New Novices Enter Traditional English Benedictine Order

The Sisters of Saint Cecilia’s Abbey

Cecilia“Today, young people are drawn to a rich liturgical life which includes the singing of Mass and the Divine Office in Latin, the Church’s traditional language, and Gregorian Chant, its traditional song,” says Sister Mary David. “In the last year and a half, we have been blessed with a Solemn Profession, two First Professions, and two new entrants. Except for the most recent entrant, who is now a novice, all were in their twenties when they entered. One was only nineteen.”

Founded in 1882 in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, St Cecilia’s Abbey belongs to the Benedictine Order, part of the family of houses connected to the famous Abbey of Solesmes, France. The nuns live a traditional monastic life of prayer, work and study in accordance with the ancient Rule of St Benedict. At the heart of their life is the praise of God, expressed through the solemn celebration of the sacred liturgy.

The Sisters maintain ‘the truth of the hours,” singing the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours at the same times which have been kept by the monastic orders since ancient times. For example, the “little hours” (Terce, Sect and None), ‘sanctify the day and are a powerful help in “the return to God” that we make throughout the day,’ according to Sister Mary David.

Ceremony, a strong family spirit and pure contemplation are characteristic of the Solesmes Congregation, founded in 1832 by Dom Prosper Guéranger.  For almost two hundred years, Solesmes and its daughter houses have worked to preserve what is called ‘plainchant’ in England and ‘Gregorian chant’ elsewhere.  


For almost two hundred years, Solesmes and its daughter Benedictine houses have worked to preserve the haunting, ineffable strains of ‘plain’ or ‘Gregorian’ chant, the ancient music of the Church.


Why do you still have your liturgy in Latin?

“We always have the Mass readings in English. In the Divine Office we have the Patristic readings in English. But we made a deliberate choice to keep the rest in Latin for several reasons. First, the Gregorian Chant which we use for all of our liturgy was composed for Latin texts. The melodies weren’t written first and then the words fitted to them; the melodies were made for the existing texts (almost all quotations from Scripture). We couldn’t use the same melodies for English words, and they’re so subtle and beautiful that to adapt them would be to spoil them.

These chants evolved from the music of the synagogues which the first Christians adopted, and developed over more than a thousand years. There’s often a theology in the melody itself – for example, as it becomes more elaborate at the important words or phrases. Then, all the great monastic figures in the western Church wrote in Latin and it’s good to keep in touch with them. Often we’re singing chants which they would have known and prayed with just as we do. While Vatican II allowed the use of modern languages and modern music in the liturgy, it also insisted on the value of the Latin language and Gregorian Chant, and subsequent Popes have stressed that Benedictine monasteries have a particular duty and privilege to cherish and draw life from this wonderful spiritual heritage.

If girls don’t know Latin when they enter – and they usually don’t know any – they learn it in the novitiate. It is astonishing how quickly you pick it up with one-to-one teaching and singing it in the liturgy several times a day. The same is true of Gregorian Chant. Most of us are not “musical”, but our choir mistress says she has found that anyone can learn to sing the Chant. People nowadays often use discipline in posture and breathing as aids to prayer, or learn to discern the promptings of the Spirit through their memory or imagination or emotions. Learning Latin and music for the sake of praying through the Chant is just another discipline which centuries of experience have shown to be a way to deeper union with God.

For Dom Guéranger, the Benedictine is someone who ‘tends towards God’ and who invites others by his example to also tend towards God. The monk is a contemplative, and his contemplation, like that of the angels, expresses itself in a life of praise. In praising God, the monk is a sign to all in the Church of their primary duty to pray.

In a letter to the Abbot of Solesmes signed in a shaky hand just ten days before he died, Blessed Pope John Paul said “be strengthened in their commitment and in the service that they give to the world in an invisible way, keeping vigil before God in liturgical prayer. Thanks to them, the world is lifted up towards God . . . Reviving the figure of Dom Guéranger is an invitation for all the faithful to rediscover the roots of the liturgy and to give a new breath to their journey of prayer.”

cecilia4“Learning Latin and music  for the sake of praying through the Chant is just another discipline which
centuries of experience have shown to be a way to deeper union with God.”


Is your life very austere?

Monastic poverty does not mean living in destitution but it does mean cutting out, as far as possible, all that is superfluous. So we eat sensibly and have sufficient clothing and heating but we try to avoid luxuries. Benedictine poverty includes taking care of material things, even if they’re old and worn, and avoiding waste. We do not each plan our own finances but we can exercise responsibility about not wasting water or electricity. We do a certain amount of fasting in Lent and Advent and at certain other times, and newcomers accustom themselves to this gradually. The Abbess has to take into account St. Benedict’s principle that the regime should be such that “the strong may still have something to long after and the weak may not draw back in alarm” (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 64).



‘Happy is he who prays with the Church. Prayer said in union with the Church is the light of the understanding, the fire of divine love in the heart. Let not the soul that is possessed with a love of prayer be afraid that her thirst cannot be quenched by these rich streams of the liturgy, which now flow calmly as a streamlet, now roll with the loud impetuosity of a torrent, and now swell with the mighty heavings of the sea. The liturgy is suitable for all souls, being milk for children and solid food for the strong, thus resembling the miraculous bread of the desert.

