Obituary: Father Mark Elvins, author and priest

BORN: 26 November, 1939, at Whitstable, Kent. Died: 1 May, 2014, in Oxford, aged 74.

Father Mark Elvins. Picture: Contributed
Father Mark Elvins. Picture: Contributed

Father Mark Elvins led a curious double life. He saw his special mission as helping the homeless, and had a lifetime involvement in caring for the sick and the poor. He founded Simon House in Oxford as a refuge, and hospices for the homeless in Brighton and Canterbury, as well as being co-founder of a legal centre in Kent for the poor and unemployed, and a drop-in centre in Glasgow. Nor were his efforts confined to the UK: three years ago, he set up a charity to support hard-hit families in Palestine. In 1985, he wrote the classic text The Church’s Response to the Homeless.

Father Elvins was also a noted heraldist, active as a writer and lecturer, and a firm adherent of the Jacobite cause.

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In 2007, he led the wreath-laying ceremony in London to honour of the bicentenary of the death of the so-called King Henry I of Scots (Henry Benedict Stuart, younger brother of Prince Charles Edward Stuart). Among Father Mark’s many heraldic writings is his magisterial book Cardinals and Heraldry (1988).

His enormous heraldic output was recognised in the Heraldry Society of England holding an annual Mark Elvins Lecture. He was also active in the White Lion Society, the organisation set up to support the work of the College of Arms in London.

Involved in the practice of chivalry for almost all of his life, he was one of those in the 900-year-old Order of Malta who helped set up a free-for-all community centre in Anderston in Glasgow, operating as a lunch club, internet café and after-school organisation.

Mark Anthony Lawrence Turnham Elvins, son of the Anglican rector of Dover Castle, originally intended to join the Regular Army, and indeed passed into Sandhurst.

A call to the Church came however, and after theological study, he was ordained an Anglican deacon, serving in the Territorial Army with the Honourable Artillery Company in London, and commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department.

He doubled in civilian life by working first as manager at St James’s Gallery in central London and latterly on the editorial staff of Debrett’s Peerage.

On Christmas Eve 1968, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, being ordained priest at Arundel Cathedral in Sussex and five years later, being appointed chantry priest to the Duke of Norfolk, England’s premier Catholic. He served in various parishes, as well as holding the posts of chaplain to the Master of the Worshipful Company of Scriveners, the London livery company, and to the university of Central Lancashire.

His Church studies were gained through the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, as well as in graduating master of arts from the University of London. He was a one-time Warden of Greyfriars, Oxford.

A further spiritual calling came when he entered the British Province of the Capuchin Order as a priest, making his perpetual profession in 1999.

Recognition of his work came in 1982 when he was appointed an Ecclesiastical Knight of Grace of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George. He had also been chaplain to the Order of Malta since 1981.

His philanthropic commitment and compassion was expressed through his work in Christian engagement with the homeless, as well as through his dozen books, with subjects ranging from drugs and care of the poor, to historical and heraldic accounts.

Father Elvins died after a short illness.