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Cardinal Thomas Joseph Winning

THOMAS Winning's father was originally a coal-miner who joined the 5th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, spending four years in the trenches during the First World War. After demobilisation, his father found it difficult to get a job as work in the mines and steel works in Lanarkshire was not plentiful. His mother, Agnes, was the second youngest child of a family of 16 brothers and sisters.

Tom and his only sister, Margaret, two years his junior, attended St Patrick's Primary, Shieldmuir, and it was during this period that Tom Winning's lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church began.

The priests of the parish church invited him to be an altar boy and a member of the choir. His family was deeply religious without being ascetic or fanatical. The church was the centre of his mother's life and his father was heavily involved in parish activities. With all these role models, it came as little surprise to those who knew him that, while a pupil at Our Lady's High School, Motherwell, Tom Winning expressed the desire to become a priest.

When he was 17, after passing his Highers, he went for an interview at St Peter's Seminary, Bearsden, Glasgow.

On being asked why he wanted to be a priest, Tom thought for a moment. "I want to leave the world a better place than I found it," he said.

This answer must have met with approval because his application was accepted and he took the next step towards the priesthood.

His training in philosophy started in Blairs College in Aberdeen - all the seminaries abroad in Spain, Rome and Paris were closed down as a result of the war.

In 1944, he moved to St Peter's, Bearsden, to study theology and from there to St Joseph's College, Mill Hill, London, in 1945. By October 1946, the Scots College in Rome had reopened and Tom was one of a group of 20 to be sent to the Eternal City to complete his studies. To be assigned to Rome meant going to the very heart and soul of the Church and for Tom Winning it was a milestone in his life.

He was plagued by ill health during this period - suffering badly from stomach ulcers. Nevertheless, despite one of his superiors doubting that he would ever see his ordination, Winning completed his licentiate in theology and was made a priest in the Church of St John Lateran, in Rome, on 18 December, 1948.

His father, who had found employment making sweets, closed down his small confectionery business, sold the machinery and used the proceeds to enable all the family to be present at the ceremony. All the money went in one grand gesture.

Tom's first appointment was at St Aloysius, Chapelhall, in Lanarkshire, but he served there only for a year having been asked to return to Rome to study for a degree in Canon Law. After this he took up a post as Curate in St Mary's Church in Hamilton and then became secretary to Bishop James Donald Scanlan of Motherwell.

Tom Winning always felt that his propensity to ill health would preclude his advancement in the Church and no-one was more surprised than he was when in 1960, he was given the position of spiritual director to the students at Scots College in Rome.

It was during the early Sixties that the sessions of Vatican Council II were held in Rome when Pope John XXIII invited 3,500 bishops and heads of religious orders to discussions at St Peter's on how the Church could be renewed. Father Tom Winning acted as minute secretary at the Scottish Bishops' meetings during their visits to Rome, when they discussed how they were to implement the massive changes which were about to take place in the Church: among these that Mass no longer to be said in Latin but in English, and that there should be a new role for the lay person in the Church.

It was not going to be easy to put the theory of Vatican II into practice at grassroots level. Tom Winning was to spend four years at St Luke's in Motherwell attempting to meet this challenge.

In 1971, he was made Auxiliary Bishop to the Archbishop of Glasgow and three years later had succeeded him. It was a popular choice - one reporter described him as "looking and sounding like the kind of chap you'd be glad to meet having a half-pint at the local." Even then in 1974, he was being described as "a cheerfully disposed man of the people who does not wrap himself in a flurry of golden words".

Right away he reorganised the administration of the Archdiocese of Glasgow, giving priests more initiative by appointing some of them to take charge of areas for priority treatment in the life of the local church. It was at this time, too, that he established a diocesan newspaper as a vehicle for his thoughts and views.

He made history in 1975 by bringing the then faltering ecumenical movement a great step forward when he became the first Roman Catholic Archbishop to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, effectively ending 400 years of official silence between Protestants and Catholics.

It was not long before the media realised just what "good copy" this new Archbishop was proving to be with his challenging and contentious statements. He was unafraid to challenge Prince Charles to defend the Act of Succession, which prevents Catholics from becoming monarch. He was the first to respond to a request for help from the Scottish plastic surgeon David Jackson to assist the little Peruvian, "Boy" David. He decided to shelve a plan to renovate and extend St Andrew's Cathedral, telling Catholics that the money would be better spent on providing help for the poor and needy in the Archdiocese. Over the years, no political party has escaped his wrath, particularly on matters such as abortion, which for him was the most fundamental of all human-rights issues. He played a key role on bringing the Pope to Britain when the Falklands conflict was in danger of putting John Paul II's visit in jeopardy.

By the time he became Cardinal in 1994, the name Tom Winning was synonymous with straight talking. No other churchman in Britain hit the headlines as often as he did.

In recent years, a scandal involving a member of the Scottish hierarchy caused Thomas Winning and the Catholic population considerable embarrassment and his own handling of the situation was severely criticised. His relationship with the media reached a particularly low point during this period and this was to be compounded by further scandals involving priests in Scotland. He remained bloodied but unbowed, however, and his profile reached a new height during the Section 28 controversy last year, when he alienated many members of the gay and lesbian community with his uncompromising language.

Cardinal Tom Winning saw himself doing only what his people expected of him: giving firm and unflinching guidance on serious moral problems, no matter how unpopular that guidance might have been. His aim was always to keep God at the heart of people's lives and stem what he described as the "tide of secularism".

He was well loved for his warm and particularly Scottish sense of humour and will be remembered particularly for his concern for the poor and underprivileged in society.

 
 
 

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