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Augustinian Cardinal Dies

Having celebrated his 94th birthday on Christmas Eve and been congratulated by Pope Francis after the Vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica that evening, Cardinal Prosper Grech OSA, the only living Augustinian cardinal, died suddenly of a heart attack on 30 December 2019. He lived in the International Augustinian student house of St Monica, just opposite St Peter’s Square, Rome.

Born Stanley Grech in Malta on 24 December 1925, he went to school locally and then began studying medicine at the Royal University of Malta. As it was wartime and Malta was under attack, he joined the army and manned an anti-aircraft battery. He then entered the Augustinian Order in 1943, taking the religious name Prosper, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1950.

A brilliant student, he obtained a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University, Rome, followed by a licentiate from the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he would later teach and obtain a doctorate. In 1957, thanks to a British Council scholarship, he spent a year each in Oxford and Cambridge as a research fellow. He was subsequently asked to collaborate on the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible, and his name appears in early editions alongside that of Graham Greene, the famous novelist.

Together with Fr Agostino Trapè OSA, he founded the Augustinian Patristics Institute, ‘Augustinianum’, in 1970, where he taught and served as President. In 1984, he was appointed a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and in 2003 became a member of the Pontifical Theological Academy and the following year of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. He was also a member of the Society of New Testament Studies and the International Patristic Association.

Consecrated a titular archbishop on 8 February 2012, he was created a cardinal ten days later by Pope Benedict XVI for having distinguished himself in the service of the Church as an outstanding teacher and scholar. As the cardinals gathered to elect a new Pope on 12 March 2012, too old to be one of the voters, he was invited to give the reflection to the assembled cardinal electors, after which the doors of the Sistine Chapel were closed and the voting began.

‘Prospero’, as he was fondly known, had a wry sense of humour with a twinkle in his eye. His simple lifestyle did not change when he became a cardinal and would often be seen wearing a cardigan and slacks with slippers around the house. He was told to give up riding a scooter, as it was not fitting for a cardinal to do so, so he reluctantly acquired a small car instead, which he drove until shortly before he died. He was also an accomplished photographer, and exhibited his work in the presidential palace in Malta.

The funeral took place in St Peter’s Basilica, 2 January 2020, Cardinal Re, the Vice-Dean of Cardinals presiding, with many cardinals, bishops, clergy, family, friends and some of his former students present. After the funeral, his remains were kept in the ancient church of S.Stefano in the Vatican (see photo). His burial took place in Malta on 8 January 2020. May he rest in peace.

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