SUNDAY, June 23, will see another national conference of the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics. (Sessions will be at 2pm and 7pm at the Westminster Conference Centre.) Such Catholics are by no means "separated" from the Church, but are loyal and active members thereof. They have merely had the misfortune of having, for legitimate reasons, had to seek a legal remedy for matrimonial disruption. Such reasons are often inescapable as, for example, to secure financial independence or for the sake of children.
The children of such parents will be the special subject at this conference in discussions to be initiated by two Jesuits, Fr Brendan Callaghan and Bernard McCuminsky. (The Secretary of the Association may be written to at 16 Holland Road, London SW6 (Tel: 01-736 6083).)
ANOTHER DATE for your diary: June 26. Time: 2 to 8.30pm. Venue: the beautiful garden of the London Oratory. Occasion: A fête for that church's appeal, now looking for the final £350,000 towards its million mark.
HRH Princess Alexandra will be visiting the fete in the course of the afternoon. She could well be accompanied by Lady Mary Fitzalan-Howard who is one of her regular ladies-inwaiting. I mention this because Lady Mary's father, Bernard, the late Duke of Norfolk, was educated at the Oratory School and was married at the London Oratory.
His family, moreover, had a long association with this famous London landmark. His father, the 15th Duke, donated the magnificent Altar of St Philip Neri at the top of the church on the Gospel side. The Fitzalan-Howard/Oratory link sprang from a chance meeting between Henry, Lord Arundel (later the 14th Duke) and Father Frederick Faber, superior of London's first Oratory, off the Strand.
A happy by-product of the appeal has been the publication of a truly magnificent commemorative volume entitled The London Oratory, 1884-1984. It contains several fascinating articles about the Oratory and so many excellent photographs as to render it a splendid "album" of this, one of London's most imposing and interesting, churches.
Tribute must be paid, sparing his blushes, to Fr Michael Napier whose masterminding of the appeal, despite his travels and other commitments, has involved the writing of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of letters.
Few fail to be charmed and thus "hooked" by his personal approach and irresistible enthusiasm for the cause in question.
Parr for the course
ANOTHER anniversary: This one more curious. A certain Thomas Parr was, in the summer of 1635, fit and well at the age of 152. Charles I sent for him to discover his secret. The royal summons so overexcited Parr, on top of the rich food he was given, that he died the same night.
The story is told in a book called Stressmariship by 15r Audrey Booth (Severn House, £4.95) which should surely be available to all members of The Samaritans, the title of another book which has landed on my desk. It is a collection of articles on the work of that unique organisation started by Chad Varah, who is the book's editor. It is published by Constable at £4.50.
While glancing through both books it occurred to me that there is a neglected group of persons upon whom a heavy emotional toll is exacted.
I am thinking of those who have, for many years, been constantly giving their "all" to others. If they themselves are lonely, or have to live alone (such as many priests) the toll can increase. Actors, particularly comics, are also vulnerable.
The latter thought occurred to me when calling for my daughter at a doctor's surgery where she had gone for an injection.
Into the Wimpole Street waiting room stepped a famous comedian looking so ill and depressed that at first I hardly recognised him. And yet he had been entertaining millions on television only a few nights before.
Exemplified yet again was the classic case of the melancholic being advised by a doctor to cheer up himself by going to see the great clown Grock.
The patient, as you will remember, replied "I am Grock."
Gentili does it
ONE HUNDRED and fifty years ago to the day the first members of the Institute of Charity arrived in England. There were three of them led by Luigi Gentili.
Rosmini had founded his order a few years earlier but it was not until 1893 that it was officially sanctioned as a "congregation of exempt religious" by Pope Gregory XVI.
One of its best known strongholds in England today is the pre-Reformation church of St Etheldreda's in Ely Place where, a bee hive of activity under the auspices of the well known and widely popular Fr Kit Cunningham, editor of the excellent Westminster Recorder.
Also in residence is the charming and immensely learned French ex-diplomat, Fr Jean Marie Charles-Roux. (Not currying favour; just giving a true description in each case!)
It is surprising to recall that the Roman collar was unknown in Britain until introduced by those first Rosminians. It was not their only innovation. They were the first Catholic priests since the Reformation to wear a religious habit in public.
