effingham, Surrey.

Educated initially at The John Fisher School, Purley, then by the Benedictines at Downside School near Bath, he read history at Trinity College, Cambridge (MA). He studied at the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, and earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) from the Institut Catholique in Paris. He was influenced by the worker-priest movement in France, and became lifelong friends with Jean-Marie Lustiger, future Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.

He was ordained a priest on the Feast of SS Peter and Paul on 29 June 1957, for the Diocese of Southwark, by Bishop Cowderoy. His first appointment was as curate at St Anselm's, Dartford (1957–60), and as curate at St Joseph's, Brighton (1960–61). He later served as Priest-in-Charge at St Francis, Moulsecoomb (1961–64). In 1961, he was also appointed as chaplain at the University of Sussex. He established a Catholic chaplaincy in Brighton in 1964, called Howard House.

He received an MPhil in Assyro-Babylonian studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1975, and moved to Cambridge in 1977, when he was appointed chaplain at Cambridge University, based at Fisher House. He remained in Cambridge until the surprise announcement from the Holy See on 22 January 1982 that he was to succeed Archbishop George Patrick Dwyer as Archbishop of Birmingham, the third most senior post in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. He was consecrated and immediately installed as Archbishop at St Chad's Metropolitan Cathedral on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1982. The principal consecrator was Archbishop Bruno Heim, Apostolic Nuncio, assisted by Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, and Bishop Basil Christopher Butler OSB.

Archbishop of Birmingham, 1982–99[edit]

One of his first duties was to welcome Pope John Paul II at Coventry Airport on Pentecost Sunday, 30 May 1982, the third day of the Pope's Pastoral Visit to Great Britain, and participate in the open-air Pontifical Mass which followed. The red silk chasuble worn by His Holiness on that occasion has been retained by the Archdiocese of Birmingham and is worn by the Archbishop on suitable grand occasions.

He was particularly involved in developing religious education of the laity in his Archdiocese, and helped to establish the Maryvale Institute, near Birmingham, as an international Catholic College for Theology, Religious Education and Catechesis. Cardinal Newman established the English Congregation of the Oratory at Maryvale on 1 February 1848. With validation from the Pontifical University, Maynooth in Ireland and the Open University, it now offers undergraduate, postgraduate and research degree programmes.

He was Chairman of the Governing Body of the Newman College of Higher Education (now Newman University) in Birmingham. In 2007, it was announced that Newman College would become a University College and obtain degree-awarding powers. He fostered ties between Oscott and the Catholic University of Louvain, and established links with Birmingham University.

Archbishop Maurice was a member of the Friends of Cardinal Newman, and supported the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory in the Cause for the beatification and canonisation of Newman, their founder.

In 1992 he visited California and became interested in Blessed Junipero Serra, founder of the California Missions. He wrote a book on his life, The Man Who Founded California, an easy-to-read and very pastoral approach to this recently canonized Friar.

The last years of his episcopate were tarnished by a series of paedophile scandals involving priests in his archdiocese, including in particular Samuel Penney and Eric Taylor. In 1999, following a prostate operation, he submitted his resignation to the Pope, who permitted him to retire five years early, on health grounds.

In November 1994 he was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University.[1]

Later life[edit]

In retirement, he returned to Sussex and lived in Horsham. He was an enthusiastic Principal Chaplain of the British Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (1987–1991, 2001–2007) and knighted by The Duke of Castro in 1994 as Ecclesiastical Knight Grand Cross of Grace in the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George. He became an Honorary Doctor of Divinity at Birmingham University in 1996.

He presided at Mass in St Chad's Cathedral for the last time on 26 March 2007, on the 25th anniversary of his Episcopal Ordination, with Bishops Pargeter, McGough and Kenney as concelebrants.

He had a number of publications to his credit. A few months before his death, he finished a translation of Jean Charbonnier's comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in China.[2] He had battled prostate cancer several years before. His first signs of slowing down came with a hip replacement in November 2006. However, he remained active with his much loved pursuits of walking and gardening. In October 2007, before embarking on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which was recognised as terminal.

On 3 November 2007, aged 78, he died a peaceful death at St Joseph's Nursing Home in Littlehampton, West Sussex.[3] A Funeral Mass was held at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham on 21 November 2007.[4] His coat of arms, displayed on the 1993 Organ case in the Cathedral, comprises three cockerels, which is a brood or couve in French.


  1. ^ Daniels, John (3 November 1999). "Maryvale Institute, Birmingham: Degree ceremonies; Remarks". Open University. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
  2. ^ Jean Charbonnier, Christians in China: A.D. 600 to 2000 (Ignatius Press, 2007 ISBN 0-89870-916-4)
  3. ^ "BBC News Article". 3 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
  4. ^ Obituary, Independent Catholic News Archived 2007-11-07 at the Wayback Machine.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
George Patrick Dwyer
Archbishop of Birmingham
Succeeded by
Vincent Gerard Nichols