Fr Leo Chamberlain OSB, Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey and former Headmaster of Ampleforth College, died in the monastery infirmary at Ampleforth Abbey on 23 November 2019, at the age of 79.
He was born in Tonbridge in August 1940 and educated at Gilling Castle and Ampleforth College. He joined the monastic community in September 1961 and was ordained priest on 7 July 1967.
For forty years Fr Leo worked in the school in a variety of roles: in 1972 he became Housemaster of St Aidan’s boarding House and a year later he was also appointed Senior History Master. Throughout the 1980s Fr Leo launched a number of initiatives providing support for persecuted Christians in Eastern Europe, working with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need and Keston College, on whose Council of Management he was a member from 1986-2003. In 1990 Fr Leo set up the first major international conference on Believers, Society & State in Central and Eastern Europe hosted by Ampleforth. From 1992-2000 he was also a member of the Bishops’ Conference Advisory Committee on Europe.
In September 1992, Fr Leo was appointed Acting Headmaster of Ampleforth College, and Headmaster from January 1993 – December 2003. That eleven-year period was one of major change as the school responded to the conditions of the time and prepared for the 21st century with a comprehensive £20m redevelopment programme. Many of the achievements were listed by Fr Leo in his final Exhibition speech in May 2003: the refurbishment of the kitchens and refectories in the Upper Building, the refurbishment of all teaching facilities, the extension of the curriculum and improvement in academic performance. Fr Leo also guided the school’s move towards co-education, with girls introduced into the Sixth Form in 2001, and their introduction at 13+ starting in September 2004.
Fr Leo retired from the school in December 2003 at the age of 63, and in September 2004 was appointed Master of St Benet’s Hall, a Permanent Private Hall in the University of Oxford. In the three years in post, he led the administrative reform of the Hall and co-operation with other Catholic institutions in Oxford.
In 2008, Fr Leo was appointed Cathedral Prior of Gloucester Cathedral, a title dating from pre-Reformation times, when Benedictines formed the chapters of nine of the cathedrals of England. Although today such titles carry no jurisdiction, they have been traditionally bestowed on Benedictine monks since 1633.
In April 2008, Fr Leo was appointed parish priest of St John’s, Easingwold. In a ten-year period he was responsible for the extensive refurbishment of the church and priory.
Increasing ill health and lack of mobility forced Fr Leo to return to the monastery infirmary in Ampleforth in April 2018. On 8 July that year he returned to the parish to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his ordination and the completion of the church refurbishment.
In November 2019 his health deteriorated significantly and he was admitted to York Hospital, but returned to the monastery infirmary where he died peacefully on 23 November 2019.
Fr Leo’s body will be received into the Abbey Church at Ampleforth on Thursday 5 December at 6.00 p.m.. His funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11.30 a.m. on Friday 6 December in the Abbey Church, followed by burial in the Abbey crypt.