Anyone can try to fast from chatter or from trivia or from shutting doors noisily. Some find it an austerity to respond promptly when the bell goes for prayer or if they are asked to lend a hand unexpectedly: it’s good to remember that these are opportunities for showing love, just as a mother responds promptly to her crying baby, even if she’s not filled with a warm maternal glow at that particular moment.

letter: St Cecilia’s Abbey, Appley Rise, Ryde, Isle of Wight, England PO33 ILH


A Story of Catholic Valour

When Jesuits Were Hunted in England

3. The rack T of L
The infamous ‘rack’ upon which Catholic prisoners were tortured in the Tower of London.

 by Suzanne Duque-Salvo

From the point of view of England’s Crown (Queen Elizabeth I), the Jesuits were a thorn in England’s side; they created obstacles to Protestant uniformity by ministering to the spiritual needs of English Catholics and fueled zeal to defy acquiescence to the Church of England.

To the Protestant, “‘Jesuit’…meant conspiracy…Their founder was Spanish and they were sworn to another allegiance than the Queen’s…The Jesuits were the vanguard of Spanish invasion; their business was to murder the Queen and Council…The news that disguised Jesuits were now at large in the English countryside caused indignation and alarm.”  This took place against a background where  humanism sanctioned a shift in focus from a theocentric to an anthropocentric view of the world, and intellectual skepticism normalized a historical-critical reading of the Bible.

At the same time, the Society of Jesuits was establishing its ministry as educators and soldiers for Catholic orthodoxy. This Jesuit engagement with the world marked the period when the myth of the ‘evil Jesuit’ began. This article looks at the effects of Jesuit involvement in the preservation of Catholicism in England during the first century of the Anglican Church.

It is important to note that the English Catholics from Oxford who went to Douai and Rheims were the same men who returned as Jesuit missionaries in the English Mission. With the exodus to the continent of Catholic Oxford Chairs and Fellows who refused to take the Oath of Submission, Douai in the Spanish Netherlands and Rheims in France caught England’s most valuable cultural resource: the erudite Catholic.

The ‘Oxfordizing’ of the universities in Douai and Rheims

One could certainly say that without the ‘Oxfordizing’ of the universities in Douai and Rheims, there might not have been higher education for England’s Catholic youth and the Jesuits might not have stepped in to administer seminaries to accommodate the rise in priestly vocations among English Catholic men — not to mention a spike in English scholarly priests choosing to be Jesuits.  Without Douay and Rheims, there might not have been a regrouping of English Catholics. These English exiles prayed together and worked to implement various daring strategies to abort the total protestantizing of England’s religious heritage and to counter the zealous and violent erasure of everything Catholic from England.

A.O. Meyer described these priests as “worthy representatives of the spunk of the English national character.”  They had to adapt to a strange way of life; in public, the priest wore a disguise; in hiding spaces he was priest. His life was spent “laid low in the attic room which contained a bed, a table and an altar, and was told to walk along the beams so that the floor would not creak and to be careful about opening windows and showing lights; he was not allowed to go about the house, might only slip out after dark, and must not come back until the servants were at supper or in bed. In an otherwise bustling household he might spend weeks or months alone, seeing only those who came to mass, the maid who brought his dinner, and with luck after meals one of the children, or their mother looking in to apologise for not having been able to pay him a visit sooner.”

Life in a Priest’s Hole: “he lay low in the attic room which contained a bed, a table and an altar, and was told to walk along the beams so that the floor would not creak and to be careful about opening windows and showing lights.”

Jesuits: ‘Men of New Light’

Naturally, men who worked under such conditions were perceived as major threats. An elite corps formed under military standards who vowed obedience to the Pope, these former Oxford Catholics had a vested interest in preventing the total eclipsing of England’s Catholic heritage. Jesuits were an entirely different breed of priests from the type English Catholics were used to: “men of new light equipped in every continental art, armed against every frailty, bringing a new kind of intellect, new knowledge, new holiness.”

Even before the first Jesuit missionaries were sent to England, secular priests from Douai were already being deployed. They were ordered not to engage in disputation but to simply focus on the pastoral care of English Catholics. Their movements were limited to covert activity, under the radar to avoid apprehension and execution.  Regulations for Jesuits were different in that they were expected to be “responsible for adjustments”  and to adapt to time, persons and places. This suggests that the Jesuits were expected to execute pastoral agility. As first hand witnesses to the plight of English Catholics, it would have been so against the grain to expect a Jesuit disciplined by Ignatian spirituality and experienced in Oxfordian confrontational discourse to remain passive and quiet.

Not Just ‘A March to the Gallows’

One Oxford refugee with influential friends in the Continent, Fr. Robert Parsons SJ, felt that the English mission need not just be a march to the gallows by a ‘growing martyr cult.’  Parsons believed it was his sacred duty to be a missionary in a situation that had “taken on the importance and urgency of a holy war.”   According to his memoirs and letters, Parsons planned to accomplish several missions akin to a spy thriller. Besides establishing connections with the Recusants, they solidified and systematized the underground network by securing a network of gentry-owned country houses — including rented ones in London — to serve as safe houses for priests.

In these houses, Jesuit Brother Nicholas Owen built priest holes in case these houses were searched.  And for a sense of community among the missionaries, the Jesuits established semi-annual meetings for all mission operatives, secular priests included, to pray and hold “discussions to prevent concessions to secular life from eroding religious fervor and identity.”  To disseminate rebuttals to Protestant propaganda, a clandestine printing press was set up. Moreover, the Jesuits laid down an ecclesiastical structure to enable fielding priests, including secular ones, to specific locations. There was a network of communications to enable contact with church authorities in Rome. And of course, they instituted a way of transferring funds out of the country.

Queen Elizabeth made Catholicism illegal in England, punishable as ‘high treason’ by torture and death.

