Professor Anthony Towey (1959-2022) died early this morning after a short illness.
Tom O’Loughlin has written the following obituary.
For many of his friends one of the images that flash up at the mention of his name is that of his singing, while also organising his audience as a chorus, of ‘On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at’ at the annual conferences of the Catholic Theological Society. To choose such a venerable item of folk music as one’s party piece tells you a lot more about him than that he came from Yorkshire! One needs to be a natural performer, with assured communication skills, and a warm rapport with one’s surrounding community. Anthony, whose sudden and brief final illness has shocked us all, was not only a fine theologian but a master of religious communication – and so, not surprisingly, he was a specialist in catechetics and in RE in schools. While the loss to his family, especially his wife and daughter, and friends is bitter and personal, it should be noted that there are few Catholics in Britain today with anything like his formal expertise.
Born on 14 October 1959 he was part of the generation who grew up amidst the great changes and hopes brought about by the Second Vatican Council – and much of his ministry as a priest and an academic would be concerned with understanding and implementing the Council’s vision. Soon after completing a BSc in International Trade and Development in the LSE, he began his seminary journey in the Venerable English College in Rome and was ordained for the Diocese of Hallam. During that time his intellectual and teaching abilities became obvious to his teachers and his bishop – and he soon returned to the seminary (Oscott and the VEC) as a teacher. Back in Rome he completed his PhD in the Gregorianum in 1995 which was published as Amicitia as Philosophical Foundation of the Eucharistic Theology of Thomas Aquinas. How appropriate a topic for Anthony for he had a singular ability to establish and maintain friendships. One of the enduring friendships he established while in the Greg was with one of his teachers: Gerard O’Collins SJ. On hearing of his death, he wrote:
Among the most cheerful and dedicated theological teachers I have ever known and worked alongside, Anthony faced the world with a ready smile and never flinched in making a generous contribution. I always left his presence freshly encouraged and energized. We first met when he studied at the Gregorian University in Rome, and we never lost touch with one another. When I finished in Rome after 33 years, he helped to make my stay at St Mary’s Twickenham richly rewarding. Anthony was the incarnation of Christian joy. He has been suddenly and sadly taken away from family and friends; but he has left us all lastingly happier and rooted in our faith.
Unusually for someone of his generation, all of Anthony’s studies in philosophy and theology were carried out in Rome and there was a certain Roman stamp on the way he did theology. He worked from the large picture inwards, valued the writing of textbooks, and the activity of spending oneself in the service of one’s students rather than for the more abstract goal of ‘the discipline’ or the more individualistic ‘my research.’ These aspects of his ministry as a theologian can be best seen in his 2013 book: An Introduction to Christian Theology: Biblical, Classical Contemporary – a hefty, one-volume survey of the inheritance of western theology from a Catholic perspective.
From his arrival in St Mary’s Twickenham his work spread outwards from teaching formal theology towards imparting theology within a larger context of teacher-training, training catechists, and communicating theology in a pastoral context. Anthony took a leading role in discussions on current trends in RE in the curriculum, seeking to influence education policy where it intersected with church-run schools, and in fostering research on the effectiveness of RE. It was in St Mary’s – where he worked until his death – that he met and married Karen North in 2009. Then we saw a whole new side of Anthony’s lovable personality develop: engaged as ever, but with a wider vision of the needs of the community of faith summed up in the title of his 2016 essay: ‘What you Believe is what your Life is.’
Ever active, Anthony was beside Michael Hayes when he launched The Pastoral Review and became editor following Michael’s death in 2017. It is a tribute to Anthony that, in difficult times for a pastoral journal, he presided over a successful restructuring and oversaw diversification into other media. I know that at the time of his death he was formulating even greater plans for the journal and for research on communicating faith. But it will not be for his skills, wonderful as they were, that we will most lament him. We shall miss his ability to debunk pomposity, to express mysteries in a warm attractive vernacular, and to make us laugh: his was a joyous light-filled faith that appreciated the loveliness of God. Ant, may the angels lead you to Abraham’s bosom, may we comfort each other with the memory of your laughter, and may we offer our sympathy and prayers to Karen and your daughter Bethany.