Remembering Father Michael
In the Autumn of 1971 Dr Ernest Michael Beaumont took up the post of Professor of French at University College, Dublin. A distinguished scholar and an expert on the Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos, Dr Beaumont had previously been on the staff of the University of Southampton. He was also a priest in the Sourozh Diocese and as a priest was known as Father Michael.
His arrival received some publicity in England which he had not sought. A paragraph in the gossip column of The Spectator implied that the authorities in the university had assumed in appointing him that he was a Roman Catholic priest and had been disconcerted when he arrived with a wife and children. This was denied in letters to the magazine. One was from the university registrar describing the appointment procedure with a remarkable degree of openness. The other, both firm and amusing, was from Father Michael himself.
He established a small congregation in Dublin, meeting on alternate Sundays in the chapel of the Missions to Seamen on Eden Quay. The Irish Times caused some confusion on its church page by heading the notice announcing these services ‘Missions to Seamen’ and not mentioning that the services were in fact Russian Orthodox. Father Michael also built up contacts with the Irish province of the Society of Jesus who provided both a chapel and a choir for major festivals and other occasions, including a visit by Metropolitan Anthony in 1973.
At this period I was an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin studying Classics. I had long been interested in Orthodoxy but had never had any personal contact with Orthodox. I met Father Michael and his wife and two sons when he came to Trinity to preach in the College Chapel on Sunday morning in Church Unity Week 1972. I remember him setting out Orthodox theology and the attitudes to other churches very clearly and I enjoyed talking to him and his family over coffee after the service.
In November 1972 he again visited the Trinity College chapel to celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the occasion of the annual general meeting of the Irish branch of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association. This was the first Orthodox service I have ever attended. He was assisted by his elder son as server and the chapel choir sang. A western college chapel, with pews facing each other, is not the ideal shape for Orthodox worship nor was the chapel choir familiar with the role of an Orthodox choir. Nevertheless the mixture of ceremony and informality which always seems characteristic of Orthodox worship to non-Orthodox always came across strongly. I remember several members of Father Michael’s congregation, mostly Greeks and Greek Cypriots, were present.
Sadly, Father Michael died suddenly at the end of April 1973. He received warm tributes from Dublin church leaders. Mrs Beaumont continued to arrange services in the Eden Quay chapel with visiting priests. I attended one of these in June 1973 where the celebrant was a Father Seraphim Scouratoff. Remarkably, the priest sang in Old Church Slavonic while the cantor, who was Greek, replied in Byzantine chant. Somehow the unity of the service survived and I always remember it as rather a good introduction to the character of Orthodoxy. Father Seraphim preached a good, and characteristically Orthodox, short sermon.
Shortly afterwards I left Trinity and lost contact with the Dublin Orthodox. The Beaumont family returned to England and I did not hear from them until I briefly met one of the sons at a conference in 1993. Several of Father Michael’s parishioners were subsequently involved in the foundation of the Greek parish in Dublin in the late 1970s.
I shall always be grateful to Father Michael and the Beaumont family for introducing me to both the practice and the human face of Orthodoxy.