The Witness of Edmund Campion

But then there was Edmund Campion. He was serving as a missionary in Poland when he was recalled to be part of the English Mission.  For one thing, it meant certain execution, for simply being priests. The anticipation of martyrdom transformed men so that “they came with gaiety among a people where hope was dead. The past only held regret and the future, apprehension; they brought with them, besides their priestly dignity and the ancient and indestructible creed, an entirely new spirit of which Campion is the type; the chivalry of Lepanto and the poetry of La Mancha, light, tender, generous and ardent.”

Sensing it was only a matter of time that he would be apprehended and executed, Campion decided to take advantage of the print media to say what should not be left unsaid. Campion wrote two final documents; the first was his letter to the Privy Council informing them who he was and that his mission in England was strictly for religious rather than political reasons.  His final piece, Decem Rationes or Ten Reasons why the Roman Catholic Church is the True Church, was written in the recognizably Campion rhetorical style that would have been familiar to upper reaches of English society. Campion had once been referred to by the Queen’s top adviser as the ‘diamond of England.’ What could have been more irksome than the diamond of England defecting to the Catholic side, and becoming a Jesuit priest?

Henry Walpole watched the execution of Edmund Campion and was inadvertently sprinkled with his blood, prompting him to abandon his law practice, leave England and convert at Rheims. He, too, became a Jesuit priest and martyr.

Edmund Campion was hung, drawn and quartered, but the truth of the English Mission did not die with him. Several other English Jesuit martyrs who became saints, including  Alexander Briant, a pupil of Campion’s in Oxford; Henry Walpole, who while watching the execution of Campion was sprinkled with his blood, prompting him to abandon his law practice, leave England and convert at Rheims; and Henry Morse, another convert at Douai, to name only a few.

The Valour That Does Not Die, Nor Tarnish, With the Ages

Such valour does not die, or tarnish with the ages. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was when a Google research on the keywords ‘English Mission’ retrieved an entry from the America’s Central Intelligence Agency. “Clandestine methods of the Jesuits in Elizabethan England as illustrated in an operative’s own classic account” is based on the Latin text of Fr. Gerard SJ where he described “the 18 years’ undercover duty in England.” The CIA entry opined that while “Gerard’s book is not in any modern sense a tradecraft manual, it is possible to derive from it a confident sense of how he and his Superior made expert use of the standard paraphernalia of covert action– cover, aliases, safe houses, secret printing presses, invisible ink.”

America’s Central Intelligence Agency is interested in “Clandestine methods of the Jesuits in Elizabethan England as illustrated in an operative’s own classic account.”

The community of Catholics in Douay and Rheims were hopeful that the protestantizing of England was only temporary. All England needed was a Catholic monarch and Catholicism would be restored.  But what they hoped never came to be.

The Anglican Church stabilized, a female monarch showed the world what she could do with power, and the will of the secular aristocracy held strong.  By the time of Elizabeth’s death, successor James I was no longer Catholic enough to effect any major changes. But the small group of faithful English Catholics was able to preserve traditional Catholic rituals and a mode of spirituality to enable English Catholics to thrive at the margin of English culture, even down to today.

The Anglican Church stabilized, a female monarch showed the world what she could do with power, and the will of the secular aristocracy held strong.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne Duque-Salvo is a Filipina-American Roman Catholic with a MA (Harvard Divinity School), a BA in Religion and a BA in Psychology (Wellesley College).  She is Director/Founder of a non-profit organization now establishing a homestead for recovery and healing. In 2012, her book (and eBook) A Battered Woman Went to Harvard was published.  Duque-Salvo has five adult children and four grandchildren. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion.

1  Waugh, Evelyn. Edmund Campion. (San Francisco: Oxford Press, 2005), 128-129.
2  Carrafiello, Michael L. “English Catholicism and the Jesuit Mission of 1580-81.” The Historical Journal, 37:4 (1994), 762.
3  Bossy, John. The English Catholic Community 1570-1850, (New York: Oxford Press, 1976), 255.
4  Waugh, p.130.
5  Coupeau SJ, J. Carlos. “Five Personae of Ignatius of Loyola.”  Worcester, Thomas, Ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits,   (New York: Cambridge Press, 2008), 45.
6  Carrafiello, p. 762.
7  Ibid, p. 768.
8  McCoog, SJ, Thomas. “The Society of Jesus in Three Kingdoms.” Worcester, Thomas Ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits, (New York: Cambridge, 2008), 90.
9  Ibid, p.91-92.
10  Waugh, 114.

The Cardinal’s School Today











The Oratory School motto of “Cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaking to heart) is John Henry Newman’s own, taken from his Cardinal’s Coat of Arms.

“I could add my own motto of ‘a busy boy is a happy boy’!” says the present Headmaster, Clive Dytor MA(Cantab) and MA(Oxon). “Boys need a particular approach to help them achieve their academic potential within their overall personal growth. Girls outperform boys on many levels and a school dedicated to boys-only can concentrate on boys’ strengths – and weaknesses!”

The Oratory School came into being on 1st May 1859. It was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman, at the request of a group of eminent Catholic laymen of the time, in order to provide a boarding school for boys run on English public school principles for the small English Catholic community. Newman was closely involved with the school during its first thirty years, and it remained attached to the house of the Oratory Fathers in Birmingham until 1922, when it moved to what is now the BBC Monitoring Station at Caversham Park, Reading. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory handed over control of the School to a Governing Body in 1931, but links with the London and Oxford Oratories, as well as with the one at Birmingham, remain strong. To escape Nazi bombing of city centers during World War II, the School moved in 1942, to settle finally on its present site at Woodcote, South Oxfordshire, some 40 miles west of London.

