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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Bishop Challoner (Part 4) - the Indefatigable Pastor (1753 - 1773)

In 1752, England changed  from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, which involved 'losing' eleven days in the month of September, viz. 3rd to 13th inclusive. Thus the day following Wednesday, 2nd September, was Thursday, 14th September. Additionally  the date of Christmas was changed, as were the dates on which the  year began and ended. This resulted in the year 1751 having only 282 days i.e. from 25th March to 31st December. This event caused resentment, particularly among the common people, who blamed the Pope and the ruling politicians of the day, for 'depriving' them of eleven days of their lives!! Illogical of course, but such was the irrational anti-Catholic sentiment of many common folk,  which ultimately exploded in the terrifying 'Gordon Riots' experienced by Challoner in his extreme old age.   William Hogarth  produced a famous painting on this subject  entitled 'An Election Entertainment' which featured the anti-Gregorian election banner, 'Give us our eleven days'.

                        WILLIAM HOGARTH - SELF PORTRAIT 1745
In 1753, Bishop Challoner completed and published his ‘Meditations for Every Day in the Year’, which together with his ‘Garden of the Soul’,  was to be probably the principle  spiritual reading matter for the Catholic faithful for many years.

In 1758 Bishop Petrie died, and Bishop Challoner, now nearly 70 years of age, automatically assumed the role of Vicar Apostolic of the London District. At this time he became seriously ill and confined to his bed.  Unable to carry out his pastoral duties, it became a matter of urgency that a co-adjutor be appointed for the London district.  His choice was  James Talbot, previously  professor of theology at Douay, and  well known to him, and accordingly in August 1759  he was consecrated Bishop

Bishop Challoner maintained a humble life-style, residing in lodgings in the Holborn area, and finding many advantages in this way of life. Freed from the responsibility of running a household, with its attendant administrative duties and expense, he had more time for writing and prayer, both integral to his daily routine, and for  pastoral visitations to those in prison, the sick and the dying, the poor and the homeless, and saying Mass and providing the Sacraments for the faithful wherever and whenever possible.

 In 1762 he compiled a full statement of funds for the London District, which revealed that the usual income for priests was £20.00 per annum, with an absolute maximum in special cases of £40.00.   Challoner  recognised the advantages of private means and social position for any Vicar Apostolic, for he himself had been obliged to perform his duties at a considerable disadvantage through being both extremely poor and of humble origins. Clearly personal virtue and suitability were paramount qualities, but material considerations almost certainly had some influence in  his choice of James Talbot and  Thomas Talbot,  brothers of the Earl of Shrewsbury, as co-adjutor Bishops.  The benefit of  influence in ‘high places’ was particularly useful in London where the faithful depended so much on the use of foreign embassy chapels, and  where differences  between Ambassadors of State and Vicars Apostolic were not uncommon, usually concerning inappropriate behaviour by Embassy chaplains over whom  the Bishop had  no direct authority.

 In 1759, the Sardinian Chapel, the largest and most frequented chapel for London Catholics, was destroyed by fire.  A major disagreement arose between Bishop Challoner and the Sardinian Ambassador, concerning the site of the replacement chapel. The Ambassador wanted the new chapel to be built in a different part of London, whereas the Bishop wished it to be re-built on the same site as before. In his words, “this chapel has been for above these fifty years, the chief support of religion in London. Its removal would almost ruin religion in the capital”. Ultimately it was through the direct influence of the Vatican with the King of Sardinia, that the chapel was rebuilt on its original site.


In 1760, Challoner founded a school for ‘poor girls’ at Hammersmith.  At about the same time, and acting on his own initiative and in the face of opposition from the Catholic gentry who were afraid of provoking a Protestant backlash, he founded Sedgeley Park School, near Wolverhampton, later to become Cotton College.

In France the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1762 created a particular problem in the field of Catholic education. An important aspect of their work had been the establishment of various schools and colleges on the Continent. Among  these, one of the better known was at St Omer, to which the sons of many leading Catholic families had been sent for generations. The French government wanted the school to continue under the control of the secular diocesan clergy, and it was offered to the English Vicars Apostolic for this to be undertaken. This created considerable tension between the Society of Jesus, who owned the building and were decidedly unhappy that it would be taken from them, and the secular clergy many of whom were not enamoured of the Jesuits, and considered it imperative that the school be taken over by them at the earliest opportunity in case the French government should change its mind, and the school be subsequently lost to the Church, and in particular to the service of the English mission.
           Bishop Challoner supported the Jesuits in this matter, declaring that their expulsion from the College was unjustifiable, and that no one in good conscience could accept their premises, unjustly confiscated, unless with the intention of restoring them to the Jesuits as soon as this could safely be done. Eventually the College was re-organised with Thomas Talbot, the brother of Challoner’s coadjutor James Talbot, established as temporary President. Within a few years the controversy ceased to have any relevance when the Jesuit Order was suppressed throughout the universal Church in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV.  Little was it known then that the Jesuits would be re-instated by Pope Pius VII in 1814 some 40 years later, during which period the French Revolution would have intervened,  resulting in the closure of both St Omer and  Douay, and their re-establishment  in England.


