Born: Stamford, Connecticut 17 August 1911
Died: Washington DC, 25 March 2009
The son of John and Grace Boultwood, Henry Boultwood was born in Stamford, Connecticut USA where his father was working as a carpenter, having been loaned to an American railroad company by an English railway firm. Soon after their son’s birth the whole family returned to London where Henry spent his early childhood years but for his secondary education, he was sent to the Abbey School, Fort Augustus in Inverness-shire, in St Benedict’s Abbey, at that time in the 1920s experiencing a ferment of renewal under their dynamic new Abbot Andrew Joseph McDonald.
During his schooldays his qualities of leadership quickly emerged. He was equable in temperament, a deep thinker but also keenly aware of the comic side of life. While committed to his studies he was also a fine sportsman — as captain of cricket he was a steely fast-bowler. He also took an active part in the school’s theatrical activities, playing the challenging role of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with finesse.
In 1928 he took his school certificates and entered the monastic novitiate at Fort Augustus as Brother Alban. He was clothed on 29 September 1929, making his simple profession as a Benedictine monk a year later. His former Abbot had, by this time, become Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and placed great emphasis on sending candidates for the priesthood such as Br Alban to secular universities. Accordingly he was sent to Edinburgh University in 1933, graduating MA three years later.
During his time in Edinburgh he lived at the Benedictine St Andrew’s Priory and School at Canaan Lane off Morningside Road and there took part in the closing solemnities of the Eucharistic Congress led by the former Benedictine Abbot of Fort Augustus, Andrew J. McDonald, then Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Writing about those events many years afterwards Fr Alban supplied a less inflammatory account of the sectarian conflict than was provided by other witnesses. Fr Alban expressed surprise at the official police figures of 10,000 Protestant rioters outside the Priory grounds and 10,000 Catholics inside. He confirmed that, apart from shouting and throwing stones at buses carrying the Catholic worshippers, he was unaware of any major incidents of violence, mainly due to the determined police presence. However, he did note that ‘the atmosphere was not calmed by the presence of a group of men who set up camp in the Priory grounds as self-appointed guardians that weekend, and armed themselves with a strange assortment of items to serve as clubs.’ His account provides reliable evidence as to the existence at the Congress of informal Catholic vigilantes.
In the autumn of 1936 he made his solemn monastic profession. After further studies in philosophy and theology at the Benedictine Colegio Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, he was ordained a priest on 30 July 1939. Following the outbreak of War he volunteered for service in 1940 as a military chaplain. In his contribution to The Priest among the Soldiers (Burns & Oates, 1947) Fr Alban wrote of his twelve months posting to an armoured brigade from June 1943 to July 1944 as ‘among the most satisfactory and happiest of my service as a chaplain.’ From an initial posting to the British Army at Algiers, he then moved twenty miles inland to a little village near Robertville, saying Mass on the tailboard of a truck and later in a more grandiose chapel constructed from tubular supports cannibalised from six-ton lorries, from tarpaulin tank-covers and fresh grass mats.
His Division moved to Italy in March 1944 and he took part in the great offensive aimed at breaking open the defences of Cassino, liberating Rome and moving on up through central Italy. Fr Alban crossed over the River Rapido with a regiment of tanks supporting the infantry below the ruined Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, a sight that, to a Benedictine monk as he was, must have been poignant. His column then halted for two days north of Rome and he was able briefly to enter the city in a jeep and be present at an audience with Pope Pius XII, before re-visiting his old college. With the cessation of hostilities, he returned briefly to Fort Augustus and taught for a period in the Abbey School. However, in 1946 he was sent as Prior to St. Anselm’s Abbey, Washington, DC, a foundation of Fort Augustus. When St. Anselm’s became independent of Fort Augustus in 1949 father Alban was elected by the community as Conventual Prior and re-elected in 1957.
In 1961, the community became an Abbey and he was elected its first Abbot, a post he wisely and efficiently held until his retirement in 1975 when he was given the honorary title of Abbot of Dunfermline (previously held by Abbot Sir David Oswald Hunter Blair of Fort Augustus) by the Abbot President on behalf of the English Benedictine Congregation. Abbot Alban steered St Anselm’s through the challenging period after the Second Vatican Council when radical changes affected religious life. He was elected to a second term of office in 1969, but decided in 1975 to step down and resigned as abbot.
In retirement he worked as chaplain to a number of convents of sisters and assisted the Bishop of Arlington in administering confirmation in the diocese. Although increasingly frail in his final years, he continued to take an active part in the life of the monastic Community.
He passed away peacefully in his sleep at St Anselm’s on 25 March 2009, leaving behind a legacy of good counsel, much of it to be found in his books — “Alive to God” (1964), “Into his Splendid Light” (1968), and “Christ in Us” (1982).
He is survived by his two sisters, Monica and Clare, along with six nieces, one nephew, six great-nephews and seven great-nieces.
Michael T R B Turnbull