“We embody and practise today our Founder’s spiritual, moral and educational principles, which are just as relevant at the beginning of the twenty-first century as they were when he imbued his School with them. Each individual is to be valued for his own sake; the system should be there to support the needs of the individual, not vice versa. In this way a person’s dignity and sense of self-worth are respected in the way that they should be; as a result they will be more at ease in the society in which they find themselves and more willing to accept the necessary constraints of that society. Furthermore if each individual is regarded as special, then his special needs and gifts will be given proper respect and attention.

“The pastoral welfare of the boys in the School, the relationships with their families, the continuing contact with past pupils – all these, therefore, are central to the ethos of Newman’s educational vision.”


A Homeschooler’s Guide to Inspiring England

“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” It’s the Fourth of July in America, a fitting time to reflect on all things British, the country where the foundation of democracy was laid. We enjoy the freedom to homeschool here, derived from the ancient freedoms won in England.  I have the great privilege of knowing some fine … Read more

A Passion for England

The Astonishing Story of the Passionists


‘From their commencement of their existence as a body, Passionists have been sighing to shed their blood for England.’

 — Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, Anglican convert and the great, great, great uncle of Lady Diana Spencer

Of all the amazing stories surrounding England and Christianity, the story of the Congregation of the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (‘Passionists’) stands out. What can one say about a group of Italian idealists – monks and priests – who consecrated their lives to the conversion of England, just when all seemed darkest for the Catholic cause?

For it was almost 200 years after Henry broke from Rome, in the waning days of 1720, that Saint Paul of the Cross recorded his thoughts and prayers in a diary kept during a Forty Day retreat whilst writing the Rule of his Passionist order. On the Feast of Saint Stephen, December 26, he tells us,

‘On Thursday I experienced a particular spiritual uplift, especially during Holy Communion. I longed to go and die as a martyr in some place where the adorable mystery of the most Blessed Sacrament is denied. The Infinite Goodness has given me this desire for some time, but today I felt it in a special way. I desired the conversion of heretics, especially in England and the neighbouring kingdoms, and I offered a special prayer for this intention during Holy Communion.’ 

Three days later, on the Feast of that most faithful of all English martyrs, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Paul wrote ‘I had a particular inspiration to pray for the conversion of England, especially since I wanted the standard of the faith to be raised there so that the devotion, reverence, homage, love and frequent adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament …would be increased.’

For the fifty years of his life that followed, Paul was unable to pray without pleading for the conversion of England, such was the height and breadth of his devotion and love.  He said indeed, ‘As soon as I pray, England comes before my eyes.’ 

He was often heard to murmur during the day, ‘Ah! England, England: let us pray for England!’  Often during Mass, he would fall into ecstasy, ‘Where was I just now?  I was in spirit in England considering the great martyrs of times past and praying God for that Kingdom.’   He even had a mystical vision shortly before he died, after which he was full of tears, crying ‘Oh, what I have seen, my children in England!

Paul’s spiritual sons, the Passionists would no more forget England than Jeremiah would forget Jerusalem — as the prophet attests in Jeremiah 51.50: Remember the Lord from afar, And let Jerusalem come to your mind. Generations of Passionists worked and prayed for the fulfilment of Saint Paul’s desire to send missionaries to England. Indeed, it wasn’t until 120 years later that it began to bear fruit in an extraordinary series of conversions.

The Italian Peasant


Dominic Barberi couldn’t have come from a more different milieu than learned and aristocratic Oxford. His parents were peasant farmers outside Viterbo, Italy who died while Dominic was still a small boy. He was employed to take care of sheep, and when he grew older he did farm work. He was taught his letters by a Capuchin priest, and learned to read from a country lad of his own age; although he read all the books he could obtain, he had no regular education until he entered the Passionists

In 1844, Barberi wrote to the Passionist Superior General, Father Anthony Testa, declaring England is our portion, our vineyard, more than any other place in the world, That thought was always dear beyond words, and deep-rooted in the mind of our Holy Founder.

Barberi had long shared the devotion of his Founder towards England. In 1831, he wrote the Lamentation for England, modelled on the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, Ah yes! England was once that island, that was with reason called the island of saints; ah it was that land that abounded with soothing milk for its children, with the honey of sweetness and the fruits of holiness. Oh England whither has thy beauty fled, how has thy loveliness disappeared? Ah this was the abode of all beauty, that rejoiced the whole earth! oh how it is now left destitute! her people groan, her children beg their bread, but they can find no one who gives them any thing but poisoned food. Alas! alas! unhappy England, all thy beauty is departed from thee.

The deeply emotional Barberi pulled no punches when allocating the blame for the unhappy state of the spiritual desert that was England, Our temples, those venerable churches which were built by our ancestors and dedicated to thy divine majesty which, in the happy days of old England when we were thy elect people, we used to assemble before thee, have been seized and polluted by strangers, by the followers of Calvin and Cranmer, and innumerable other heretics, who impiously blaspheme thee in their infamous conventicles. Alas my God! alas divine Jesus! alas for these holy churches erected in ancient times by the hands of thy holy saints, where thy everlasting gospel was daily announced to us! alas for these churches, in which an innumerable company of thy servants each day and each hour of the day lifted up their suppliant hands to thy divine majesty!