Challoner had to deal with similar problems in Spain, for when the Jesuits were expelled from that country in 1767 there were three English Colleges then under their direction, Valladolid and Seville, founded by the English Jesuit, Fr Persons in the last years of the 16th century, and Madrid, founded in 1612 by another English Jesuit, Fr Cresswell. They had been set up for the express purpose of training priests for the English Mission, and were endowed by generous Spaniards, including the King of Spain. Over time the numbers of missionaries to England from the Colleges dwindled, until by Challoner’s time there were virtually none. The Jesuits still ran the Colleges, but the priests trained there were not sent to England, and in spite of considerable effort by the English Vicars Apostolic over many years, this did not change. When the Jesuits were expelled, there were neither funds nor staff to continue to maintain three colleges in Spain, and Challoner proposed that they should combine as one. Of the three he proposed to preserve Valladolid, as being the most suitable in climate and also because it had recently been rebuilt. Its religious tradition was moreover most inspiring, and some twenty of the English martyred priests had been trained there. Challoner insisted that the Rector should always be English with  experience of working in England, and that the teaching staff should be similarly qualified.. He obtained a promise from the Spanish King to transfer the existing endowments to Valladolid, and he arranged for students to be sent  from Douay under the charge of a young priest there, John Douglass, who unbeknown to either, was himself  destined to be a future Vicar Apostolic in London.
   Challoner also arranged for a new President at Douay,  to replace Dr Green,  President for the past 20 years, whose advancing age and ailing health, were taking their toll.
   Finally he set himself the task of restoring the English College at Lisbon, the Alma Mater of Fr John Gother who had received him into the Church some 70 years previously. The college was without money due to misguided investment of funds over many years, and the earthquake of 1755 had extensively damaged the College buildings, and also caused the President’s death. Discipline had gone to pieces, with ‘no public devotions for many years’ and ‘for these twenty-five years no course hath been completed, no masters bred up, no missioners sent over, and yet an immense sum of money consumed’.  Bishop Challoner was now 84 years old, and yet he set himself the task of raising sufficient funds to restore both the temporal and spiritual welfare of the College to its former prosperity. Donations exceeded his expectations, and it only remained for him to appoint a new President to relieve the existing incumbent ‘from that burden which his age and infirmity will scarce allow him to bear any longer’.The new President of his choice was a convert like himself, James Barnard, who within ten years was to write the first contemporary biography of Bishop Challoner

                  POPE PIUS VII - RESTORED THE JESUITS  IN 1814

In 1760 King George II died, and  his reign from 1727 to 1760 was remarkable for being the first, after the Reformation, in which no new law was enacted against Roman Catholics. Nevertheless in spite of increasing toleration and benevolence towards Catholics, the long-standing anti-Catholic laws were still on the Statute Book, and could be enforced at any time. Shortly after the accession of George III,  a certain William Payne systematically ‘used’ the legislation in a concerted campaign of denunciation of a large number of Catholic priests in the London area. He tried on several occasions to prosecute Challoner’s coadjutor Bishop James Talbot, and at least once instigated proceedings against Challoner himself, all of which were unsuccessful. His one most notable ‘success’ was in 1767 at Croydon, against the Reverend John Baptist Maloney whom he had brought to Court on the charge of officiating as a priest. Maloney rashly admitted in Court that he was a priest, believing that the law would not be enforced against him, but it was and he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, serving 4 years in Southwark gaol before being released and sentenced to deportation for life.. Encouraged by his success, Payne pursued his ‘career’ quite recklessly, appearing before Lord Chief Justice Mansfield a year later, to prosecute four of Challoner’s priests. Privately Lord Mansfield had many Catholic friends, and had been horrified by Payne’s success in securing the conviction of the Irish priest Maloney at Croydon. He had spoken openly in the House of Lords in favour of the Dissenters, declaring that “there is nothing certainly more unreasonable, more inconsistent with the rights of human nature, more contrary to the spirit and precepts of the Christian religion, more iniquitous and unjust, more impolitic, than persecution. It is against nature, revealed religion, and sound policy”. Prior to hearing the case against the four priests, Lord Mansfield had taken the unusual step of summoning the other judges to discuss the general legal position. The result of their deliberations was to clarify the Act of William II, which clearly stated, ‘Whosoever shall apprehend a Popish Bishop, Priest, or Jesuit and convict…..’, and it was on this point that defence counsel submitted that ‘it was to no purpose what they have seen him do or heard him say, so long as there are no evident proofs of his being a priest’- the actions of the defendants were not proof in themselves. Lord Manfield’s reply to this was startling in that he admitted that prior to the conviction of the priest Maloney, he had not thoroughly examined the statutes. “But since that time all the twelve judges have consulted upon them, and we have all agreed in Opinion are so worded that in order to convict a man on those Statutes, it is necessary that he be first proved to be a Priest; and secondly that it be proved he has said Mass.” The Chief Justice then dealt mercilessly with the evidence of Payne, questioning his reliability and motives, then addressing the jury to the effect that the reasons for which the anti-Catholic laws were passed had long ceased to operate, so that there was now “no necessity of enforcing these laws”. He asserted openly that ,”Neither was it ever the design of the legislators to have these laws enforced by every common informer: but only at proper times and seasons, when they saw a necessity for it, and by proper persons appointed by themselves for that purpose. And, yet more properly speaking, they were never designed to be enforced at all, but were only made ‘in terrorem’". The defendants were immediately acquitted, yet it did not prevent the informer Payne from continuing his disreputable trade for many more years.The statutory reward for informants was £100,  a considerable sum of money, particularly when we remember that the average income for priests was £20 per annum. Payne's success in suppressing Mass houses, apart from his undoubted success in disturbing  missionary work, was quite formidable. Charles Butler, in his short ‘Life of Challoner’, writes, ’In all these transactions Dr Challoner conducted himself with great prudence and firmness.  Scanty as was his income, he was the chief refuge of persecuted priests.  The expenses attending the prosecutions of them, their imprisonments, removals, concealments and other vexations were almost always discharged by him; he defrayed them with kindness, and in a manner that showed how greatly he honoured the sufferers in their sufferings and wants’ He was in his seventies when Payne began his campaign of  persecution, and he was well into his eighties when it ceased.

