Gerard David Tracey
A world-renowned Newman scholar and archivist at the Birmingham Oratory
GERARD DAVID TR ACEy, lay archivist at the Birmingham Oratory and worldrenowned Newman scholar, died in City hospital Birmingham on Monday 20 January. He was 46.
Gerard Tracey was born on 9 March 1954. He succeeded Fr Stephen Dessain as archivist at the Oratory in 1976. His Requiem was said at the Oratory on 31 January. Fr Paul Chavasse, provost and postulator for the Newman cause, was the chief celebrant.
Fr Paul Chavasse's homily is repeated here:
At a Requiem Mass in a Catholic Church there are so many things given us as a support and a strength: be it the prayers, the readings from Sacred Scripture, the ceremonies, all are designed to help us as we come face to face with that reality which marks the boundary of each and every one of our lives as individuals; that reality we know as death.
Our Lord was no stranger to the emotions and questionings of the human heart; He too experienced the pangs of separation we think of His tears at the death of His friend Lazarus but we think too of how He prepared His disciples to receive the astonishing fact that in Him death has met its match, its conqueror.
That is why, for the follower of Christ, death has lost its awful power and its terror. We still feel the effects of it, of course, but we face it head on with the hope that distinguishes us from non-believers.
Think of the words we heard Gerard Tracey, whom we bury today, surely knew and lived what those words encapsulate; knew and lived them, in his own inimitable style, during his all-toobrief life. In a sense, he lived them twice: firstly, as any Christian must, in his own life; secondly, through the life of Cardinal Newman that extraordinary figure about whom Gerard knew so much, and whose own adherence to the Way, the Truth and the Life, Gerard made it his life's work to understand and study in so profound a way, "Speaking forty years ago, Pope Paul VI said this: "[Newman] guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ, traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and of peace."
How well Gerard got to know that itinerary! How tirelessly he gave of himself in helping others to understand it too, and above all, to understand it correctly. We think this morning, and do so with gratitude, about all the contributions he made, so quietly accomplished and yet how thoroughly: the smallest request for some reference or other, from one of us, from a student, would produce just the thing needed, often from some obscure book obscure to us perhaps, but part and parcel of that amazing working library which was Gerard's mind.
As the Archbishop reminded us earlier in his personal tribute, another reason for our gratitude lies in the manner in which Gerard was instrumental in helping the Cause for Cardinal Newman's canonisation get underway his deep understanding of the man was invaluable in helping to portray the sanctity of his life and the way he lived the Christian virtues to an heroic degree. This in its turn, helped to present Newman to the world as a model and example of the Christian life, someone to whom we can turn with confidence in our prayers as an intercessor at the throne of God.
His contribution to our life at the Oratory was not confined solely to Cardinal Newman, but included our whole history, our strengths and our weaknesses, our daily round: from cooking in our kitchen for the Fathers or for the Parish, to coping with domestic crises on the roof or in the drains: Gerard would be there with a theory, a solution, a helping hand. What he did for us, he did for others too; little unsung acts of kindness, revealing, when discovered, a true Christian at work in the world.
In literary terms Gerard has died without writing his own individual work on the Cardinal, and we might well regret that loss, but in his editing work, in the assistance he gave others, he helped as no other to construct the modern world of Newman studies. Kevin Grant, writing of Gerard the other day, described him as "the hero of the acknowledgment pages", which sounds a little odd, but which enshrines the truth that he was the guiding hand, the advisor for so many.
His obituarist in The Times newspaper yesterday put it so well: "He never looked for recognition. It was enough that Newman be recognised." In this he surely manifested a particular charism of the Oratory's: that love of being unknown.
St Philip Neri, our founder said: "God has no need of men". How true; but also how true in this case, that so many around the world will feel Gerard's loss acutely, and miss so much the presence and help of such a unique character.
As we remember Gerard this morning, and as we give thanks to God for his life and the talents he was given and used, it would be wrong of me not to mention the all-important fact that we are here to pray for him.
I am sure he would be the first to urge that upon us the fact that as he helped so many, now we can help him by our prayers as he undertakes his last journey to God's presence, asking that his soul be purified from any sins or defilements, so that he might be worthy to enjoy the reward and the glory God has in store for him.
And in our prayers let us remember too his Mother, his family and closest friends all who mourn him that they might find from God comfort and strength in their so sad loss.
As he moves "from shadows and images into the truth", may Gerard receive from God that "fullness of wisdom and of peace", which Cardinal Newman received; may he be welcorned into his eternal home. In the words of Cardinal Newman's prayer:
"May He support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then in His mercy may he give us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last. Amen."
Gerard Tracey was buried in the graveyard at the Oratory House Rednal on the outskirts of Birmingham. His grave is in the shadow of the Victorian House, close to where Newman is buried.