A Fascinating Connection

Today, the extraordinary work of these 19th century missionaries has been re-interpreted in some circles with unfortunate results.  Identifying Fathers Barberi or Spencer (who founded the Prayer Crusade for the Conversion of England) as prototypes of modern ecumenism is misleading. Indeed, it tends to distract from the real-life conversation and connection amongst these Victorian-era divines, which is fascinating.

Spencer did desire Christian unity and even once visited John Henry Newman, while the latter was still an Anglican, to invite him to join the Catholic Church.   Newman sent Spencer away but he was later put in touch with Dominic Barberi by an earlier convert from Anglicanism, the remarkable, John Dobree Dalgairns, a product of Exeter College, Oxford and later himself an Oratorian.

In fact, it was Dalgairns’ letter to the French Catholic newspaper, L’Univers,  while  he was still an Anglican (he converted in 1844)  which prompted the  second great piece of writing from the  pen of Dominic Barberi, the heart-felt Letter to the Professors of the University of Oxford.

Dalgairns had maintained, against the clearest meaning of the text and all reason, that the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Book of Common Prayer could be interpreted as being consistent with the Decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Trent. This theory Barberi methodically and lovingly takes apart, prefacing his remarks in the most emotional of terms:

Although I have never seen you with the eyes of the flesh, I have always kept you in my heart; and on, how often and how fervently in the bitterness of that same heart have I besought the Lord for you! How long, O Lord, wilt Thou be forgetful of us? When will the heart of the Father be turned towards His children? How long am I to wait in expectation? When shall there be one fold and one shepherd? Wilt Thou be angry with us even for ever? Wilt thou forget us in the length of days? Thee, O Lord, do the islands expect, and thy name will they honour: but how long are they to wait?

And further

Not only does the Church militant here on earth, but the Church triumphant in heaven pray for you. Beautiful hope, which can be founded on the faith of the Church in the communion of saints, and on her belief in the intercession of the saints in paradise. The saints pray, especially SS Gregory, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas; they pray for England, as they always have done, I hope, even after the separation.

Barberi chose his words – and his saints – carefully, intending that the stories of these ancient connections with Rome would stir some response in his learned readers’ hearts. He was also alluding to the close connections across time and space between England and Rome, tied intimately to the Passionists’ own history.

Centuries before, it had been Pope Saint Gregory the Great who had sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury to England, who then converted the people by first converting the King. (This was not dissimilar to the way that Barberi hoped first to convert the nation’s intellectual and social elite of Oxford.)

Saint Augustine had been sent from the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill which, by providence, is adjacent to the even more ancient Basilica of Saint Paul and Saint John, of which the Passionists took possession in December 1773. In May 1832, Ignatius Spencer had been ordained in the Church of Saint Gregory, which is attached to Saint Andrew’s, on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine of Canterbury itself.

Father Spencer waited another fifteen years before seeking admission into the Passionists, but in his person and on this day united the special place in which England is held by the Benedictine and Passionist orders.   Every Saturday, the English Benedictines are meant to say a Salve Regina for the conversion of England, following a promise made to Father Spencer by the Rector of the English Benedictine College at Douai in 1854.

Aristocrats and Intellectuals

Dominic Barberi’s first meeting with an Englishman was when he instructed the widowed Sir Harry Trelawney, 5th Baronet, on how to say Mass.   The seventy year old convert, about to be priested, was accompanied by his daughter, who had herself been the first to convert.   Trelawney was a living connection with history, as the 1st Baronet had distinguished himself in the service of King Charles I.

After finally arriving in England and establishing a religious house in Aston, Dominic Barberi’s greatest convert, however, was undoubtedly John Henry Cardinal Newman.  The historical importance of this conversion should not be underestimated- Masses of thanksgiving were said and Te Deums sung throughout the continent when they heard the story of England’s greatest theologian kneeling before the astonished Italian peasant priest:

‘What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I have left Italy has been well compensated by that great event and I hope that the effects of such a conversion may be great.’


Barberi could not have known what a bounty he would help to harvest. Indeed in the nineteenth century the list of converts from the English aristocracy and the gentry filled no less than 106 pages, headed by  a duke, two marquises, ten earls, twenty-two lords, twenty-seven baronets or knights, seventeen honourables and forty squires.



   “The second spring did not begin when Newman converted nor when the hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship’s gangway at Folkestone.”

In February, 1842, after twenty-eight years of effort, Dominic Barberi established the Passionists at Aston Hall in Staffordshire. His reception was less than welcoming, as local Catholics feared these newcomers would cause renewed persecutions. His attempts to read prayers in English were met with laughter from his congregation. But the community increased in numbers and as the people of Aston grew to know Dominic they began to love him – the Passionists soon began to receive a steady stream of converts.

In neighboring Stone where Dominic would say Mass and preach to the local populace, youths would throw rocks at him. (Two such converted to Catholicism when they saw Dominic kiss each rock that hit him and place it in his pocket.) Local Protestant ministers often held anti – Catholic lectures and sermons. One followed Dominic along a street shouting out various arguments against transubstantiation. The priest was silent, but as the man was about to turn off, Dominic suddenly retorted: “Jesus Christ said over the consecrated elements, “This is my body” you say “No. It is not his body!” Who then am I to believe? I prefer to believe Jesus Christ.” Converts increased at Stone, so much so that a new church had to be built.

It was at Aston however that in June 1844 that the first Corpus Christi procession since the Reformation was held in the British Isles, an event which attracted thousands of Catholics and Protestants alike.Dominic then began to visit other parishes and religious communities in order to preach. His ‘missions’ frequently took place in the industrial cities of northern England, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham – just as John Henry Newman (see article, this issue) had requested as a sign of the ‘true’ Church.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Gillibrand, MA (Oxon) MBA is a European policy consultant. He lives in Wales.

