On 13 March 1976, by the decree Quod Ecumenicum, (now Blessed) Pope Paul VI formed the Diocese of East Anglia (from the counties of Cambridge, Norfolk and Suffolk and the Unitary Authority of Peterborough) out of the Diocese of Northampton.
On 2 June 1976, the new diocese welcomed its first bishop, The Rt Revd Alan Clark who had previously been Auxiliary Bishop of Northampton with the Titular See of Elmham. The See was to have its seat in Norwich. The magnificent Early English-style church of St John the Baptist which had been constructed by His Grace , Henry, Duke of Norfolk was the largest parish church in England and it was raised to the status and dignity of the Cathedral Church for the new Diocese.
BISHOPS OF EAST ANGLIA
The Right Reverend Alan Charles Clark (1976-1995)
He was born of convert parents in Bickley, Kent on 9th August 1919. At a young age he contracted polio and was taken to Lourdes. He made a wonderful recovery and it was then that he set his sights on the priesthood. His older brother was to do the same.
Alan Clark studied at the Venerable English College in Rome and was ordained to the Priesthood for the Archdiocese of Southwark on 11 February 1945 (The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes). He was involved in the Second Vatican Council as a peritus and was later to become the Vice-Rector of his old seminary in Rome. From there he would return to his Diocese of Southwark where he became Parish Priest of Our Lady Help of Christian,Blackheath, Kent before being selected as the new Auxiliary Bishop of Northampton with the Titular See of Elmham.
In fact, Elmham was the location of one of the earliest cathedrals in East Anglia. In about AD 630 or AD 631, a diocese was established by St Felix for the Kingdom of the East Angles, with his episcopal seat at Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. In AD 672, the diocese was divided into the Sees of Dunwich and Elmham by St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The line of bishops of Elmham continued until it was interrupted by the Danish Viking invasions in the late 9th and early 10th centuries. By the mid 950s, the Sees of Elmham and Dunwich were reunited under one bishop, with the Episcopal See at Elmham. After the Norman conquest, the See was transferred to Thetford in 1075, and soon afterwards to Norwich in 1094. It looks like Rome was being prophetic in the appointment!
Bishop Clark was named the Co-chairman of ARCIC (Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission) and as the first bishop of the new diocese, he had to set up all the necessary instruments and commissions for the diocese to operate successfully. The diocese continued to grow with the development of the diocesan offices and diocesan tribunal attached to The White House in Poringland near Norwich. This estate had been gifted to the Diocese of Northampton by the Birbeck Family and had become the residence of the retired Bishop of Northampton, The Rt Revd Leo Parker.
Bishop Clark continued in office until his seventy-fifth birthday made it mandatory for him to tender his resignation to the Holy See in 1994. This was accepted on 21st March, 1995 and at that point he became Bishop Emeritus. He retired to a house built in the grounds and died in the 16th July, 2002 at the age of eighty-two.
The Most Reverend Peter David Smith (1995-2001)
Archbishop Smith was born in Battersea on 21 October 1943 and studied at Clapham College and later at Exeter University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in law. He undertook studies for the priesthood at St John’s Seminary in Wonersh for the Archdiocese of Southwark and on completion was sent for further studies to the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (The Angelicum) in Rome earning his doctorate in canon law. He was ordained to the priesthood on 5 July 1972. After doing pastoral work from 1972 to 1974, he began teaching canon law at St John’s Seminary in 1977. He then served as a curate in Thornton Heath (1984–1985) and as the Rector of St John’s Seminary (1985–1995).
On 21 March 1995, Smith was appointed Bishop of East Anglia by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II. He received his Episcopal consecration on the following 21 May from His Eminence, Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, with Archbishop Michael George Bowen and Bishop Alan Charles Clark serving as co-consecrators.
During his time as Bishop of East Anglia he continued as Chair of the Catholic Truth Society and was given responsibility for the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (1998).
He was to be the second Bishop of East Anglia only for five years before being translated to be the Archbishop of Cardiff and Metropolitan of Wales in 2001 and then eventually back to his home Archdiocese of Southwark in 2010 as Archbishop and Metropolitan.
The Right Reverend Michael Charles Evans (2003-2011)
Like our two previous Bishops, Bishop Michael Evans also came from the Archdiocese of Southwark.
He was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Southwark on 22 June 1975. He was to spend some time as an Assistant Priest prior to studying for a Master of Theology degree at the University of London for four years (1975–1979). He was to return to his seminary, St John’s Wonersh, for eight years as lecturer in Doctrine.
From 1995 to 2003 he served as Parish Priest at St Augustine’s Church in Tunbridge Wells before being appointed as the third Bishop of East Anglia on 14 February 2003 by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II. Bishop Evans received Episcopal consecration at the Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist, Norwich on 19 March 2003.
He was an energetic and prolific writer and spent much of his time trying to organise and consolidate the Diocese with a series of Diocesan Policies and long-range plans for parish mergers due to a decline in the number of priests and vocations. In November 2006 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer but decided doggedly to stay on in post until his death on 11th July, 2011 at the age of fifty-nine years.