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Fr Antony Francis Maximilian Conlon Obituary

After spending his childhood in the Republic of Ireland and attending St Enda’s College in Dublin, he came to Liverpool then London as a teenager, and soon became associated with Westminster Cathedral. Here he was a server in the pontificate of Cardinal Heenan and during this time his vocation to the priesthood developed. He was educated at the Royal English College in Valladolid and the Venerable English College, Rome, and held a Licence in Church History from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Later in life his PhD was undertaken at Heythrop College entitled, ‘What Ceremony Else’. It formed an important contribution to studies on the English Marian Restoration.

His ordination to the priesthood was on the feast of St Philip Neri, 26th May, 1979 at the hands of Cardinal Basil Hume. He served during the 80s in a number of parishes: St Mary’s Cadogan Street, Our Lady of the Rosary Marylebone, and Our Lady of Hal. He then spent the 90s as parish priest at St Joseph’s Bunhill Row where he stayed until 2001. These years were spent in restoration of the parish and culminated in the centenary celebrations with a magnificent Mass celebrated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

In 2001 Fr Antony came out of parish ministry and to serve as Chaplain to The Oratory Schools Association in South Oxfordshire. The School was founded by St John Henry Newman and the association comprised The Oratory School and The Oratory Preparatory School. His first school mass was a requiem as, no sooner as he arrived, did the terrible events of 9/11 occur. The succeeding 13 years proved to be a very happy marriage as he threw himself into school life with great gusto. He supported every aspect of school life, whether on the rugby touchline, the music concerts and events, or plays, he was an ever-present assuring presence for pupils, parents, governors, and staff. In his early days he even coached the gentlemen’s XI soccer team known as ‘Father’s angels’. His tenure as Chaplain witnessed spectacular one-off events such as the School’s 150th anniversary Mass in 2009 and Newman’s  Beatification in 2010, in addition to the annual fixed events such as the Lourdes pilgrimages, the Prep School’s trip to Rome, Confirmation Mass, Advent Carol Service, and Corpus Christi procession. Above all it was the daily round of masses, prayers, teaching, and counselling for which he will be especially remembered by a generation of young people. In a role which made so many demands on his time from early morning to late night it is astonishing that he also found time to write his doctoral thesis.

The number of requests for baptism and reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church by pupils, staff, and parents in his time was a true reflection of the kind of ministry St Philip Neri envisaged, not so the hard-sell but more by a subtle approach of making the Catholic faith attractive. It is fitting that the school still benefits from the many improvements Fr Antony made in his time to the religious fabric, chief of which include the restoration of the old Chapel as St Joseph’s Chapel, the rebuilding of the outdoor shrine altar, and the building of a new High Altar in the larger of the chapels.

After The Oratory Fr Antony did not move far. With the permission of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, he was able to take up an invitation from Archbishop Bernard Longley, the Archbishop of Birmingham, to stay in the same parish as priest at Goring-on-Thames and Woodcote. It was immediately apparent that he was a man full of energy who wished to build up the life of the church both materially and spiritually.  What was also clear was that his life was centred on Christ. Mass was offered with meticulous care and the practical consequences of this devotion inspired his assiduous attention to the needs of the sick, the needy, and the dying in a parish comprising sixteen villages. He attracted children and young people into the life of the Church; a number of those who had left the area returned to him when in need of counsel. His final project which he started but did not live to see completed is the building of a new parish room. This will be a fitting memorial to his work in the parish.

The unbroken thread which defined his entire adult life was his association with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He joined as a Donat of Devotion at the instigation of Lord Furness (a great benefactor of the Cathedral and Diocese of Westminster) in 1971. Following his Ordination he became Chaplain in the Order in 1980 and was appointed Chaplain of the Grand Priory of England at its restoration in 1993, thus the first Chaplain since the Reformation. This position he held until his death 27 years later. He was appointed Grand Cross in 2015. He devoted much time to organising the chaplaincy for the Order’s Lourdes pilgrimages, and also was regularly involved in leading devotions for the Order. This work continued even in the latter stages of his illness from cancer: the three meditations he prepared for the recent Triduum were hailed as ‘magisterial’.

He will be remembered for the way in which he managed, almost uniquely, to remain part of the Church mainstream while simultaneously flying the flag for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. This led to him being in high demand by the Latin Mass Society and others as one of the few people willing and competent to celebrate this Form. His joy at the promulgation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum’ cannot be overstated.

Fr Antony will be especially remembered for his great industry, unflagging work ethic, devotion to word and sacrament, and his zest for life. He was like a freshly opened bottle of champagne, full of life and vitality, bubbling over with love and appreciation for others, and sacrificial in his desire to serve those among whom he lived.

Fr David Elliott