Ghosts of a Catholic Age

The Haunted Ruins of England


They were great favorites of the Victorians. The Romantic Age poets sighed over them; painters silhouetted them against blazing sunsets. Today, towns plant flower gardens in them, and keep the lawns carefully tended for tourists.

In reality, these romantic ruins were once scenes of a ferocious  government attack on a centuries-old way of life.  Modern historians agree that King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 to ruthlessly suppress any political opposition – and grab the Church’s property.

Henry had willing accomplices. While many of his great nobles avoided committing such sacrilege, the King found ample minor nobility eager for the generous percentage of loot promised them.

And so it began. The ‘King’s men’ descended on 850 monasteries, intent on looting the unarmed religious houses that had been the great centers of learning, agriculture and medicine  for the English peasantry since time immemorial.

Monks and nuns were evicted,  church treasure stolen and the very stones carted away to build the estates of Henry’s supporters. Any resistance was met with vicious cruelty, and many a grave old abbot was hung from the towers of their monastery, then drawn and quartered, disemboweled and forced to watch as their entrails were burnt before their eyes.

In the North, brave nobles and peasants joined forces in the name of the Faith in the ill-fated ‘Pilgrimage of Grace.’ When Henry’s soldiers were victorious, the king was merciless. The head of every religious house involved was executed, and Henry’s troops then took their terrible revenge on the hapless people in what has been called ‘the Harrying of the North.’

But this is not commonly known. In fact, for centuries English schoolchildren have been taught that the monasteries were ‘rich’ and that they kept the peasantry ignorant with their ‘superstitions.’ Only recently have revisionist historians such as Yale’s Eamon Duffy done the careful scholarship that proves this to be a myth, invented by the victors to conceal the true origins of the wealth of England’s upper classes.

Today, these gaunt bones of stone still vault into English skies, stark reminders of the Catholic roots of the English culture. And many a ‘stately home’ bears the name of the religious house it supplanted. Think ‘Downton Abbey.’


The Ancient Legend of Lindisfarne

The Saints of England’s Holy Island

Lindisfarne is a cold, wild and lonely island, isolated from the rest of England by twice-daily tides. But its misty shores have witnessed strange and marvellous things.

The story of Lindisfarne reaches far back into the mists of time, to another island, Iona. It was here that the Irish began to save civilization when St. Columba, or Columcille, arrived from Ireland in the year 576 AD with twelve companions. From here, Columba and his monks took the Gospel to the Pictish Tribes of Scotland – and founded another monastic community on Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne was to become as influential and significant as Iona in the development of Christianity in Britain, especially England.

Our story begins in 634 AD when Oswald became King of Northumbria. A recent convert, he wished to evangelise his subjects, so he sent to Iona for missionary monks. The Abbot of Iona, Segenius, dispatched Corman, an austere monk, who, on finding the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria to be both barbarous and obstinate, promptly returned to Scotland.

Fortunately, the Abbot’s next recruit, Aidan, turned out to be a better choice. It was Aidan who selected Lindisfarne as a secluded and peaceful place, ideal for the monastic life – yet close enough to the Northumbrian capital, present day Bamburgh.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan preached the Gospel throughout the Kingdom of Northumbria, sometimes with the assistance of King Oswald who acted as interpreter. Aidan’s mission flourished; people donated land and money to establish churches and monasteries throughout the kingdom. Parents sent their children to be educated by the Celtic monks and four brothers who arrived there, Cynebil, Caelin, Cedd and Chad were ordained priests.  

As we learn from the chronicles of St Bede the Venerable, St. Aidan earned a reputation for his pious charity and devotion to those less fortunate, such as his assistance to orphans and paying to free slaves. He insisted on traveling on foot, rather than horseback. The monastic community he founded quickly grew, as did its reputation as a place of scholarship and learning. Aidan died on 31st August, 651 AD, and his body was interred beneath Lindisfarne abbey. St. Aidan has been proposed as a patron saint for the entire United Kingdom because of his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his mission to the Anglo-Saxons of northern England.

On the night St. Aidan died, a young man named Cuthbert was tending his sheep in the Lammermuir Hills in southern Scotland, near Melrose Abbey. According to the Venerable Bede, he saw a vision of Aidan’s soul being taken up by a Heavenly Host. When Cuthbert learned that Aidan had died at the exact time of his vision, he immediately entered the monastery.

Whilst tending his sheep, Cuthbert saw a vision of Aidan’s soul being taken up by a Heavenly Host. When he learned that Aidan had died at the exact time of his vision, Cuthbert immediately entered the monastery.

Ten years later, Cuthbert became Prior of Lindisfarne, where he often spent time alone on a rocky outcrop, today known as Cuthbert’s Island. Later he went into greater isolation, retreating to the Inner Farne Island and building himself a cell and oratory. Cuthbert’s solitude would be broken by visitors seeking counsel from this wise and pious man, but when he was alone legends have it that he would mortify himself by standing in the sea up to his waist for the entire night, and sea otters would dry his feet and warm his frozen legs. He had a great love of wildlife and he is particularly associated with the Eider Duck, known locally as Cuddy’s Duck.

In 687 AD, Cuthbert’s body was buried on Lindisfarne. More than 100 years later, Vikings attacked the island, and in 875 AD Cuthbert’s loyal monks took up his body and fled. In one of the most astounding stories of Christian monasticism, these monks wandered for generations, safeguarding the incorrupt body of Cuthbert, until eventually founding a church in Durham.  When the Norman French built Durham Cathedral almost 300 years later, they re-interred Cuthbert behind the altar, where he rests today.

