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Canon Reginald Fuller (1908-2011) - A Reminiscence E-mail
Written by Henry Wansbrough OSB   
Wednesday, 18 May 2011 18:04

Fr Reggie Fuller was a distinguished Scripture scholar and founding member of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain. To mark his death, we offer the following reminiscence by Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB

I last visited Reggie some five years ago, in 2007, seeking information for an obituary-article on his school-friend and long-term colleague Dom Bernard Orchard. At the age of 99 he was still bright, lively and humorous. We spent a couple of hours together while he poured out his memories of their long association, jumping sparrow-like from one project to another. They had become colleagues as pupils at Ealing Priory School, and, though Reggie later moved to Ampleforth, continued their association for three-quarters of a century. This long-playing duet was of major significance for English Catholic biblical studies, and particularly for ecumenism. Always self-effacing, Reggie allowed himself to remain largely in the shadow of Bernard’s expansive, dominating character. Among their joint projects were two important publications, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (of which Bernard was editor for the first edition in 1953 and Reggie for the second in 1969) and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible – Catholic Edition (1966). Reggie was, however, perfectly capable of initiatives of his own, being a founder member and Secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain and founder of the periodical Scripture.

Born in 1908 to William and Florence Fuller, he was sent to school at Ealing. His father, a Harley Street consultant and author of medical books on anaemia, was clearly ambitious for his son, moving him first to Cardinal Vaughan School and then to Ampleforth.  Straight after school he entered the seminary at St Edmund’s, Ware (1926-1931), and after ordination was sent to Rome to study Old Testament, achieving his LSS in 1933 and doctorate in 1935. Fresh from this thorough and conventional training as a priest-scholar, he returned to teach scripture at Ware for 13 years (1936-1949) before moving back into London as Rector of Warwick Street (1950-1963). At Ware his judicious scholarship was honoured by a cartoon, showing him balancing on one hand, an allusion to his habit of introducing the other side of an argument, ‘On the other hand…’. It was not until he had reached the doughty age of 56 that he returned to study for a doctorate at Cambridge (1964-1968, a thesis on Alexander Geddes, a pioneer of biblical criticism, 1737-1802). Empowered by this further study, he taught for four years at St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill, before embarking on the adventure of three years as lecturer in Old Testament at the new University of Nairobi (1972-1975). Thereafter he returned to a series of pastoral appointments in his own archdiocese of Westminster until he finally retired to Nazareth House in his late eighties in 2003. He had continued undaunted as curate of St Mellitus, Tollington Park, despite being attacked and mauled by intruders to the sacristy and shockingly beaten over the head with a crucifix when already in his eighties.

Reggie’s real contribution lay in his part in the emergence of English Catholic biblical studies from the ice-age imposed by the reaction to the Catholic Modernist crisis of the early years of the twentieth century. At a meeting of the Catholic Higher Studies Conference in 1940, three years before the cautious thaw encouraged by the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, one of the real pioneers of Catholic biblical scholarship in Britain, Cuthbert Lattey, suggested the formation of a Catholic Biblical Association. Reggie was duly appointed Secretary, and the original trust deed shows the features of his antique typewriter. Secretary and Chairman he remained until 1982, after which he endowed the annual Lattey Lecture at Cambridge University in memory of this initiative. As Secretary he founded and edited (1946-1953) the periodical of the Association, Scripture, which still continues as an on-line publication.

One of the important products of the Association, pioneered by Bernard Orchard with Reggie at his side, was the Catholic Commentary, a one-volume commentary on the whole of scripture. Though still deeply traditional, it enabled Catholic scripture scholars of the English-speaking world to hold up their heads. Its second edition was superseded only by the Jerome Commentary in 1969. Another, potentially more important, initiative was the Catholic edition of the RSV, a first move towards the Common Bible, projected by Bernard and Reggie in 1952, but delayed through the timidity of the English hierarchy until 1966. In the end this translation was eclipsed by the publication in the same year of The Jerusalem Bible. The original project of the editor of the JB, Alexander Jones, was to make available in English the notes of the Bible de Jérusalem, which Reggie described (in a letter to Bernard) as ‘rather like buying a bicycle because you have a nice bell to put on it’.

In 2001 Reggie celebrated his 70 years of priestly ministry. In 2008 his 100th birthday was marked by a Mass concelebrated with Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, with messages of congratulation from both Queen and Pope. He continued to celebrate Mass until the day of his death. It was typical of Reggie’s unfailing courtesy that, being only 99, at the end of his conversation with me, he insisted on accompanying me to the door.