FATHER TOM – Thomas Anthony Cullinan – known for his teaching, preaching, writing, his discomforting
dis-covering of how faith questions our assumptions, our relationship to the world, to one another, to justice and peace – was in all of this first and foremost a monk. A thoroughly Benedictine monk who prayed, worked and practised hospitality, but far from a traditional monastery at Ince Benet, the house he built by hand, with help from his architect brother Edward and local friends, on the edge of Liverpool.
Tom was born in London in 1935 and grew up in a big family with doctors in every generation. He followed his two elder brothers to Ampleforth College and after national service in the navy returned to Ampleforth as a young monk. His social awareness was widened at Oxford when as an antidote to maths studies he became involved with Oxfam; later he served on the Justice and Peace Commission while teaching at Ampleforth. But seeds had been sown and he sought a simpler, more ‘grounded’ monastic life. And so asked permission to begin the venture that led to the building of Ince Benet, where he lived until he died in 2019.
It was there that these talks grew out of daily life – welcoming guests, caring for trees, growing food, baking bread, fixing his bike, and the constant round of monastic prayer and engagement with scripture.
Much is the fruit of his solitude, solitude that “in fact brings us into profound communion with people. Invites us in the crucified living one, to carry in ourselves the agonies of people. Solitude sensitises us, makes our hearts both more vulnerable and more all-embracing”.
The simplicity, and at times starkness of Tom’s way of living gave him a freedom to question conventional approaches to our relatedness to one another and to the whole of creation, and to the meaning of the Incarnation and “why did Jesus die?”