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Archbishop Mario Conti dies in Glasgow at the age of 88

By Chris Saunderson

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The Elgin-born Emeritus Archbishop of Glasgow has died at the age of 88.

Archibishop Mario Conti. Picture: Arcdiocese of Glasgow
Archibishop Mario Conti. Picture: Arcdiocese of Glasgow

Archbishop Mario Conti died on November 8 after a short illness at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

He had been a priest for 64 years and a bishop for 45 years.

He trained at St Mary's College, Blairs, Aberdeenshire, before studying at the Scots College and Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he obtained degrees in philosophy and theology. He was ordained priest in Rome on October 26, 1958.

After a series of roles, including his only Parish Priest appointment to Wick and Thurso – Scotland’s most northerly mainland Catholic parishes – he was named bishop of Aberdeen in February 1977 and was ordained by Cardinal Gordon Gray, of St Andrews and Edinburgh at Aberdeen, on May 3, 1977.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow paid tribute to him.

He was one of the last surviving bishops in the world to have been appointed by Pope (now saint) Paul VI.

After 25 years in Aberdeen as Bishop he was named as successor to Cardinal Tom Winning as Archbishop of Glasgow in 2002, serving for 10 years during which time he developed deep ties with the city and its people, oversaw the renovation of St Andrew’s Cathedral and the construction of the adjacent Italian Cloister Garden to remember the victims of the wartime Arandora Star tragedy.

Perhaps his proudest moment came when he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Britain at the first public Mass of the German Pope’s state visit in 2010 at Bellahouston Park.

A man of culture, he was involved in a wide range of activities. He was regarded as the Scottish Catholic Church’s lead expert on ecumenism and inter religious dialogue, his knowledge of history, art and architecture was widely acclaimed, and he took a particular interest in the plight of the people of the Holy Land.

The Archbishop was much appreciated in Rome too, and led the Vatican delegation to the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998.

During the pontificate of St John Paul II he also served as a member of two departments of the Roman Curia – the Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and the Council for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church.

He was much loved by the Italian community in Scotland and became a reference point for them.

Shortly after being named Archbishop he was granted the title Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana by the President of the country for his distinguished service.

At the time of his death he had been preparing to welcome a delegation from the Tuscan town of Barga (from which his forebears came) who were due to present him this month with a special honour from the nearby city of Lucca.

He held honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian. He was also a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a former lead chaplain to the Knights of Malta and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

His episcopal motto was ‘Sincero corde servire’ – to serve with a sincere heart – and those who knew him well can testify that he lived up to that motto to a heroic degree.

He lived quietly after his retirement as Archbishop, assisting his successors when asked to do so. He lived to see his successor’s successor when Archbishop Philip Tartaglia (whom he had ordained bishop) died and was succeeded by the current Archbishop, William Nolan.

Archbishop Nolan said: “The death of Archbishop Mario will be felt not just in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, but across Scotland and beyond. He was a much-loved figure, a man of great energy and pastoral zeal, who loved the Church and loved the people in his care.

“When I was appointed Archbishop earlier this year I found him both gracious and welcoming and full of ideas and suggestions for the future.”

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