Theologian and hermit;

Born June 7 1918; Died April 7 2011

Father Roland Walls, who has died aged 92, was an Anglican priest for more than 40 years and chaplain at Rosslyn Chapel before converting to Roman Catholicism and rooting himself in Midlothian.

He was born at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, four months before the end of the First World War, the eldest of four children. His early life was conditioned by the death of his only sister at the age of nine months, the absence of his father serving with the Army and the continuous poverty of his family, including his father’s long periods of unemployment.

Having completed his primary education he decided to study for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Sacred Mission in Kelham Hall, Nottinghamshire. The college was home to the Society of the Sacred Mission, a monastic missionary order whose motto was “For the glory of God according to His will”.’In many ways this was a precept that Roland Walls would wholeheartedly follow for the rest of his life.

In the winter of 1940 he took deacon’s orders and was ordained priest the following year. After serving as assistant curate at St James, Manston, Leeds and at St Cecilia’s, Sheffield he entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1945 to study theology so as to prepare himself for returning to teach at Kelham. During this time, as the office of dean had fallen vacant, Fr Roland was asked to conduct services at the Corpus Chapel. He graduated with First Class Honours in 1948, being awarded the Scholefield New Testament Prize. He then returned to Kelham to teach but was soon elected to a non-residential fellowship at Corpus.

Appointed chaplain to the Bishop of Ely in 1951 he was re-elected as a fellow of Corpus and made chaplain until 1955, when the title of Dean of Chapel was revived for him. Searching for new challenges, he resigned the office there years later to become a canon residentiary of Sheffield Cathedral, which involved special pastoral work with the Sheffield Industrial Mission. His fellowship at Corpus continued until 1961.

In 1962, at the suggestion of the Bishop of Edinburgh, Kenneth Carey, Fr Roland accepted the post of chaplain at Rosslyn Chapel, in the atmospheric Midlothian wilderness of Roslin Glen, a few miles south of Edinburgh, in an area where coal-mining (as in Sheffield) had been one of the traditional occupations. In addition to his duties as parish priest, he was also a lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh at New College from 1963 to 1974.

In 1965, while still at Rosslyn Chapel, helped by many influences, including Taizé and St Francis, he helped to form the new Community of the Transfiguration, along with Fr John Halsey, Robert Haslam and (from 1972) Patty Burgess, a widow and deaconess. This was now the setting in which the rest of his days would be played out.

During these early years, following the promptings of the Second Vatican Council, Dom Columban Mulcahy, Abbot of the Cistercian Sancta Maria Abbey at Nunraw, in East Lothian, was one of the driving forces behind the ecumenical movement in Scotland. While on retreat at Nunraw, Abbot Columban directed Br John and Fr Roland to spend their first day meditating on the fact that”God loves you”. On the following day the abbot proposed that they think about a truth that “You can love God”. On the final day, he suggested they concentrate on the hardest truth of all “Love one another”, the injunction of Jesus to his disciples. This was a moment of enlightenment, for Abbot Columban had made them realise that these three truths were the foundations of a religious life.

Bowing to what seemed to be the inevitable direction of his life, he decided to become a Roman Catholic and was received into that church in 1981 and, after ordination into the Catholic priesthood, was advised by Archbishop Gordon Gray to root himself into the Midlothian heartland – which he did, sharing community life in a former corrugated iron miners’ institute.

Fr Roland touched many people, from diverse backgrounds, and continued his work of teaching and inspiring those who met him, smiling cherubically as he discussed the most thorny theological questions in a language that always surprised and challenged. Among his publications were From Loneliness to Solitude (1976) and The Royal Mysteries (1990).