The first archbishop of Westminster to have retired, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor turned 80 yesterday, bringing the number of cardinal electors down to 118 and leaving England and Wales without a cardinal elector able to participate in a future conclave.

Born of Irish parents in Reading, young Cormac was one of four children. After a school career in Reading and Bath, he went to Rome in 1950 to study for the priesthood at the Venerable English College. He earned a degree in theology there, and went on to earn licentiates in philosophy and sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1956, he was ordained.

As a young priest, Father Murphy-O’Connor worked in Portsmouth and the surrounding area until 196, when he became the private secretary of Bishop Derek Worlock of Portsmouth. In 1970 followed an appointment as parish priest in Southampton, followed in late 1971 by a return to the Venerable English College, where Fr. Murphy-O’Connor became the new rector. With this appointment came the title of Monsignor in 1972.

In 1977, the aging Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Murphy-O’Connor as bishop of Arundel and Brighton. In his time as chief shepherd of that diocese, he worked much towards unity with the Anglican Church, which lead to him being awarded a Degree in Divinity by then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. He later came under scrutiny regarding the presence of an abusive priest working in his diocese. In early 2000, Bishop Murphy-O’Connor became the tenth archbishop of Westminster, which led, one year later, to him being created a cardinal, with the title church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See and the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for Culture. His most notable recent function was that of secretary of the Vox Clara commission which crafted the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Another high-profile task he was given was to oversee the  recent Apostolic Visitation of the Archdiocese of Armagh and its suffragans in Ireland, in the wake of the abuse crisis breaking in that country.

In 2009, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor retired, the first archbishop of Westminster to live long enough to do so.

Photo credit: The Papal Visit on Facebook.

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