Stratford Full Of Past Memories Is Again Vital Catholic Centre
By THOMAS BAKER
Stratford-on-Avon, where Shakespeare's birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of next month, is not only a place that attracts all foreign visitors on holiday, it is also becoming a holiday centre on its own account. In this move Catholic youth are playing a notable part.
In an unpretentious narrow-fronted house near the centre of Stratford-on-Avon over 2,000 young Catholics have stayed and studied during the pfist year.
Their hostel, known as Soli House after Bishop Bright of Soli, Chairman of the Youth Council, is the first of its kind in England. Now, after two years' work, the present hostel has proved too small for its growing needs and Catholic visitors to. Stratford will soon be staying in a spacious Georgian house with its own chapel, meeting-room and grounds near the river.
A stone's-throw away stands the Anglican Parish Church of Holy Trinity; at the other end of the town the Benedictine church of St. Gregory the Great; and midway between, the grey stone chapel of the medieval Guild of the Holy Cross.
In these three buildings lies the whole spiritual story of Stratford.
Modern pilgrims to Holy Trinity Church have usually one " shrine " in view—the graves of Shakespeare and his near relatives which line the sanctuary front.
But tucked away in odd corners are reminders of other men who in Catholic days set their stamp on the town and even on England itself.
There are the brothers Robert and John de Stratford, both Chancellors of England, the latter Archbishop of
Canterbury in 1333. Their distinguished nephew Ralph later founded a college or chapter of chantry priests which resulted in the title of " collegiate" being bestowed on the church.
The visitor who makes the accepted Shakespeare tour will find indeed an almost uncanny recurrence of places of Catholic interest beside the Shakespearean relics.
Just west of Stratford lies the hamlet of Shottery, where the poet matte his lightning courtship of Anne Hathaway; there, too, in a cottage long since gone, was born the famous Elizabethan exorcist Richard Di bdale, who was ordained at Rheims in 1584 only to meet a martyr's death at Tyburn two years later.
THE GUILD CHAPEL
Back in the town, beside the site of Shakespeare's retirement house at New Place, stands the ancient chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross. With its present bare walls, barren altar and often locked door, it is difficult to imagine the glory of this chapel in Catholic days when no fewer than five Masses were said there daily.
This Guild, which once counted a Royal Prince among its members, was virtually responsible for the town government in the Middle Ages and in the 151h century organised the Grammar School which Shakespeare was later to attend.
The latest chapter of the Stratford story is to be found in the 80-yearsold Benedictine church, designed by Pugin, which stands just outside the town on the Warwick road. There even the casual visitor will be struck by the spiritually healthy life of the parish.
There is no superfluity of societies — the parish numbers only about 500 — hut there is an unusually loyal congregation.
Just over itt year ago the parish priest, Fr. T. E. Connolly, 0.5.5., started a Family Communion Sunday to bring together to Holy Communion each month families from the town and scattered Catholic farms in the parish.
This was the first step, Fr. Connolly told me, towards an ideal he has always cherished: a living Catholic community with its own healthy corporate life.
Lately the parish has made more progress towards that ideal. A branch of the C.Y.M.S., started just after the Family Communion Sunday, has organised lectures, discussions and socials, a Catholic school, Sea Scouts and a Girls' Club cater for the youth; and at Christmas appeared the first number of an enterprising parish magazine. F.A.O. VATICAN OBSERVER
Mgr. Luigi (1. Ligutti, executive secretary of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference of the United States, has been appointed as permanent observer for the Holy See to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O.) by the Pope.