Rev. G.M. Dilworth O.S.B.

Born: 18 April, 1924, in Edinburgh
Died: 28 February, 2004, in Edinburgh, Aged 79
Author: Michael T.R.B. Turnbull

Gerard Mark Dilworth was an important figure in the Catholic Church. He was twice head of the Abbey School at Fort Augustus, spent four years as the keeper of the Scottish Catholic Archives and was the last abbot of Fort Augustus.

The son of a licensed grocer and hotelier, he was sent at the age of seven to the Benedictine St Andrew’s Priory School in Canaan Lane, Edinburgh. There, in the summer of 1935, as an altar-server at the closing solemn procession of the Eucharistic Congress in the school grounds, he had first-hand experience of anti-Catholic demonstrations.

In 1937, he went on to the Abbey School at Fort Augustus, on the shores of Loch Ness, where he showed aptitude for languages and science. After taking his Highers, he decided to enter the monastery at Fort Augustus, making his solemn profession, then taking minor orders and the diaconate. In 1947, he was ordained a priest, taking the name Mark, and two years later was sent to St Benet’s Hall, Oxford. Although it was intended that he read science, he chose instead to study French and Italian, graduating BA in 1952.

For the next 12 years, he was a schoolmaster, first at the Abbey’s prep school, Carlekemp, in North Berwick, and then at Fort Augustus itself. In 1958, he spent a sabbatical term in Germany, surveying monastic archives. From 1960 to 1963, he was the headmaster of the Abbey School, before beginning postgraduate studies in 1964 at Edinburgh University’s department of Scottish history, researching “The Scottish Abbey in Würzburg 1595-1696”, using Scottish, German, Swiss and Roman archives, and partly financed by a Leverhulme grant. He was awarded a PhD in 1967, and his thesis won the Hume Brown prize; it was later published by the Scottish Academic Press as The Scots in Franconia.

Reviewing the book, Alistair M Stewart said that, although most of the archives of the Scots College in Würzburg, Bavaria, had been destroyed by the Allied bombing raids of 1945, Father Mark’s scholarship and industry combined to produce a well-documented account.

After a second term as a teacher and headmaster at Fort Augustus, Fr Mark held a research fellowship at Edinburgh University from 1971 to 1973. It was at this point that his spiritual life radically changed direction. During a US tour in 1971-2 to celebrate his silver jubilee as a priest, he visited the Benedictine abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Taizé community at Pecos, New Mexico, where he was bowled over by what was, to him, a new style of charismatic spirituality. This conversion experience was followed by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The result was the publication of In the Heart of His House (1979).

But academic research was not neglected. For 13 years, Fr Mark had been examining the commendator system in Scotland — how 16th-century monasteries had been administered by non-monks, usually members of powerful families who had the rights of an abbot without having taken monastic vows, and who often advanced their claim to monastic titles and eventually secured monastic lands. A second area of interest were the monks who survived the official change of religion in 1560 – how many survived or conformed; how many were used by the Church of Scotland as lay “readers”. This study won the Royal Historical Society’s David Berry prize in 1985.

From 1986 to 1990, Fr Mark was keeper and archivist of the Scottish Catholic Archives at Drummond Place, Edinburgh, a key appointment which enabled him to develop the collection while at the same time offering him scope for further historical research. In 1991, he was elected abbot of Fort Augustus, a position he held with distinction during the painful period of the closure of the Abbey School (1993) and the monastic community’s gradual decline, culminating in the monks leaving Fort Augustus in 1998.

One of his proudest achievements came in 1992 when he deposited some 6,900, mainly pre-1801, volumes from the Abbey Library in the National Library of Scotland; he also published his important survey Scottish Monasteries in the late Middle Ages (1995).

When the community was dispersed to other abbeys, he was given the honorary titles of Abbot Emeritus of Fort Augustus and Titular Abbot of Iona. He retired to Edinburgh, from where he continued his historical research, writing articles on Fearn Abbey, in Easter Ross, and on Abbot Walter Malin, of Glenluce, in Galloway, for The Innes Review, as well as contributing to a book and conference on the fourth centenary of the Scots College in Rome. Other articles were written for the Oxford Companion to Scottish History and for an American encyclopedia of monasticism. To the new Dictionary of National Biography, Abbot Mark contributed six articles, taking his total to 35.

He also took part in a number of television programmes on Scottish history, as well as radio programmes on Scottish church buildings. From his original grounding in the Romance languages, he had gone on over the years to teach himself Gaelic and Russian. It is said he could make himself understood in every European language.

Although, by nature, fascinated by the past, Abbot Mark had the practical curiosity of the scientist that he never became. He was also unfailingly cheerful – qualities which enriched his historical research. Abbot Mark was also a significant force in the ecumenical movement in Scotland, serving as secretary and treasurer of the Edinburgh Ecumenical Group. But he was best known within Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

His own verdict was that “Charismatic Renewal has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. It has given a shot in the arm to people’s daily lives and made their faith come alive, and also greatly advanced the progress of ecumenism. It makes you realise that there is a spirit working among all the peoples of the various denominations. It was always in the head – Charismatic Renewal has put it into the heart”.

A Requiem Mass will be held in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, at 11am tomorrow and Abbot Mark will be buried in the Abbey Cemetery at Fort Augustus on Friday.

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