The ancient Saint Aidan has been proposed as a patron saint for the entire United Kingdom because of his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his mission to the Anglo-Saxons of northern England.

St. Wilfrid, the son of a nobleman, left Lindisfarne for Rome — the first known pilgrimage by an Anglo-saxon to the Eternal City. There, he learned the Roman method for calculating Easter. Wilfrid returned to Northumbria and became involved in the historic dispute between the Celtic and Roman calendars. The dispute came to a head when King Oswiu of Northumbria, who followed the Celtic date for Easter, married Eanflaed, who followed the Roman date for Easter.

To resolve the issue, the famous Synod was held at Whitby in 664 AD, chaired by the Abbess of Whitby, St. Hilda. St. Wilfrid supported the Roman method whilst the Celtic method was supported by Cedd and Colman of Lindisfarne along with King Oswiu and Hilda of Whitby. Wilfrid’s arguments in support of the Roman practice won the day and the Kingdom of Northumbria from then on adopted the Roman practice. Wilfrid also introduced the Rule of St. Benedict at the many monastic houses he founded; some say he was the first to introduce the Benedictine Rule into England and not St. Augustine of Canterbury.

In one of the most astounding stories of Christian monasticism, these monks wandered for generations, safeguarding the incorrupt body of Saint Cuthbert.

Besides producing nine saints and evangelising large parts of England, Lindisfarne’s monks produced one of the greatest treasures of Anglo-Saxon England, The Lindisfarne Gospels. This priceless illuminated manuscript is one of the finest surviving examples of Celtic Art. The Gospels are now kept in the British Library as is St. Cuthbert Gospel, a pocket gospel written in Latin in the 7th C. and placed inside St. Cuthbert’s coffin.

The nine saints of Lindisfarne are St. Aidan, St. Finan, St. Colman, St. Tuda, St. Eata, St. Cuthbert, St. Eadberht, St. Eadfrith and St. Ethelwald.


The lonely ruins of Lindisfarne still stand today, mute testimony to the light of the Gospel carried by St. Aidan, which illuminated Anglo-Saxon England.

After the Viking raids, Lindisfarne remained uninhabited for over 200 years, when Benedictine Monks re-established the monastic life there. They renamed Lindisfarne ‘Holy Island,’ to commemorate the holy blood shed during the Viking raids. The Benedictine Monks were on Holy Island for about 450 years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1533 under Henry VIII. The ruins of Lindesfarne still stand today, mute testimony to the light of the Gospel carried by St. Aidan, which illuminated Anglo-Saxon England.


Bless, O Lord, this island,

This Holy Island.
Make it a place of peace and love.

Make it a place of joy and light.

Make it a place of hospitality.

Make it a place of grace and goodness
And begin with me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A graduate of Bristol University and for many years a Catholic educator, Michael Durnan made a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne in 2002. He walked the sixty mile route from Melrose in Scotland in the footsteps of St. Cuthbert.

When God Hated Susan

A Short Story, by Beverly Desoto Stevens

They are that rare bird, English Catholics. Susan’s mother had insisted on the church wedding to her first husband. Her mum wanted to ‘make things respectable.’  As far as Susan was concerned no amount of respectability could make her stay  with her partying, abusive ex-husband. He was in the Queen’s Arms in Coles End, utterly stoned, while she was in court for the divorce.

Jim was nothing like her ex, though. He was a tall, dark and handsome civil engineer, well-paid by the local council.  And at 29, Susan was still a charmer — small, lithe and filled with fun. Her eyes danced with mischief, and the rollicking good humor of her Irish ancestors. After a quick wedding with a hired preacher in a hotel (“We don’t need to be paying the Church any money for one of their divorces,” Jim had said) they settled in an ‘upper middle-class’ suburb of Birmingham.

She couldn’t get pregnant right away after all those years on the Pill, so she’d endured a year of intensive hormone ‘therapy.’ Two births quickly followed, a boy and a girl. She promptly commenced to take the Pill again afterwards, reasoning that there was no sense in endangering their financial well-being. Plus, Jim showed signs of impatience with the strain of caring for two little babies.

She spent the next few years blissfully caring for their family. But by the time the children were in their early teens, Susan knew there was trouble. First there was the porn she found on his computer, then the pay-for-sex telephone numbers on the bill. Confronted, Jim broke down and sobbed. He was a ‘sex addict,’ he said.

Susan knew there was trouble. First there was the porn she found on his computer, then the pay-for-sex telephone numbers on the bill.

Things didn’t get any better when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. Shortly after her course of radiation was complete, Jim was arrested for the first time. A ‘sting’ operation had swept him up, along with dozens of other hapless men, in a porn-and-prostitution ring. As it was Jim’s first offense, he was let go with a stern warning. But the illness and the arrest had taken its toll on Susan; she slept in a separate room, and prayed that the nightmare would go away.

It was not to be. Over the next ten years, the internet sex business exploded. The third time Jim was arrested, the police came to the house. He was led away before the incredulous eyes of his 19 year old son and 17 year old daughter. This time, the judge was not so lenient. Jim had progressed further in the sex business, going from consumer to procurer, hustling girls younger than his own daughter for paying clients.  He was convicted on seven felony counts of human trafficking, and sentenced to a minimum of twenty years in prison.

