Frater Paul Andrew Sutherland
Knight of Justice in Solemn Vows
15 February 21
“Fra’ Paul took his vows very seriously.” These words of his religious superior sum up this humble man, who set himself, once embarked on a course of action, to do all things well. In this way, modestly, without any intention to do so, and always with self-deprecating humour, Fra’ Paul Sutherland offers us a model of the ordinary life of a Catholic, and particularly of a Knight of Malta.
Paul Andrew Sutherland was born in Wolverhampton on 12 October 1943, the only child of Charles Andrew Roy Sutherland and Joyce Eleanor Nicoll. His family descended from the Guthrie Sutherlands of Burray, Orkney, and for some generations had been manufacturers in the Midlands; his father, always called Roy, owned a firm of locksmiths. His mother’s family were seafarers from Devon and his maternal grandfather a Swiss metallurgical engineer.
Life as an only child in a big city, and solitary bus-rides, prompted a lifelong interest in transport, which translated into an encyclopædic and international knowledge – “I’m going to Alpbach by train this year”… “Oh… you’ll go to Jenbach… look out for the narrow gauge Zillertal railway…” Often the most amusing thing at the Rome gatherings of the Professed was Fra’ Paul faultless and instant recall of the entire city bus network, which he was not unwilling to share with minibus drivers who were going the wrong way – a jolly useful friend to have. His greatest interest was the trolleybus. Needless to say such an unusual hobby turned career-path brought its disadvantages – “You know they call me the bus conductor?” Any awkwardness was soon dispelled when Paul explained, “the laugh is on them, of course; my first office job paid less than a conductor.” The laugh was on members of the Order too: one occasion on the train to Ramsgate for a day of Recollection, he turned back the lapel of his coat to reveal a London Transport bus driver’s badge & number… “I thought I’d better wear it, just in case…” After his early job with The Midland Red Bus Company in Birmingham, Paul moved to London in the 1970s and completed his career in the offices of London Transport, rising to the top of the management structure, responsible for trouble-shooting emergencies.
There was an eccentricity about this passion: when our dear confrère Fra’ Richard Cheffins was dying in hospital, he complained that Fra’ Paul had chosen to read to him, during a visit, from a book entitled ‘Great Railway Disasters of the 19th Century’. Perhaps not the most cheerful subject.
Fra’ Paul was every inch a town boy. Once when invited to stay in the country in France, he would not walk beyond the edge of the village into the vineyards “because the pavements had stopped.” To him, the countryside existed solely as a setting for lovely parish churches and their pipe-organs.
In adulthood his religious awareness was first awakened in the Church of England, where he eventually became Parish Clerk of St Ethelburga Bishopsgate, the 14th Century church blown up by the IRA in 1993. He spent the next 15 years campaigning, successfully, for its restoration, against the church authorities which sought commercial redevelopment; an effort commemorated by a bronze heraldic plaque in the sanctuary.
During this time his faith moved beyond Anglicanism, and in the mid-1990s he sought reception into the Catholic Church. It would be, as ever, foolish to attribute this solely to ‘women’s ordination’ – he was too intelligent for that. The wisdom of this course was underlined by the fact that the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks demanded his instant resignation – wishing to remain a Liveryman, he thus became a Carman of the City of London at the same time as his Confirmation as a Catholic. It was through a series of Lent talks at St James’s Spanish Place on the ancient orders of chivalry that he met many who were to become his new friends, and which led eventually to his admission to the Order of Malta, as a Donat of Devotion, in 2004.
Fra’ Paul’s historical interest extended beyond trolleybuses to heraldry and church history, both subjects about which he was far more knowledgeable than he let on. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London in 2001, and around this time petitioned Lord Lyon for rematriculation of the wonderfully bellicose Sutherland arms. He was an active member of the Clan Sutherland Society, and a regular visitor to Edinburgh for events of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, a body which he once showed round our former Priory buildings at Clerkenwell dressed in his habit of a Knight of Justice.
A further interest was church music. He was untrained, and had never learned to read music, but could play countless hymns from memory on the organ and piano, and always sung the bass line, loudly, and accurately, in church. He was a writer of several hymn texts in honour of the saints, nearly all to the common metre familiar from the Office hymns, which were published in a small anthology in 2000. His hymn to Saint John the Baptist is used regularly by the Order in Britain. He was also occasionally a witty cartoonist, with a fine draughting hand, that, somehow, often managed to include a motor-bus.
His life in the Order was in the shadows, as he would have wished it; he never sought office, but was actively involved in many of the charitable activities, and mundane administrative chores, editing the Nominal Roll for several years. He went to Lourdes with the Order for many years, from the mid-1990s, at the initial invitation of our late Chaplain Mgr Antony Conlon, to whose Parish in Bunhill Row he had attached himself, and, logical as ever, was a stalwart of the Birmingham Lourdes Reunion. He lived the true precept that all hospitaller work is done as a knight, and from his retirement regularly looked after several elderly neighbours, visiting them and shopping for them after daily Mass, and would travel long distances to visit the housebound. He was immensely kind to elderly members of the Order, so often taken for granted. One cannot give fully without first learning to receive, and Fra’ Paul was a gracious, appreciative and welcome guest. His attention to the Daily Office was absolute, choosing to say the Little Office of Our Lady, the ancient traditional prayer of our Order. Following his Solemn Vows in 2013, he was characteristically serious about the vow of Poverty, and would always ask for permission to buy major items. One was a request for a new car. There was nothing wrong with his old car – Fra’ Paul explained awkwardly. However, he regularly gave ladies of his parish lifts to Mass and his current car only had two doors. There were now two ladies. He felt it was immodest for a lady to climb in and out of the back seat, and, as a Professed Knight, he should preserve the dignity of his passengers.
His love for, and work in, the Order was the conclusion of a long and orderly journey of faith, a bus route to Salvation, never spectacular, but equally never abashed by supposed grandeur, with a healthy disdain for gossip, and always with a twinkling sense of humour. He died of coronavirus, probably caught while shopping for food the week before. He will be much missed by his brethren in the Grand Priory, and by his fellow Professed throughout the Order.
Euge bone serve et fidelis, intra in gaudium Domini tui!
Fra’ Paul Sutherland, 12 October 1943 – 18 January 2021