Archbishop Mario Conti (1934-2022): An Appreciation

The late Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, who sadly died last week after a short illness, was a giant figure in Scottish religious circles in the last quarter of a century. As the First Minister wrote in her tribute to him, his long life and service dedicated to the Catholic Church in Scotland will be remembered fondly by all who knew and worked with him.

His obituaries in The Herald and The Scotsman also make note of his passion for Scotland’s rich ecclesiastical built heritage which is how he came to become so involved in the work of Scotland’s Churches Trust and of one of our parent charities, Scotland’s Churches Scheme.

While he was Bishop of Aberdeen, he joined the Board of Trustees of the latter in 1996, a year after its formation. He continued to be an active Trustee for almost twenty years – after his elevation to Archbishop of Glasgow in 2002, through the merger of SCS with the Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust and the formation of Scotland’s Churches Trust, until his retirement in 2015.

Detail from a portrait of Archbishop Conti

Image credit: the Archdiocese of Glasgow

In those first few years on the Board of SCS, he joined an impressive circle of influential contemporary figures with a passion for Scotland’s Churches, including Church of Scotland Moderator Robin Barbour, Episcopal Primus Richard Holloway and Lady Marion Fraser, who became the President of both the SCS and SCT.

Archbishop Conti was a powerful advocate of our Trust’s national network of local volunteers and an enthusiastic promoter of our “Scotland’s Pilgrim Journeys” initiative. On moving to Glasgow, he was closely involved with Baillie Cathie McMaster in the city’s work on regeneration and preservation of the religious built heritage of the city and strengthening its links with SCS/SCT.

His superb work on the renovation of St Andrew’s Cathedral between 2009 and 2011 has been described as “the most significant renovation of a Catholic church in Scotland since the Reformation”. His creation of a memorial garden to victims of the Arandora Star sinking in the cloistered garden outside rightfully garnered international attention on this oft-overlooked sad episode in Scotland’s 20th century history. 

Arandora Star Memorial Garden in the grounds of St Andrew’s Cathedral. Glasgow

Image credit: the Archdiocese of Glasgow

“…a formidable figure in the protection and promotion of Scotland’s rich ecclesiastical heritage…”

As Bishop, Archbishop and Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti was a welcome and regular figure at our annual Patron’s Gatherings, right up to this year’s event in Glasgow (the top image shows him there deep in conversation with other guests).

In discussing his passing, former Director of SCAHT and Trustee of SCT, Dr Brian Fraser commented that: “Mario Conti was a formidable figure in the protection and promotion of Scotland’s rich ecclesiastical heritage, transcending the denominational divides with an ease of manner and quirky sense of humour which endeared him to so many.” Our Chairperson, Prof Adam Cumming added, “It is always sad to see such a stalwart champion of our work pass and Archbishop Conti will be greatly missed, but we always remember his steadfast support and enthusiasm with huge gratitude.”

The thoughts of our Trustees, past and present, our staff and volunteers are with Archbishop Conti’s family and friends at this difficult time.