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In 1973, the first Templeton Prize was given to Mother Teresa. In 2023, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this award. Over the next 52 weeks, we will highlight each of the 52 laureates (including years with dual winners) and reflect on their impact on the world. From humanitarians and saints to philosophers, theoretical physicists, and one king, the Templeton Prize has honored extraordinary people. Together, they have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it, making this (we humbly think) the world’s most interesting prize.

Lord George MacLeod was born on June 17, 1895, in Glasgow, Scotland. He was the founder of the monastic Iona Community on an island off the west coast of Scotland, and spent his life reviving a prayer-centered spiritual movement.

MacLeod was born into a wealthy family and had a privileged upbringing. He was educated at Winchester and Oxford before serving four years as a front-line fighter in the trenches of World War I. He was captain of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and saw action in Ypres and Passchendaele.

MacLeod saw firsthand the immense violence and destruction of the war which changed his view of the world and pushed him to pursue training in ministry. He went on to study at the University of Edinburgh, then studied for one year at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. When he returned to Scotland, he was invited to become an assistant at St Giles’ Cathedral. In 1924 he was ordained as minister in the Church of Scotland and became Padre of Toc H (Talbot House). Following a disagreement, he resigned from Toc H in 1926 but was invited to become associate minister at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh.

Despite his wealthy upbringing and lifestyle, it was during this time that his disdain for the social inequalities in Scotland grew.

In 1930 he decided to leave St. Cuthbert’s Church to be the minister at Govan Old Parrish Church to help fix the poverty and social issues. The level of work took a toll on his health, and he took a leave of absence to Jerusalem in 1933. During his recovery, he had a spiritual awakening while celebrating Easter Day in church. In 1938 he resigned from his position at the church to establish the Iona Community. He created it as an ecumenical Christian community working for peace and social justice. Publicity and donations turned the community into an international success.

Applying a simple monastic rule of prayer-centered life to its daily routine, the community became one of the most innovative and progressive spiritual movements in the Christian Church. This ecumenical community’s work continues, encouraging peace in the world and helping ordinary men and women with their personal struggles.

He was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1989 for his work and efforts with the Iona Community. For the first time since its inception, the ceremony was held at the Fumon Hall in Tokyo, Japan instead of Buckingham Palace in London. MacLeod was unable to travel to Tokyo due to his age at the time (91) but he did travel to London to receive the Prize from HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. MacLeod’s son spoke on his behalf in Tokyo. Sir John Templeton, religious leader and 1979 Templeton Prize laureate Nikkyo Niwano, and former prime minister of Japan Takeo Fukuda gave speeches about what MacLeod meant to the Prize.

  • Lord George MacLeod accepting his award from HRH Prince Philip

“Humility causes an open mind, which in turn makes it possible for us to learn from each other. An open mind causes progress. One of the purposes of the prize programme is to cause humility by helping people of all nations to learn about the rich variety of ways that other men love and understand the supreme Spirit. Also, competition causes progress. It may be good for the great visions and revelations to compete with each other in a living neighbourly way. If the earth knew only one religion, mankind’s spiritual progress might be slow. When scientists study the history of the millions to types of life on earth, many conclude that the creator has ordained competition for the purpose of progress.

Every person is a child of God. Therefore we are all brothers. Let us all then not only love each other but listen to each other and learn from each other. God is infinite and no human can know more than a tiny fraction of God. Therefore, in humility let us admit our ignorance and seek to listen and learn from every child of God who seeks to share with us his great inspirational visions. By listening we may learn. Loving competition with each child trying to share with others hit most beautiful insights about God may enhance the vision of all.”

– Sir John Templeton, 1989. Read the full speech

“Japanese Shinto regards mountains, rivers, grasses, and trees as the dwelling place of gods, and its believers worship and revere myriads of gods and deities. The teaching of Mahayana Buddhism has flourished in the background of this religious mind from ancient japan, and it has established the idea that ‘grasses, trees and lands all attain Buddhahood.’ It is no exaggeration to say that at the bottom of Japanese religions there is such an idea that they can receive various kinds of other religions and co-operate with one another by transcending the difference of each denomination.

I am very happy to welcome you in this Fumon Hall, sharing the joy with the joint recipients of the 1989 Templeton Prize, and having the opportunity of again keeping the mission of religionists in our memory. In this sense, I wish to conclude my speech of welcome by expressing my heartfelt thanks to all of you.”

– Nikkyo Niwano, 1989. Read the full speech

“We in Asia have had great experience of people of Scotland. They were the great bridge-builders of the last century and it is no wonder for Scotland has always placed great emphasis on learning. I understand it was the first country in Europe to introduce an element of compulsory education as far back as 1492. Today Scotland reflects the belief in the value of a broad based education. That is very much reflected in one of the joint winners this year – the Very Reverend Lord MacLeod who at 94 years of age is a vibrant reminder what good one person can do in a lifetime. The Iona community first founded in 563 by the Irish monk St. Columba is today a living witness to the value of a great spiritual tradition. This has been made possible for many people by the response of Lord MacLeod when during the economic depression of the nineteen thirties he took both the unemployed shipbuilders of the Clyde in Scotland and theological students of the universities to Iona to rebuild St. Columba’s Abbey and set out together on a journey that is forever beginning.

Lord MacLeod is honoured here today.”

– Takeo Fukuda, 1989. Read the full speech

Still Curious?

Learn more about Lord George MacLeod here!