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William Theodore Heard was born on 24 February 1884 in Edinburgh, and died at Rome in the clinic at S. Stefano Rotondo run by the Blue Nuns, on the morning of Sunday, 16 September 1973. He was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church.
He was the eldest son of William Augustus Heard, Headmaster of Fettes College, and of Elizabeth Tamar Burt who died when William Theodore was only four. He was educated at Fettes College and at Balliol College, Oxford where he rowed. He was baptised conditionally on 9 August 1910 by Fr Stanislaus St John SJ in the Farm Street Church of The Immaculate Conception in Mayfair, central London and, being thus reconciled with the Catholic Church, he was then confirmed. In 1913 he was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood by Bishop (later Archbishop) Peter Amigo of Southwark, his application to be a student priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh having been ignored by Archbishop Smith -whether intentionally or by omission is unclear. He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome where he obtained his doctorate in philosophy in 1915 and his doctorates in both theology and canon law in 1921.
He was ordained to the priesthood aged 34 years in the Patriarchal Lateran Basilica (the Pope's Cathedral as Bishop of Rome) on 30 March, 1918, by Basilio Pompilj, Cardinal Bishop of Velletrie Segni, the Pope’s Vicar General for Rome. He acted as Confessor for the students of the Venerable English College, Rome, 1918-1921 and again 1927-1960s. In 1921 he was appointed curate at the Most Holy Trinity parish in Dockhead, Bermondsey. He was named a Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius XI on 30 September 1927 and on the following day, 1 October 1927, he was named Auditor of the Tribunal of the Holy Roman Rota (the judicial part of the Roman Curia) which acts as the Supreme Court of Appeal in the administration of the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1958 he was appointed Dean of the Holy Roman Rota (i.e. the equivalent of Chief Justice) and was elevated to Cardinal one year later when he was appointed Cardinal Deacon of the titular church San Teodoro. He was one of the rare modern instances of a Cardinal who was not a Bishop. This was rectified after three years when, on 19 April 1962 he was appointed Bishop of the titular see of Feradi Maius and consecrated Bishop by His Holiness Pope John XXIII personally in the same Patriarchal Lateran Basilica in which he had been ordained priest forty-four years before. He attended the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965 and participated in the conclave of 19 to 21 June 1963 which elected the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Montini to be Pope Paul VI.
For a number of years in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Cardinal Heard who -despite his sense of rejection by the Scottish Church in having not accepted him as a student for the priesthood- never forgot his Scottish birth and heritage, freely gave his time to serve as external confessor to the students of the Scots College, Rome, particularly during the summer season when the students migrated to the college villa at Marino.
On 1 January 1971 Pope Paul VI's new rule abolishing the right of Cardinals over 80 years of age to participate in the Conclave came into effect and Cardinal Heard, who was already nearly 87 years old, immediately lost his electoral rights.
He had a long decline aggravated by failing sight and hearing and his death at the age of 89 was natural and hardly surprising. His funeral took place in the Chapel of the Venerable English College, and he was buried in the Campo Verano cemetery, Rome.
Suffice it to say that in his lifetime -and certainly when he was first elevated to the Sacred College- the entire British press used to refer to him as "the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation".