It is with great sadness that I announce the death of the Right Reverend David Konstant, Emeritus Bishop of Leeds.
Bishop Konstant, Bishop of Leeds from 1985 to 2004, died peacefully in the evening of Sunday 9 October 2016 fortified by the Rites of Holy Mother Church.
Please pray for the repose of his soul and for the comfort in faith of his family.
The arrangements for the Requiem Mass and obsequies for Bishop Konstant will be published in due course.
Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Right Reverend Marcus Stock
Bishop of Leeds
David Konstant became the eighth Bishop of Leeds in September 1985 when he succeeded the long-serving and popular Bishop William Gordon Wheeler.
He came north to Yorkshire from the Diocese of Westminster where he had been an assistant bishop to his friend and mentor, Cardinal Basil Hume, since 1977. London was his home city. He was born at Blackheath on 16 June 1930, the only child of Antoine and Dulcie Konstant.
His mother died when he was only six months old and thereafter he was cared for by his maternal grandmother. One of his godparents was the renowned Australian artist, Roy de Maistre. His father later remarried and went to live in East Africa, and in his youth he would travel there each summer on holiday. He developed a life-long interest in and commitment to that part of the world and for many years after his father’s death he continued to visit his relatives in South Africa and Zimbabwe. As Bishop of Leeds towards the end of the apartheid era he twinned his diocese with the Catholic archdiocese of Cape Town and was a good friend of the then Archbishop of Durban and leading opponent of the apartheid regime, the Most Rev Denis Hurley, who died in 2004.
David Konstant was educated first at preparatory schools in Sussex, at Wimbledon and at Banbury in Oxfordshire. From 1943-47 he was a student at St Edmund’s College at Ware in Hertfordshire. After leaving school he worked for a short time before entering the seminary at Allen Hall, Ware in 1948 to begin his studies for the priesthood.
He was ordained by Cardinal Bernard Griffin for the Westminster diocese on 12 June 1954 and then went up to Cambridge to read mathematics at Christ’s College. He graduated in 1958 and the following year he qualified as a teacher following a postgraduate course at the London University Institute of Education. Bishop Konstant later renewed his links with Cambridge when he was Chairman of the Oxford and Cambridge Catholic Education Board from 1984 until 1996.
From 1958-59 he was an assistant priest in the parish of St John the Evangelist, Islington and then he joined the staff of the Cardinal Vaughan School in Kensington, teaching maths and religious studies. He was always a keen musician, a trait he inherited from his father who was a professional concert pianist, and at the Vaughan he assumed responsibility for the school choir and orchestra. During this period he assisted the parish priest of St Thomas More at Eastcote in Middlesex each weekend.
In 1964 the new Archbishop of Westminster, John Heenan, appointed Fr Konstant as Director of School Chaplains in the diocese and the next year he became the Diocesan Advisor on Religious Education. For eighteen months from the beginning of 1969 he was the acting Head of St Michael’s Comprehensive School in Stevenage before becoming the first Director of WREC, the Westminster Religious Education Centre, in August 1970.
His knowledge and experience of schools, catechesis and pastoral liturgy allied to his leadership and administrative skills persuaded Heenan’s successor, Cardinal Hume that David Konstant was a prime candidate for promotion and in April 1977 he became an auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Westminster. For the next eight years he lived in Kensington and had pastoral oversight of the Catholic communities of Central London. In 1984 he was made a Freeman of the City of London.
In July of the following year it was announced that Pope John Paul II had appointed him to the Diocese of Leeds and he was installed as Bishop at St Anne’s Cathedral on 25 September 1985. In 1988 he sold Bishop’s House at Eltofts, near Thorner on the outskirts of Leeds and took up residence in suburban Headingley, where he continued to live following his retirement in 2004.
When he arrived in Leeds, Bishop Konstant was already the Chairman of the Department for Christian Education and Formation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Chairman of the CES, the Catholic Education Service. These posts meant that for many years after 1985 he returned to the capital frequently in order to attend meetings of one kind or another during a period of significant change for state education.
He was widely recognised as a highly effective negotiator promoting the cause of Catholic schools. His expertise, wisdom and integrity gave him credibility with both ministers and civil servants. He was able to establish constructive working relationships with both groups and thus secure their trust and confidence. While on the one hand he understood the pressures on politicians and was willing sometimes to compromise, on the other he had the courage to stick to his principles as the national leader of Catholic education, most notably over the issue of Grant Maintained Schools. For a time he acted as Cardinal Hume’s contact with Number 10 Downing Street in relation to Northern Ireland and impressed, the head of Prime Minister James Callaghan’s Policy Unit, Bernard, now Lord Donoughue
In 1980 Bishop Konstant was a member of the planning committee for the National Pastoral Congress held in Liverpool and which led directly to the 1982 Papal Visit to Great Britain. Five years later he was one of six bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II to the international committee charged with drafting a new catechism for the world-wide Catholic Church. It was said later that his selection for this role was due in no small part to his well-known skill in using a laptop. His love affair with the personal computer and information technology in general was legendary and persisted to the end of his days. For three years starting in 1992 he was joint chairman of the body which supervised the preparation of the English language edition of the Catechism and in May 1994 he travelled to Rome to present the final version to the Pope.
