Monsignor Lawrence McReavey, Prot.Ap.
The following appreciation was written by Monsignor Daniel Shanahan:
15 February 1990
Lawrence McReavey was the first President of the Canon Law Society of England, chosen by acclaim and common consent not only because of his pre-eminence in England as a moral theologian (with his “Questions and Answers” in the Clergy Review) but also because he was the leading Canon Lawyer in the country.
He spent the major portion of his 87 years in Ushaw College, the ancient Seminary in the North of England. He once told us that when he was a young student he conversed with a very old Professor who himself, as a young student, had conversed with an ancient Professor from Douai.
The Professors’ Parlour, like a University College Common Room, included Professors of English and French literature, of the physical sciences, of philosophy, of Canon Law and moral theology and scripture and dogma. He himself had an M.A, degree but also had studied at Louvain under Van Hove, de Smet, de Ghellinck and the rest, for his J.C.D.
When in the post-war years Bishops found they needed Canonists to interpret the flood of decrees issuing from the Roman Curia and to deal with the rising flood of flotsam and jetsam from broken marriages, the Canonists, fresh from a Roman course, were also in need of mutual self-help.
They began to meet and to discuss their problems – and so was born the Canon Law Society. Some of the Bishops were a little wary of the young men meeting unsupervised, but what better guarantee of learning and orthodoxy than Dr McReavy, especially as he had been a professor at Ushaw, together with the then Archbishop of Westminster.
In those early days McReavy presided over the meetings with an authority, a humour and a sure touch which gave a feeling of steady progress in the affairs of the Canon Law Society. But then John XXIII announced his intention to “convoke the Second Vatican Council and to revise the Code of Canon Law”. When the Council began, Bishops were to bring their own experts and naturally McReavy, world famous for his “Questions and Answers” on moral theology and Canon Law, was chosen by the English Hierarchy to attend the Council as Peritus. There he was to meet again many of the experts from Louvain, colleagues of student days a veritable “Old Boys Club” and to be at the centre of discussions on birth control and the “pill” which were put to the Council for decision – subjects on which he had become an acknowledged expert. When the revision of the Code was underway his was a voice of calm wisdom and authority in the various coetus of the Code Commission.
When it was all over and he could return to the peace and quiet of Ushaw his tranquil life continued, still the popular professor of Canon Law, until it was time to hand over to a new young expert in the new Code of Canon Law. Maybe he was glad to hand over when it was a question of learning all those numbers of the new Canons. He continued his 50 years of Chaplain to the Legion of Mary within the College, with his “allocution” a life-giving breath of fresh air in the meetings. He remained President emeritus of the Canon Law Society but increasingly the long journey from the North to London became a burden.
He was delighted to be elected in 1978, at the age of 75 a member of the Old English Chapter of the English Secular Clergy (founded in 1623) as a representative of the Northern District. He was even more tickled to be nominated by the Pope a Protonotary Apostolic, an ancient office of the Fifth Century, but which no longer had the right to wear a mitre.
He was content to live in his Alma Mater, his house for over 60 years, still sturdy, still lively, still a marvellous conversationalist to the end. They don’t make them like him anymore and we shall surely miss his smile and his chuckle, not only in Ushaw, but in the Canon Law Society, until we all meet again. May he rest in peace.
[Edited from CLSN 81, March 1990]