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HEENAN, Cardinal John Carmel (1905-1975): Archbishop of Westminster

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0122 He
Held at: Westminster Diocesan Archives
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Full title: HEENAN, Cardinal John Carmel (1905-1975): Archbishop of Westminster
Date(s): [1963-1975]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 474 boxes
Name of creator(s): Heenan | John Carmel | 1905-1975 | Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born 26th January 1905, of parents both born themselves in the Parish of Clareen in Ireland. In infancy he was taught by Ursuline nuns who termed him 'Jackie Lantern'. He went to St. Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, London to be educated by the Jesuits and from there at 17 went on to Ushaw, which then had large numbers of ex-Servicemen. At the age of 19 he entered the Venerable English College where his acting and impersonation exploits became legendary. He was ordained in his own Ilford Parish Church and sent as Curate to St. Ethelburga's, Barking, Essex.

In 1937 aged 32, he became Parish Priest of Manor Park where he was to remain throughout the war until 1947. During these years of shared joy and suffering with his people he re-lived his childhood experiences when Zeppelins had lazily floated over London to drop primitive bombs. Now, however he was pulling trapped victims out of blitzed and burning buildings, putting out fires in his own parish school and spending nightly vigils at the local Fire Station. In 1940 he began broadcasting on the service to America - in a series called 'Britain Speaks'. He gave many talks on programmes for the Forces. He became known for his newspaper articles and public speaking.

While a Parish Priest he published five books; the best known being one about his former Rector in Rome, Cardinal Hinsley.

In 1947 he became Head of the Catholic Missionary Society when it was re-organising after the war. He gathered a strong team around him including two former VEC colleagues, G P Dwyer (later Archbishop) and T Holland (later Bishop). They used a motorised Chapel with loudspeakers for this. He was now in constant demand for talks and retreats. Much of his material he published in a new book, The People's Priest. As the book came into the shops he was named Bishop of Leeds.

His priests could now read their destiny. He brought instant activity to a Diocese that had previously had an ailing Bishop. Clergy were moved about rapidly and the Diocese earned the nickname 'the cruel see'. Choosing to live close to his people he was part of the Cathedral staff, he instituted an Open Day each Friday when anyone could see him without appointment.

New churches sprang up in this post-war era and his flock were most distressed to lose him to Liverpool in 1951 as Archbishop. He pushed for the building of the neglected Cathedral and launched a competition for the best design, which resulted in the consecration in 1967 of that unique Liverpool shape dominating the University skyline. By then Heenan had moved on to Archbishop of Westminster 1963-1975, and was created Cardinal Priest of San Silvestro in Capite on 22 February 1965.

He attended the Vatican Council, 1962-1965 where he was cautious yet determined about implementing its decisions. He set up both a Senate of Priests and a Pastoral Council and also a College for training religious teachers in the new thinking. The latter had a chequered existence. He sought fresh links through his own friendship with the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He led the Bishop's Conference on public statements about moral issues and was an outspoken opponent of abortion, contraception and euthanasia. These topics had just come alive as social phenomena.

At Rome he was a member of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and also of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. In 1967 he suffered a serious illness and for the next 6 years had to fight much ill-health. Heart attacks in 1973 and 1974 eventually led to his death on 7 November 1975 aged 70.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of John Carmel Heenan as Archbishop of Westminster, [1963-1975], including material on the Holy See; Bishop's conferences; synods; religious orders; Vicars General and Chaplaincies; Papal Encyclicals; ecclesiastical and diocesan matters; moral, social and political issues; ecumenism; media, communications and publications; foreign countries; national and international institutions; government; embassies; hospitals; trusts, foundations and communities; lectures; homilies; patronages; personal correspondence; staff; invitations; education; visits and finance.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged by subject.

Conditions governing access:

Mostly open, some items are closed under the Data Protection Act, for more details consult the Archivist. Consultation by appointment only between 12:00-5:00, Mondays and Wednesdays. Call: 0207 938 3580 or email: for appointments.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only on the undertaking of a copyright declaration. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Westminster Roman Cathlic Diocesan Trustees.

Finding aids:

Subject index available in the Archive's reading room.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received by the Archive from Archbishop's House.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Sep 2008

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