Sunday 24 July 2022

Ignatius Spencer - Father Ben Lodge CP - CTS Saints of the Isles

Ignatius Spencer
CTS Saints of the Isles
Father Ben Lodge C.P. 
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860823312
CTS Booklet B681

The CTS Saints of the Isles Series is one of my favourite series. I have tracked down what I believe to be all the books in the series, and this is my second last to read and review. Each of the books in the series is a biography. Most, like this one, are biographies of specific individuals.  Also most in the series are biographies of martyrs, but not this one. Over the last several years I have read over 300 books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society. This was the fifteenth I have read in the Saints of the Isles Series since 2018, and several have been read more than once. I have also read many in the CTS Biographies and also Great Saints Series. There are many great stories about the lives of the saints. As mentioned, I believe I have a complete list of the volumes in this series. The description of the series is:

“The Saints of the Isles series brings together telling accounts of the extraordinary lives of men and women from the British Isles - lives of holiness, courage and true discipleship to Christ and the Gospel message.”

And the description of this specific book:

“An English aristocrat with a European view of the world, George Spencer left his Anglican rectory at Althorp, entered the Catholic Church, and then worked as parish priest in the Black Country.

His vocation let him to enter the Passionist Order taking the name Father Ignatius, and from there on spent his life working for the unity of all Christians.

Much of his work centred on Ireland where he argued that if the Irish prayed for their English oppressor, God would listen to their prayers.”

The chapters in this volume are:

     Early Life 
     The Continental Tour
Anglican Orders
     Another Tour
     Parish Priest
Becoming a Catholic
     Student Life
     Parish Priest
Secular Priest
     First Irish Tour
     Becoming a Religious
A Passionist
Apostolic Life
     Sisters of the Holy Family
The Man
     Hallmarks of the Spirituality of Ignatius

As someone who was raised Irish Catholic, I was taught in the family and school to hate the English and their oppression over hundreds of years. Reading this story and others in the series has opened my eyes to a vibrant, rich Catholic faith and tradition in England, and the Isles. This one specifically spoke to the bias I was raised with. It was a fascinating read from beginning to end. I highlighted many passages my first read through, and some of them are:

“The diary and letters weave a tapestry in which the life of an English nobleman can be seen struggling to find and follow the will of God. This struggle takes him from his comfortable living on the family estate at Althrop, through the towns and countries of Europe, encountering both the rich and the powerful, and the hopelessly poor. But it also presents a picture of an inner struggle between a man and his God, this struggle was to lead Spencer to risk losing his family as he gave up membership of the Anglican Church and became not just a papist, but a Roman priest.”

“The dominant one, as far as he was concerned was that he was given to periods of ‘melancholia’ or depression; this was especially true in his early years when he would try to avoid any form of social contact with others, but he in fact struggled with it all of his life.”

“He recognised that he was accepted by his classmates at the cost of giving up his devotions; he later admitted to his lack of courage in making a stand when they went out pilfering walnuts, turnips, ducks and chickens. He felt he had no friends to share with, and his faith in God had been sorely tried, and he claimed that for two years he did not pray.

To mark the end of his time at Cambridge, his parents decided to take George on the Continental Tour, and so in September 1819 they set off; this was to mark the beginning of his life-long passion for travel.”

“Despite journeying through Catholic countries like France, Italy, Sicily, and Austria George does not appear to have been influenced by any religious sights. He subsequently commented that he had not been brought up with any anti-Catholic feelings, ‘but though I knew nothing of what it was (i.e. Catholicism), I rested in the conviction that it was full of superstition and in fact, as good as no religion at all.’ His escape on Vesuvius certainly caused him to take stock of his life.”

“From the beginning, George’s pastoral commitment was evident to everyone. Day after day he went visiting through the villages and hamlets which made up his parish; he estimated he was responsible for 800 souls. He was constantly visiting the sick and the poor, and was seen to give away food, money and clothing- much to the alarm of his housekeeper.”

“In April 1827 George encountered his first Catholic priest Fr William Foley who was working around Northamptonshire. Foley proved to be a true friend and support, encouraging him to persevere with both his prayer and his studies. His Catholic contacts developed as he was introduced to Fr John Fletcher of Douai seminary who was chaplain to the Dowager Lady Throckmorton.”

“Towards the end of January 1830 George left Brington to stay for a week at Garendon park, with Ambrose Phillipps and several other Anglican and Catholic personalities. On January 28th, he had his last conference with Fr Caestryck at Holy Cross church is Leicester. By the following Sunday, George was received into the Catholic Church, and immediately wanted to go back to his flock in Brington and tell them of the errors of their ways!”