                              LORD CHIEF JUSTICE MANSFIELD

A spirit of worldliness pervaded the whole of the 18th century, inevitably casting its shadow on all Catholics,  particularly those who, due to circumstances, had little opportunity to practise their faith. Challoner himself, in spite of   constant endeavours to sustain the faithful, was not immune to a sense of helplessness and even failure, in the ceaseless struggle against the tide. In a letter he wrote to his friend Bishop Hornyhold just before Christmas 1769, thanking him for his kindness and good wishes, he continues,’O dear brother, for Our Lord’s sake, earnestly pray that in His great mercy he would forgive me my innumerable sins, and prepare me for that great appearance, in which I have reason to dread the account I must give not only for myself but for so many others who through my fault or neglect, are walking on in the way of perdition. Oh! ‘tis a melancholy thing to see the great decay of piety and religion amongst a great part of our Catholics, and God grant this may not be imputed to me by reason of my sins and negligences’.
In the same year Bishop George Hay, co-adjutor Bishop in Scotland, approached Bishop Challoner, a friend of long-standing, with an urgent request for financial help for the desperate needs of the Church in Scotland. Challoner promised to speak to a few  friends, and quite unexpectedly he was visited very soon after by ‘a person of great honour and virtue’ who had come to offer him £1000 for Masses for the repose of the soul of a near kinsman. This money was immediately forwarded to Bishop Hay to alleviate the plight of Scottish Catholics in their acute distress. Thus was the friendship between the two Bishops strengthened, to the extent that when they met in London in 1773, they made a promise that when either of them died, the other would celebrate Mass three times a week  for the repose of his soul  so long as he was able to do so. Both men lived to a great age, and Bishop Hay’s biographer records that he kept his promise unfailingly for more than twenty years after Challoner’s death.

 As Vicar Apostolic of the London District,  Bishop Challoner was traditionally responsible for the administration of  those Catholic priests and congregations in the American colonies and in the West Indies. The number of Catholics was multiplying, and Challoner felt himself unable to exercise the necessary pastoral authority from his base in London. This situation worsened over the years, with Challoner requesting that Rome relieve him of this responsibility which he felt unable to fulfil properly due to distance and ignorance of the native people and their countries, and also because of his own declining health and his age.

In 1773, the Society of Jesus, who supplied most of the missionaries abroad, was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV.  Paradoxically this eased matters for the Vicar Apostolic, as the Jesuit clergy were obliged to adopt the status of ‘secular’ clergy, and thus were directly subject to Episcopal authority, whereas previously, although Challoner always had a good personal relationship with the Regulars, there had  been difficulties when the question of  authority arose. At this time the War of Independence in America was breaking, the result of which was ultimately to lead to religious freedom across the nation, compelling the setting up of an American Catholic hierarchy and the relinquishing of  English responsibility, although this was not to happen in Challoner’s lifetime.
              In the West Indies, there were many Catholics in the indigenous community, descendants of the Irish labourers whom Cromwell had forcibly deported into slavery and who had married native women. There were a number of Irish missionaries , and  some French missionaries in those islands previously belonging to France.  The situation was disorganised if not disastrous, for with no Bishop available for visitations, many Catholics were never confirmed. At Bishop Challoner’s instigation and as a temporary measure, a French Capuchin, Fr Benjamin, was appointed Vicar General for a period of six years. Unfortunately he died whilst in office, leaving the situation as before, with Bishop Challoner pleading yet again for Rome to relieve him of this  responsibility.

Now in his early eighties. yet always seeking ways of instructing and encouraging his suffering and scattered flock, Challoner turned his attention to the Douay Catechism which had been in use by Catholic children for over a century. He decided to make certain revisions, and to enlarge it, and in 1772 his revised popular catechism was published at St Omer, entitled ’Abridgement of Christian Doctrine: Revised and enlarged by R.C.’  This updated work was to be the standard work for English Catholics for generations to come.                               (to be continued)

'Bishop Challoner' by Denis Gwynn.
 published by                                                           
Douglas Organ 1946

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