Fr Brendan Minney 1910-1978


A fine artist, as the above links will testify

"As it was in the beginning..." an article written in 1976 for the school magazine on the 50th anniversary of the school.

FATHER BRENDAN MINNEY came to Belmont from Swansea as a twelve year old schoolboy in 1922. It was the old Alumniate he came to: fifteen boys, destined, so it was hoped, to "join the monastery", fifteen boys of all ages and sizes, thrown into the cloister in their scout uniforms and their silly little scapulars. 

Early School Photo 1922?

Their faces, indefinably different and
indefinably the same, still peer out at us, self- conscious and somehow pleading, from the earliest faded school photograph. Father Brendan himself described his coming to Belmont Abbey School as a "retrograde step" : "It took me from the twentieth to about the fifteenth century . . . For all my immaturity I could not but notice that the schooling was odd". However, he progressed smoothly enough, by dint of inflexible self-
discipline, through Alumniate, Novitiate, Simple Vows, ecclesiastical studies : all at Belmont.
He never went to University : we were too poor in men and resources in those days to send monks to university. He had no sense of loss about this, no feelings of inadequacy, jealousy or sour grapes. He was so effortlessly distinguished that it is inconceivable that anyone would have commented on, or even noticed the absence of "letters after
his name". He reached Solemn Profession in 1931 and Ordination in 1933. The bulk of his life thereafter was spent outside Belmont on our various parishes : Whitehaven 1935-36, Hereford 1936-41, Whitehaven again 1941-48, Redditch 1948, Whitehaven again 1949-55, Redditch again 1961-67, Harrington 1967-72, Swansea 1972, Whitehaven again 1972-78 and then Harrington again. And it was at Harrington that he died, of incurable and inoperable lung cancer, on 6 September 1978, just two days after the fiftieth anniversary of his becoming a monk.

For six years, however, he had been in residence here at Belmont, as Headmaster (1955-1961). He took the post with reluctance, he relinquished it with alacrity : his heart was always in parish work. Parish work : meticulously conscientious and regular visiting of every Catholic home in his district . . . enormous enthusiasm for his unrivalled polyphonic choirs . . . love of company : especially relaxed, amicable and loving cameraderie in working men's clubs, with old familiar faces and old familiar jokes. But it was as Headmaster that I knew him best, it was during his time here as Headmaster that most of the monks now living at Belmont came to know him best, and this is, after all, primarily a school magazine. So what should be said about Father Brendan, in this obituary of the fifth Headmaster of Belmont Abbey School ?

Obviously, he was not a great Headmaster. What is a great Headmaster ?

I suppose a great Headmaster is somewhat similar to a great Pope : he is a man who encapsulates and sums up in himself, as our Spokesman, as our Representative, the moral atmosphere, the underlying lifestyle, the philosophical outlook of the great corporate body of which he is both the ultimate leader and the most abject servant. But Father Brendan certainly did not sum up Belmont Abbey School, in the sense that, for example. Father Roger did. He was too independent, too quirky, too idiosyncratic. He had no over-riding vision of the school, no all-consuming energy on behalf of the school, indeed, to be honest, no very deep love of the school. He suffered boys with controlled patience and whimsical detachment. At times they amused him, rather more rarely they consoled him. But the gawky grace of adolescence held no appeal for him, the pathos of innocence taking its first baby steps in cosmic thinking did not move him. Fair enough. It is, after all, not everybody's cup of tea. 
But in one sense, his six years stint as Headmaster was the most fruitful of his life. Let me explain. We go to school, Chesterton said, to study schoolmasters. Long after we have forgotten all our notes on chlorophyll or Chaucer it is the personality and character of our Biology master and our English master that we remember. Casual mannerisms, off the cuff remarks, chance allusions, all the incidentals of every day life : it is these that are studied in detail by schoolboys gazing impassively at their schoolmasters. And the effect can be almost devastatingly lasting and profound.

Brendan was unforgettable : he is unforgotten. The host of anecdotes and quotations are proof of this. He was the Headmaster who appointed me to the staff at Belmont as a lay master, and he was the most frightening man I have ever met.. . The paralysing dread which seized me when I had to knock at that door in Palm Court, and when I heard that single nasal command, Come . . . The way he petrified otherwise mature and worldly-wise seventeen and eighteen year olds at a School Meeting by threatening to defend vandalised St Michael's statue: "I shall see the boy from my window. I shall take a gun. And I shall shoot him.". . . The day he baffled Remove, a form not noted for its command of the higher flights of elegant English, by describing them as "an arena of opportunity, not a limbo of opprobrium" . . . The way he made certain adjectives for ever his own, quintessentially Brendan : like shifty. "Brocklesby is a shifty boy : I do not care for shifty boys." Immediately one saw whole generations of
Brocklesbys, slinking past him, avoiding his eye.

He detested shiftiness. He loved integrity and courage. He loved elegance: which is basically cleanness and economy and precision. He loved truthfulness, and, indeed, truth. He loved tradition, because tradition is a bulwark, some think the only bulwark, of civilisation itself. He loved what he called on a famous Speech Day (1959) "sober, unpretentious worth", and he loved beauty. And in that same speech he roundly proclaimed his life's creed : "These two, the recognition of worth and the perception of beauty, are hallmarks of civilisation." And, of course, it is true that we do eventually become what we love. He loved civilisation, he loved gentlemanliness. And so he became a civilised gentleman.

But, in the last analysis, in the end, civilisation and gentlemanliness are not enough. Father Hilary, a fellow pupil ofBrendan's back in 1922, concluded his passionate panegyric at Brendan's funeral, with the enigmatic sentence : "At long last, Father Brendan, we have found you out." He did not elaborate on what he meant. But I think that sentence went home instantly to all of us present, who had known Brendan and loved him. Here was a man of quite exceptional talents and quite distinctive charm. Here was an eccentric and a gentleman, here was an intellectual and an artist and a musician. But all of this was peripheral, all of this was secondary, all of this was inessential. I helped him pack his possessions last July for his last journey, his last posting, to Harrington, where he knew he was going only to die. And I saw for myself that he took very little with him. Very little indeed. 
Because, at the last, all was stripped away. Crosswords ... I have known only three
men in my life who could complete Ximenes Crossword in the Sunday Times. Brendan was one. (The Times, of course, he tossed off in fifteen minutes after breakfast). Television and cinema .. he became an addict, totally undiscriminating, but always slyly cynical. Cigarettes . . . fifty a day, remorselessly. Music ... piano, violin, organ, and above all, polyphonic choir. Books ... omnivorous : from Victorian poetry and Edwardian belles-lettres to gangsters, spies and cowboys. Cartoons and Christmas Cards . . . His beloved silent Latin Mass . . . Quick wit and repartee . . . and always the laughter and the love of friends.

And all these things were stripped away. All these faded away. In fact, were not all these things only elements in an elaborate facade, designed to conceal the intensely private Brendan, lurking far behind ? In the end, there is only one thing that matters. He was too reticent, too shy to tell us what this was : but Father Hilary spotted it. "Christ and Brendan : how close these came together when the crown of death preceded the crown of glory". Exactly.
"At long last. Father Brendan, we have found you out". You were, after all, just a holy monk.