Closer to home he led the working party of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference which produced The Common Good and the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching, a widely acclaimed teaching document published in the run-up to the 1997 general election. In 1998 he stood down from his responsibilities in the education sphere and took the chair of the Bishops’ Department for International Affairs. Since 1982 he had been the hierarchy’s advisor to the Catholic Institute for International Relations. There were, however, certain drawbacks for Bishop Konstant in all this high-level activity. It was undoubtedly personally demanding having to reconcile his potentially conflicting roles at national and diocesan level. Some in Leeds resented the amount of time he spent away from the diocese but it was always evident that he understood the fact that a bishop is ordained for the service of the universal Church as well as a particular diocese. Among his brother bishops he was an influential and esteemed colleague. Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool called him ‘a source of true wisdom, who always brought solid perspective to any issue and whose contributions to the bishops’ debates and discussions were always marked by clarity of thought and seriousness of purpose’.
In May 2001, Bishop Konstant suffered a stroke while travelling through France to join the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, and he never fully recovered from the effects of this illness. Shortly afterwards he petitioned the Holy See for a Coadjutor Bishop to assist him in running the diocese and the result was the appointment of Bishop Arthur Roche in July 2002. He retired in April 2004 when Bishop Roche succeeded him as the ninth Bishop of Leeds. Following his retirement Bishop Konstant was awarded honorary degrees by Leeds Metropolitan University in 2004 and by the University of Bradford in 2006, in recognition of his contributions to education, international relations and the civic life of his adopted county.
As Bishop of Leeds, David Konstant served as the first chairman of WYEC, the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council in 1986-87. One of the defining features of his episcopate was his role as a ‘bridge builder’ first with other Christian leaders and communities in Yorkshire and then increasingly with the representatives of other faiths. Invariably they recognised the personal qualities and skills that had had long been appreciated by his brother bishops in the Catholic Church. He himself was deeply convinced of the Church’s teaching, following on from Vatican II, in relation to Christian unity and dialogue with other faiths. He was one of the first Catholic bishops to appoint a diocesan inter-faith co-ordinator and he established a diocesan Interfaith Commission in 2001. He was close to the Anglican Bishop of Ripon, the late David Young, and counted Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu leaders among his friends.
In 1991, Bishop Konstant convened the Leeds Diocesan Pastoral Assembly and following on from this event he instigated the development of Hinsley Hall in Headingley as the Leeds Diocesan Pastoral and Conference Centre, which opened in 1999. He also oversaw the building of a new Diocesan Youth Centre at Myddleton Grange near Ilkley, which was completed in 2002. These projects were made possible by the success of the Growing as a Diocese fund-raising appeal, launched in 1993 and which, despite the scepticism of some of his priests and their parishioners, eventually produced over £5 million.
To mark his 75th birthday in the summer of 2005 the diocese published a festschrift, The Bishops of Leeds 1878-1985 – Essays in Honour of Bishop David Konstant.
Over the years he himself authored several books on aspects of Catholic education and liturgy. He also wrote several devotional works and composed a number of modern hymns. In 2009 he published Post Scripts – Some Pieces from Yorkshire, a collection of Saturday Sermons originally written for the Yorkshire Post. This book epitomises his style as a writer who always had a feeling for language, especially the written word, and used it with great skill. He wrote in a way that was both simple and elegant, direct and yet poetic. This medium of communication was his forte, and in truth he was always a much better writer than preacher.
Following his retirement in 2004 Bishop Konstant decided to stay in Yorkshire and he took up residence in a small house in the grounds of Hinsley Hall, the diocesan pastoral centre in Headingley, Leeds. Here he was able to spend more time on his own interests: music, sports, new technology and the more traditional pursuits of gardening and cooking. Over the years many guests enjoyed his warm hospitality at “Ashlea”. He also travelled at home and abroad, making several visits to South Africa. He continued to attend diocesan events until a few months before his death and was present in Leeds Cathedral for the episcopal ordination of Bishop Marcus Stock as tenth bishop of the diocese in November 2014. In the summer of 2016, however, it became clear that his health no longer allowed him to live independently and Bishop Konstant moved into Mount St Joseph’s Home in Headingley to be cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Bishop Konstant had a sharp intellect and was widely admired for his abilities. He was ever poised, discreet and business-like in manner. Indeed, after becoming a bishop he retained something of the schoolmaster, if not headmaster, in his public persona and this was not always well received either by the priests or laity in his diocese. It was only in his later years after retirement that the guard began to slip and they came to appreciate the underlying characteristics of a complex personality and an essentially private individual. More significant were his total lack of any pomposity, his evident empathy with the suffering and the sinful, and his grace and patience in dealing with difficult pastoral situations. In this regard he blossomed when free of the burdens of office, and in hindsight it may well be his tendency to seem austere, remote and even autocratic that counted against him when potential candidates to succeed Cardinal Hume were being considered after his death in 1999. Otherwise David Konstant was better qualified than most to lead the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Within his own diocese his reputation grew with the passing of the years.
Bishop Konstant was very much a leader in the sense that he had enthusiasm for the things of the Church and while he possessed a breadth and clarity of vision, at the same time he appreciated the challenges of translating ideas into practice. As befits a bishop he was a born teacher who never lost his own love of learning and sharing his knowledge with others. Over nearly two decades as a diocesan bishop he was unstintingly generous in giving of himself and in the long run perhaps his own health and well-being suffered as a result. But he lived long enough to enjoy a contented retirement and he will be remembered in Leeds and elsewhere with genuine affection, gratitude and profound respect.