10 June 2022

Bruce Kent (1929-2022): a friend
and a life-long peace activist

In the back row (right) in Roebuck House with Bruce Kent (front right) and Sean MacBride and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the early 1980s

Patrick Comerford

Bruce Kent, the world-known peace activist and retired Catholic priest, has died at age of 92 after a short illness.

I have been friends with Bruce Kent for almost 50 years since we first met at a peace conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, in 1976. In recent years, he was the Vice-President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and I have been President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND).

Bruce went to school in Stonyhurst and spent his conscription years in the Royal Tank Regiment before completing a law degree at Brasenose College, Oxford. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Westminster, and between 1958 and 1987 he worked in several London parishes, as chaplain to the University of London (1966-1974) and a chaplain to Cardinal Heenan.

When I first met Bruce in 1976, he had become a monsignor and was active in Pax Christi, Christian CND the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and War on Want. He was the chair of CND in 1977-1979, general secretary of CND (1980-1985) and chair again (1987-1990). In those years, he was one of the most vocal critics of Margaret Thatcher’s military and nuclear policies when public opposition to the deployment of Trident and cruise missiles was escalating.

I was involved in CND during those years, and for many years sat with Bruce on the council of CND. In those years, I was chair, secretary and vice-chair of Irish CND and Christian CND at different times. We spoke together at rallies and protests throughout Britain and Ireland in those heady days, icluding a large anti-war rally in Hyde Park at the height of the Falklands War in 1982.

Bruce was often my guest when he visited Dublin, and on one memorable evening we shared dinner with the Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Sean MacBride, who was President of Irish CND before me, at his home in Roebuck House.

Bruce stepped back from the priesthood in 1987. Despite rumours that Cardinal Basil Hume had tried to stop his involvement in politics, he insisted he never applied for laicisation, nor was he ever laicised.

In later years he continued to return to Ireland regularly. When the future President Michael D Higgins was honoured as the first recipient of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize, Bruce was present at the ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin in 1992.

That year, Bruce stood as the Labour candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon, but came third.

Bruce From 1985-1992, he succeeded the late Sean MacBride as President of the International Peace Bureau. We met in Dublin again when the council of the IPB met in Ireland in 2012 for the first time in its over 100-year history. He was honoured with the IPB Sean MacBride Peace Award in 2019.

On hearing of Bruce’s death, Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND, said Kent transformed the scope and confidence of the anti-nuclear movement beyond all recognition. ‘His leadership of CND in the 1980s was the embodiment of integrity, creativity and sheer determination.’

Professor Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford and President of the Movement for the Abolition of War, said he was an utterly determined advocate for peace, and ‘a relentless campaigner against the idiocy of nuclear weapons for more than 50 years.’ He added: ‘He never let up and was forever optimistic and inspiring, even at the most difficult of times.’

Bruce died on Wednesday. At the time of his death, he was a vice-president of Pax Christi and emeritus president of the Movement for the Abolition of War. He was an honorary fellow of Brasenose College and in the past year he and Valerie Flessati were jointly awarded the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism.

Bruce Kent and Valerie Flessati were married in 1988 and lived in Harringay, North London. He would have turned 93 later this month (22 June 2022). He is survived by Valerie, his sister Rosemary Meakins and his sister-in-law Ruth Kent.

1 comment:

Patricia Brewster-Willeke said...

Great obituary. What a life of service through peace advocacy.