The judge gave Susan control over their finances, which helped them survive. Without marketable skills, she was reduced to stocking shelves in the local Boots pharmacy, at L4.92 (US$7.48) an hour. Their house was put up for sale.

Her son’s fury and shame erupted on the football field one day, and he was beaten quite badly in a melee sparked by his attack on an opposition team player. As he lay unconscious, Susan found herself sobbing uncontrollably in the ladies’ room at the local hospital, when the nun walked in.

Her son’s fury and shame erupted on the football field one day, and he was beaten quite badly in a melee sparked by his attack on an opposition team player.

There’s something about a sister in a habit, as any nun will tell you. People tell you their troubles – especially fallen-away Catholics in deep trouble.

Her excruciating story came out all in a rush. Through her tears, Susan wanted to know what she had done to deserve all this pain, she told the nun. Why did God hate her? She had wanted a family. Was that so bad? She had taken some shortcuts, okay. A marriage outside the Church. All that contraception. But what did the Church expect? That she be a baby-making machine? Jim would have never agreed to any of it, starting with the pre-Cana classes.

“That’s probably true,” Sister Mary Clare nodded, looking into Susan’s swollen red eyes. She handed her a Kleenex. “And then what would have happened?”

“If I-I followed what the Church said, I would have n-never married him.” Susan heard herself say it, as if in a dream. For a moment, she contemplated the truth of this. Her life would have been completely different, had she followed the rules.

Susan was an honest woman. This simple fact was crystal clear: she had married a man who scorned the Church, and everything the Faith stood for. And he had then proceeded to build their lives on his lies, and his addiction.

“Addictions are ways in which we sin, and sin repeatedly,” the nun said sympathetically. “They always involve the people we love, dragging them down with us.”

Susan nodded, looking down at the balled-up tissue she was clutching. After the agony of this sex business, she herself felt besmirched. She knew her children felt it too – smeared filthy with Jim’s sins, and deeply angry. 

After the agony of this sex business, she herself felt besmirched. She knew her children felt it too – smeared filthy with Jim’s sins, and deeply angry. 

It was from that day forward that Susan dated their recovery. Small steps back to sanity, beginning with her own trip to the confessional after more than 20 years away from the Sacrament. The priest was compassionate, listening carefully to her halting attempts to explain her life, between floods of tears that often left her unable to speak between wracking sobs. He taught her The Prayer. I renounce my will. I turn it all over to you, Mary my true mother, to lay at the feet of Your Son. Not my will, but His be done.

“For your penance, I want you to say this prayer at least three times a day, and I want you to visualize taking these great burdens off your shoulders, and laying them at the feet of Our Lord,” he told her. In the darkness of the confessional, tears streamed down Susan’s face as she watched his hand raise in the words of absolution. Afterwards, she knelt in the pew for a very long time, repeating the Prayer over and over again.

She felt cleansed, and at peace for the first time in years, strong enough to persevere through the annulment process from her first husband. She then obtained a simple ‘disparity of cult’ document for her marriage to Jim. A year later, Susan had a heart-to-heart talk with her children.

“The Church took very seriously what I – in my ignorant youth – refused to,” she told them. “This is because the Church understands marriage as a sacrament – not simply as an agreement between a man and a woman that can be dissolved at will. If I had understood that, I would have gotten my first marriage annulled after it was over – which would have helped me understand that both of us had gone into that marriage completely incapable of sustaining it. It would have also prevented me from marrying your father.”

The girl hung her head. “That means that I would have never been born,” she whispered sadly. Her brother looked away stonily.

“Yes,” Susan said quietly. Then she smiled and took both young people in her arms. “But God is always generous, and He gave me you – the lights of my life. You both were the greatest gift I have ever received.”

But Susan wasn’t finished. “That a marriage should be open to life turns sex into a completely different thing,” she went on doggedly, despite her children’s evident discomfort.  “The Church understands the body with great reverence, as the ‘temple’ of your soul. Your body is not a ‘thing’ to be used – manipulated in any way for pleasure, or to produce babies. Your body is to be cherished, and nurtured, and rightly understood by your spouse, and you – because we are made in the image of God.”

‘The Church understands the body with great reverence, as the ‘temple’ of your soul. Your body is not a ‘thing’ to be used –manipulated in any way for pleasure, or to produce babies.’

In that year, Susan discovered Natural Family Planning. NFP required both understanding how her body functioned, and a little bit of restraint, and she wondered why she had never heard of it before. Though she had to admit, Jim would have never accepted such restrictions on his sexual ‘rights’ – just as he had accepted no restrictions on the sexual slavery that led to his prison cell.

Susan’s house was sold, and their belongings moved to a small apartment with cheap rent. Susan has found a job as a receptionist, and she and her children are slowly rebuilding their lives. Both children are attending Mass along with their mother.

As for Sister Mary Clare, she is glad that her habit gave her the opportunity to step into Susan’s life that day in the hospital ladies’ room. “We religious are a sign of God’s love in this world,” she says simply. “Our religious habits make that very clear.”

 As for Sister Mary Clare, she is glad that her habit gave her the opportunity to step into Susan’s life that day in the hospital ladies’ room.


Famous Converts

Beyond the Oxford Movement ‘If they (Roman Catholics) want to convert England, let them go barefoot through our industrial cities, let them preach to the people like Francis Xavier, let them allow themselves to be beaten and spat upon, and I will recognise that they can do what we cannot…Let them use the true weapons … Read more


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen? 
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills? 
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire. 
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem In England’s green and pleasant land. 
William Blake, 1757 – 1827

PHOTO CREDIT: Eve Nicholson


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