Updated: Jul 12, 2022
Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv. was Chaplain at Fisher House from 2000 to 2013, in which year he became Dean at St Edmund’s College. At the end of his chaplaincy, the Cambridge University Catholic Association (CUCA) collected tributes written by members of our community, which have been reposted below.
Sr Pauline Burling OP, Assistant Chaplain 2002-07, writes:
Asked to write a few words about my time with Alban at Fisher House, I wonder what I should, or rather should not, say about being an assistant to this extraordinary chaplain from 2000 to 2007. To put it simply: the Mancunian with his sixth sense and the straightforward German woman got on right from start. Without great theories but with a contagious enthusiasm and engagement, Alban initiated and led the mission of Fisher House, by serving the Catholic members of this university in various ways. Yes, first of all, by the worthy celebration of the liturgy, the many inputs on Catholic teaching, but above all by pastoral care.
Only the members themselves could give details of the latter, which may have included a glass (or several); a good pasta accompanying it; a heart-to-heart; an exposition of an intricate philosophical matter; a ‘Well done, man!’ (or woman) when a boost was needed.
In short, Fisher House with Alban as pater familias stood for a Catholic home with an open door in the heart of Cambridge.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, President of CUCA 2000-10, writes:
Alban’s pastoral approach is inclusive. Without ever deviating from the teaching of the Church, which he presents in attractive terms, he has tried hard to reconcile members of a congregation that, like all intellectual communities, contains articulate, sometimes vehement, adherents of different brands of Catholicism. And he has found ways of persuading them to contribute in different ways to the work of the chaplaincy, so that, as far as I can tell, more senior members and students are involved in practical action than ever before. It helps that his ease of manner has made him popular with everyone.
But I will remember most his uninhibited Franciscan spontaneity. He could not hide his excitement when we went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was obviously profoundly moved by the sight of the landscapes which were the settings for the life on earth of Christ. His enthusiasm inspired us all.
Emma Kirkby, Chair of the Fisher Society 2010, writes:
In my first term at Cambridge and as a new member of Fisher House, I happened to mention to Fr Alban that I wasn’t too keen on wine. Being a classy Northerner, I preferred cider (you can take the girl out of the North…). His response? ‘My dear, you haven't been drinking the right wine!' He wasn’t wrong!
Fr Alban has been a great chaplain because of the sense of fun he brought to Fisher House. At one Fisher Society meeting, we were discussing which events to hold in the coming term. ‘Let’s have a jolly!’ declared Fr. Alban, and the ‘Christmas Jolly’, the first of many, was born.
‘Jolly’ is the word that sums up my time at Fisher House, and certainly any time the students spent with Fr Alban. I wish Fr. Alban every happiness and success in his new role at St. Edmund’s.
Robin Kirkpatrick, Senior Member, writes:
To be received into the Church by Alban, as I was, meant being moulded by a gentle but firm pressure – as dough or clay in a skilful hand. I came with all too many theological and academic presumptions. Alban was interested enough to submit these to scrutiny, happily bringing to bear his own powers of careful analysis. He was also, at certain sticking-points, able to say ‘Well, we in the Church don’t really think too much about…’ Above all, Alban would insist that proper understanding would only develop when, at last, one entered into the Church. This has proved to be so. ‘Conversion’ seems to be a continuing process, supported and renewed by the liturgy as Alban practises it. Invaluable as his teaching was, his preaching and so often his song remain a source of – let us say – interrogative pleasure.
Joan Greatrex, Senior Member, writes:
It is hard to imagine Fisher House without Fr Alban. He has been the central figure around which all of our activities – liturgical, educational and social – have revolved for eleven years. During this time. he has devoted himself unstintingly to ensure that all of us, from the youngest student to the oldest senior member, are welcomed into the community, made to feel at home and invited to play our part individually and collectively.
Our oldest member, Margaret Wileman, former president of Hughes Hall, is now 104. She was Vice President of CUCA in her active years; and she continues to attend Mass every Sunday. Her current concern is to ensure that Fr Alban has been provided with all the details she has drawn up for her requiem, over which he is to preside.
Fr Allan White OP, Chaplain at Fisher House 1993-98, writes:
Many people in Cambridge regarded the prospect of a Dominican and a Franciscan forming a community in the service of the university’s Catholics as an interesting ecumenical experiment whose outcome was uncertain. Dominican sagacity met Franciscan joie-de-vivre. One of the members of the Fisher House congregation described our partnership as ‘the best Batman and Robin team ever!’ It was not obvious who functioned in which role.
Fisher House was a place for talking to God or about God. All you needed was a willingness to talk and a strong stomach and the stamina to keep awake! The Lord’s promise to his disciples was amply fulfilled in those years: ‘if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them’ (Mark 16:18).
As I often said, and Fr Alban often repeated: ‘it was the best religious community I have ever lived in!’
Ashleigh Bridges, Assistant Treasurer of CUCA and Trinity College (2000), writes:
My most significant memories of being an undergraduate, and indeed of being a Catholic, centre around cosy evenings at table in Fisher House. As another bottle of wine opened, Fr Alban would sometimes speak of articles of our faith, giving them a humanity and relevance that felt completely new to me. His simple yet eloquent style was deeply moving, and the wine probably helped a bit too!
I remain extremely grateful to Fr Alban for his teaching and his friendship, as well as for introducing me to my first employer, to my girlfriend and, of course, to wine.
Matthew Ward, Director of the Schola Cantorum 2006-11 and Director of Music 2011-12, writes:
During Fr Alban’s time as chaplain, music for the liturgy at Fisher House has flourished. There have been times when the quality and variety of liturgical music could rival some College chapels, especially in the singers’ commitment to the spiritual intention of the music. From promoting the treasuries of chant and polyphony in the Latin Mass to new pieces composed for grand occasions or the ‘ordinary’ Sunday, Fr Alban always made the beauty and dignity of the Mass the cornerstone of his chaplaincy. Few priests are able to navigate with such aplomb the choppy waters of liturgical music-making, but Fr Alban maintained an even keel, promoting the excellent while keeping a pastoral perspective.
As the echoes of his mellifluous tones die away in the chaplaincy, the praise of God will continue to resound in the new chapel’s astounding acoustic. All members of Fisher House have cause to thank him for that legacy.