“The religious landscape in England was beginning to change. The Industrial Revolution had marked a huge population shift away from the land to the industrial centres and the navigation canals, which attracted many Irish Catholics. It was no longer legal to persecute Catholics, and in fact Anglican theologians in Oxford and Cambridge were beginning to turn a very critical eye on their own church, partly stimulated by the followers of John Wesley. This was to give rise to the Oxford Movement, which in its turn led to several celebrated conversion, not least of which was John Henry Newman.”

“As a Deacon, George preached his first sermon as a Catholic in January 1832. On 26th May, the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury, he was ordained in St Gregory’s church on the Coelian Hill by Cardinal Zurla, the Vicar General of Pope Gregory XVII.  It was from the same spot that St Gregory had sent St Augustine to work for the conversion of England. The following day, the feast of the Venerable Bede, George celebrated his first Mass. George was only too aware of the coincidences.”

“George spent a fortnight in Paris and was introduced by Lord Clifford to the Archbishop of Paris. George made the proposal for ‘A Crusade of Prayers for the Conversion of England.’ With a number of friends he launched the Crusade, the essence of which was to engage in prayer for the conversion of England; he believed that this was possible through prayer alone.”

“On his return journey he had audiences with Archduke Franz Karl, and the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Ignatius tried to visit as many convents as possible, convinced that these could enlist more convents to help.”

“In Ireland Ignatius used a rather neat argument to encourage the people to pray for England. He would explain that Jesus had said we should pray for our enemies, and if we did, then certainly our prayers would be heard.  He proposed that the Irish knew only too well that the English were their enemies because of the way they treated them, so if the Irish prayed for the English, God would listen, and the English would become Catholic, and so no longer be the enemy.”

“Ignatius continued preaching his little missions in Ireland through 1860, but at the Provincial Chapter (a meeting of the priests to decide policy etc., for the next four years), he brought under discussion the theme of “the sanctification and perfection of the Irish People.” The Chapter Fathers agreed with and supported Ignatius’ prayers and work. Ireland was also seen by Ignatius as a rich seed bed for new members of the Passionist Congregation.” 

“In a later letter to Mary Wykes he wrote: “Many wonders have been wrought by the receiving of the Lord in the Eurcharist.  Many by the intercessions of the Saints, but above all, of the Mother of God whom the Church teaches you to love and trust in, as your Mother likewise.  Pray to God to give you a tender devotion to her whom he loves above all creatures, and who all mere creatures is the most pure and amiable and exalted.””

“No person could have lived the life Ignatius did without having a strong inner life.  His life of prayer is solid and established in sound liturgy and doctrine. Writing to his Provincial on one occasion, he famously thanks God that he is not given to visions!”

“He goes on to argue that such a group of lay people, striving for perfection in their own lives, would be of enormous help in the active apostolate. Furthermore, he states that when other people would see this group living like the early Church, they could not fail to be influenced. Ignatius was convinced that if Protestants could see being lived out in practice, what they were being taught theoretically about primitive Christianity, then they could not help but return to the Catholic Faith.”

“The point is that Ignatius was a visionary in the true sense. He anticipated by a century and a half the Second Vatican Council’s call to the laity to be more fully engaged in the life and apostolate of the Church.”

This book was an eye opener. As I have read further and deeper in this series the more I have been impressed by the men and women who are Saints of the Isles. This volume was hard to put down. Saint Ignatius Spencer’s, life of service is inspiring. His passion for garnering prayer for England inspiring.  It is an excellent volume, well worth having tracking down. 

Not being about a martyr this biography was different from most in the Saints of the Isles Series from the Catholic Truth Society. It is, however, a very powerful story. A story of a great witness to faith, love and to service. Another excellent biography from the CTS it is a great read! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books in the Saints of the Isles Series:

Edmund Arrowsmith - John S. Hogan
Margaret Clitherow - Jean Olwen Maynard
Edmund Campion - Alexander Haydon
John Southworth Priest and Martyr - Michael Archer
Saint Thomas More - Alvaro de Silva
John Ogilvie - Eleanor McDowell
Frances Taylor - Eithne Leonard
Mary Potter - Elizabeth Gilroy
John Fisher - Richard L. Smith
Robert Southwell - Fiorella Sultana De Maria
Ignatius Spencer - Fr. Ben Lodge
Sr Elizabeth Prout - Dominic Savio Hamer
Forty Martyrs of England and Wales - James Walsh
Thomas Becket - J.B. Midgley


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