Last Monday, it seemed as if the whole nation was holding its breath in anticipation of Oprah’s interview with Harry and Megan. Out at Bishopbriggs we had mixed feelings. Father Antony had no interest at all. I was peeved that one of my favourite dramas, Unforgotten, had been postponed until the following night. Father Gareth couldn’t wait, and even abandoned his nightly walk with Father Antony, so as to get comfortably settled in his chair, after night prayer, to watch it. Father Justinian watched it for a while but, to be honest, I think he was more interested in watching Father Gareth watching Harry and Megan, than in watching Harry and Megan. Wisely, he went to bed early. The next morning, Father Gareth’s very lively recounting of the interview was, no doubt, more entertaining than the interview itself.
If you have been reading our weekly parish newsletter recently, you will be aware that we had a different kind of interest in Harry, seeing as his great, great, great, great uncle George, who had converted to Catholicism and joined the Passionists, being then known in religion as Father Ignatius Spencer CP, had been, on 20th February, declared Venerable by Pope Francis, and had therefore taken an important step towards being declared a saint. During her lifetime, Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was quite charmed to know of her ancestor. He, in fact, grew up in the Spencer family home at Althorp, where Diana is now buried. I know, for sure, that Father Ignatius never lived in Scotland, but he certainly died here. He was a great preacher, and on his way from preaching a mission in Glasgow, to preach another mission in Leith, he got off the train at Carstairs, intending to break the journey by visiting his godson, but, sadly, he collapsed and died on the way. That was on 1st October 1864, when he was 65 years of age, and I believe there is a plaque in Carstairs train station commemorating that sad event.
I have never gone to Carstairs train station to check that out. I have, however, visited his shrine at Sutton, near St. Helens, where he is buried alongside Blessed Dominic Barberi CP, the Passionist who received Saint John Henry Newman into the church and, the also newly Venerable, Elizabeth Prout CP, foundress of the Cross and Passion Sisters. When I was living in England at Minsteracres, serving as Novice Master for the Passionists in North Europe, I had, on occasion, been asked to look after that parish where the shrine is located, due to the serious sickness of the, then, parish priest. The shrine is very beautiful but, sadly, due to the diminishment of the Passionists in England and Wales, is now no longer looked after by the Passionists, but is instead in the care of the diocese. The current Provincial in England and Wales had hoped to find a way to bring the shrine back into our care but, as you may also be aware, he is seriously ill, and we are praying for a miracle cure through the intercession of Blessed Dominic Barberi, thus providing the miracle that would secure his canonization.
Father Ignatius Spencer was also the great uncle of Winston Churchill, but I don’t know if, as Prime Minister, he was part of a request made to the Passionists, during the Second World War, to cover up the very impressive dome of our Provincial House, at St. Joseph’s in Highgate, in London, fearing the dome would provide an easy reference point for German bombers. The Provincial at the time reputedly replied that, if the War Office covered up the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, then he would cover up the dome of St. Joseph’s. Neither ever happened, and neither was ever bombed. So, perhaps Harry could do worse at this time, than to say a prayer for the intercession of his saintly Passionist ancestor, for himself and Megan, and, magnanimously, for all the family as well. Venerable Ignatius Spencer, pray for us.
At the time of writing, we are delighted that we can open the church for Holy Week, but we still await clarification as to how we can safely celebrate the Easter Ceremonies. We should be able to provide better information next week. Sadly, however, people still won’t be able to travel out of their council areas, and that means we won’t see a number of our regular friends until later. So, protect yourself, your loved ones, and others, and protect Christ in your lives.