Mildred Nevile giving the first reading at a 50th anniversary mass for Cafod, the Catholic development agency, in Westminster Cathedral, January 2012
Mildred Nevile, activist and campaigner
Born 2 July, 1927; died 2 September, 2012.
Mildred Nevile was one of the most influential members of the Catholic Church in Britain and her contribution to its development in the past 50 years was bettered by few, if any, female or male, clergy or lay. She was for decades the motive force behind the Catholic Institute for International Relations, or CIIR, which under her leadership did much to shape British and wider European attitudes towards the world's poorer countries.
She hid her exceptional gifts of leadership behind an unfailing friendliness and modesty though the fact that she was a member of one of the most prominent of English families, settled in Lincolnshire since the Middle Ages, and had a diction many in the Royal Family might have envied, helped greatly her access to the highest in the land.
She was educated by a governess and did not receive a university education till her later life. She joined the Sword of the Spirit, the predecessor of CIIR, part-time in 1958. The Sword of the Spirit had been founded in 1940 by Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, at a time when Hitler and Mussolini enjoyed some support among misguided leaders of the Catholic Church in continental Europe.
Hinsley declared uncompromisingly that Britain had "taken up arms in the cause of justice and freedom." Before the Vatican short-sightedly moved to curb its ecumenical impulses, the new organisation attracted the support of Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Bell of Chichester and many other British churchmen.
In 1950 Cardinal Griffin, Hinsley's successor, relaunched ‘the Sword’ as a body seeking to establish a just social order in Europe. By 1958 it was working with the United Nations Association and the Council for Education in World Citizenship in spreading knowledge of world affairs in general and in schools in particular.
Nevile, a member of the Legion of Mary, had been active in welcoming and befriending foreign Catholic students in London, and took on that work and the promotion of the idea of young people volunteering for a period of work in poorer countries.
In January 1967 she took over as secretary-general of a body which had two years earlier changed its name to something less martial. She proposed leaving its earlier concerns, such as disarmament, the Cold War in Europe and racism, to more specialised bodies and concentrating CIIR's effort on problems of world poverty and development.
Recalling her visit to the Far East in 1973 she wrote, ‘What the Vietnamese wanted and needed was solidarity: justice, not charity. I became aware that aid without solidarity can be very untruthful: destructive to the giver and probably to the receiver too’.
The Institute operated in genteel poverty from Cambridge Terrace in Regents Park in a house leased to the Institute by landlords who wanted to keep out squatters. Nevile's successor Ian Linden recalled that when the boilers failed in really cold weather ‘staff would work in overcoats and try to type in gloves before in mid-winter finally retreating home’. Despite such hardships, the atmosphere at CIIR was always one of unstuffy, cheerful optimism.
Under Nevile's leadership, with the resources of the Education Committee, of which I was a member, and the help of staff members such as Tim Sheehy and Julian Filochowski, CIIR was a very effective lobbying group on world poverty and launched a succession of expertly argued and powerfully presented pamphlets and comments on international topics of the day.
CIIR's position of being a Catholic body, yet not an organisation controlled by or acting as a mouthpiece of the Catholic hierarchy, was a powerful one…
Full obituary in The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/mildred-nevile-campaigner-who-fought-tirelessly-for-the-worlds-poor-8145058.html
Obituary in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/07/mildred-nevile-obituary
Tributes to Mildred Neville: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=20983