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fr Sebastian Bullough, O.P. (1910 - 1967)

Monday, November 12, 2007
Born in Cambridge on 17 May 1910 to parents who were both to become lay Dominicans, Fr Sebastian was baptised Halley Edward. His father, Edward Bullough, was a professor of German at Cambridge University and his mother, Enrichetta Marchetti was the only child of the Italian actress, Eleanora Duse.

To be precise about his baptism, Halley (undoubtedly named after the comet) had in fact first been baptised in Little St Mary's, an Anglican church in Cambridge. But when his mother rediscovered her Catholic faith, she took him to the Catholic church in Cambridge and had him conditionally baptised again and gave him the names Hugh Dominic!

Hugh Dominic subsequently received a Dominican education at the English Dominicans' schools at Hawkesyard and Laxton. His father had converted to Catholicism in 1923 and, together with his mother, were active in the promotion of the faith. Given this background and the active Catholic life led by his parents, "Halley Bullough stood little chance to escape." He joined the Order in 1931 and entered the Province's novitiate at Woodchester.

Meanwhile, his parents began to build a fine Italianate house in Cambridge (shown in the photo below) which was dedicated to St Michael, but sadly, Professor Bullough's unexpected death from septicaemia in 1937 meant that he never saw the completion of his house, nor did Mrs Bullough inhabit it for long. In 1938, upon completion of the house, she bequeathed it to the English Dominican friars. This outstanding generosity crowned the gift of her two children to the Order, for Br Sebastian - as he was now called in the Order - had been joined by his sister Leonora who became Sr Mary Mark of the English Dominican Sisters at Stone.

Fr Sebastian was ordained on 22 July 1937 and assigned to the new priory of Cambridge where he could care for his mother who lived close by the house. He began his studies in Hebrew and Aramaic at the university rather than in Jerusalem, as was initially intended and after two years of further study in Rome, he was sent to teach at Laxton. He also served as prior at Woodchester, and taught in Blackfriars Oxford and finally from 1960, at the Cambridge faculty of Oriental Languages. Thus he returned to his roots where his mother died in 1961.

Fr Sebastian was a noted Biblical scholar who had a "passion to integrate Scripture as completely as possible with the Catholic organism", such that references in Scripture could give rise to footnotes on Roman basilicas or articles in the Penny Catechism and his Advent meditations frequently connected Scriptural texts with a rumination on plainsong melodies. His concern for Scripture as the inspiration for all things Catholic anticipated in many ways the Vatican II document 'Dei Verbum'. He was a member of the committee of the Society for Old Testament Studies and chairman of the Catholic Biblical Association. He was also vice-president of the Latin Mass Society, and the changes in the Church's liturgy in the wake of Vatican II saddened him.

He died on 30 July 1967 at the Dominican sisters' convent in Stone and was buried at Cambridge according to the Dominican rite so beloved by him. His Requiem was celebrated by the bishop of Nottingham according to the "full Latin liturgy of the Mass".

In his last book, 'Roman Catholicism', written in 1963, Fr Sebastian said that Dominicans "were to combine the secluded monastic life of the monk, including the Divine Office in choir, with the priestly work of the canon regular and the independent poverty of the itinerant preacher, free to be assigned anywhere in the Order." His understanding of our life remains true today, but in 1967 - the year of his death - he made an observation about the importance of contemplative prayer and choral office in the authentic Dominican life: "[St Dominic] founded a monastic Order whose members are, so to speak, 'preaching monks', from which it follows that monastic life is of the essence of the Order." In many ways, his spirit and ideals live on in our Cambridge priory, the house which owes its existence to the generosity of the Bulloughs.

Forty years after his death, Fr Sebastian's words continue to remind us that Dominican should be preachers of a word that has been prayerfully contemplated in humility, in silence and in assiduous study. Or as the Preaching Commission to the General Chapter at Krakow said in 2004: "In this world we will have something to say, but only if it is a word for which we have suffered, a word we have fought for, and a word for which we have prayed."

In remembering his 40th anniversary, we recall his wisdom, we ponder the fruit of his contemplation, and we give thanks for his example.

Lawrence Lew OP


Deacon (Edwin) Paul Lipscomb commented on 08-Feb-2017 03:37 PM
I was delighted to find and read this memory of Father Seb, my mentor at Laxton. Apart from giving me a life long interest in scripture by his inspired teaching, he tutored me in Italian. We did printing and bound books together and gave me a great insight into the artistic world. Rather than condemn efforts in choir practise he would always say "That was very nearly very good."! His pride and joy was a motor-cycle and sidecar which was given to him. as well as being an amazing linguist he performed adequately on the flute and played the organ. He was a good friend of my parents and I miss him still. He died much too young. RIP
Jacques Peters commented on 12-Jun-2017 09:00 AM
The internet is a source of fascination.
I was looking online at an album of Swiss towns coats of arms dating from before the first world war , which on the cover bore the name Halley Bullough.
Looking up the name brought me here. Perhaps he found them when he was young.
He must have been an interesting person.
Gary commented on 31-Jul-2020 08:55 PM
I am re-reading his book Roman Catholicism, in 2020 after first encountering it as an undergraduate in 1968. I am astounded by its clarity, vision, and sincerity. It is a gift to the world and to our faith.

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