From them also stemmed the practice of public processions, novenas, May devotions and the 'blessing of throats on the feast of St Blaise.
Rosmini was a courageous champion of Italian nationalism (as we would now call it) as against the opposition thereto of Pius IX. He was saintly enough to be canonised but never will be because of ultra-conservative criticism, in his own day, of his sometimes daring theological speculations. His most famous work, The Five Wounds of Christ was put on the Index, though without any reason being given.
As a "Christian spiritualist" Rosmini's influence has had permanent effects.
THE ENGLISH College in Rome — the Venerabile — has had a successful appeal for funds and is about to launch the formation of "Friends of the Venerabile." This will be done with a Mass at St George's Cathedral, Southwark, on July 23 at 6 pm, with two particularly distinguished former students of the College officiating: Archbishop Michael. Bowen as celebrant, assisted by Bishop Comae Murphy O'Connor.
Both were successors of Bishop David Cashman in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton diocese, formed just twenty years ago. At about that time, Bishop Cashman was sent by his former "boss" Cardinal Godfrey, a draft of the so-called "penny catechism," with a request for suggested emendations. His alternative answer to the question "Who made you?" was said to have been "Godfrey made me — at the English College in Rome."
When Muriel Bowen was writing in the Sunday Times about possible successors to Cardinal Heenan at Westminster, she asked my advice. I told her the old joke which she printed — about the three alleged qualifications for becoming a Bishop in England and Wales: being of the male sex; validly baptised; and to have been trained at the Venerabile.
While dispensations could be obtained from the first two qualifications, the joke went on, they were rarely given from the third.
The Friends of the Venerabile will meanwhile concern themselves with providing a continuing interest in the needs and activities of Rome's English College. The Secretary of the Friends, Mr Robin Hood, whose many successful activities have included heading CAFOD for five years, will welcome any enquiries to 33 Wilfred Street, London SW I E 6PS (Tel: 01-878 8519).
In search of a home?
A NEW OWNER is sought for a house in north-east Hertfordshire which for the past thirty years and more has been the lively centre of a vividly Catholic congregation. Captain and Mrs Neville Lake, converts to the Church, made a fourhundred-year-old barn on the edge of their garden a most inspiring setting for the Mass.
The Chapel of the Annunciation, Furneux Pelham, brought to life again the old Catholic tradition of the village, documented up to the eighteenth century. Pilgrims to Walsingham stopped there in the Middle Ages. Upstairs is the chapel, its roof lined with an Arab tent. Works of art, ancient and modern, collected or made by the parishioners, blend with the old bricks and timbers of the barn to give it an extraordinary atmosphere, at once homely and deeply religious. Downstairs there is a room for friendly talk after Mass.
The hospitality of Tinker's Hill Farm extended the Catholic family atmosphere to the whole neighbourhood. Mrs Lake, who survived her husband by a few years, has recently died. But it is hoped that the Catholics who use the chapel will be able to continue doing so, developing further the excellent relations they have with the other churches of the local countryside.
There is an obvious opportunity here for a Catholic family to acquire a welcoming and beautiful house and to continue a well-loved Church presence in an English village.
TALKING of the Cardinal, everywhere you went last weekend you heard people praising his feature article in The Times of June 6, excellently timed for last week's dramatic Parliamentary battle on the Powell "embryo" bill. The article was praised in particular for the closeness of its reasoning and its hammer-and-tong logic and objectivity.
Had any article, some asked, ever been so prominently featured in Britain's leading daily newspaper, or, for that matter, in any other top periodical? Probably, but no one could think of any particular example.
Cardinal Heenan once said, casually rather with any sense of grievance, "I can talk all I like but 1 am seldom invited to write a main feature in any national paper."
The prestige, in this case, was, for once, even greater than if Fr Basil had appeared on television on the same topic. In that medium, though the audience is infinitely wider, the impact is not so great and the effect of what is said necessarily fleeting.
The only drawback was that readers of Catholic papers who do not take The Times remained in the dark as to what was said, since the Cardinal's remarks appeared just too late to be reported last week.
THE REV Aidan Bellenger, a Downside monk, tells me that he and certain collaborators are working hard on a follow-up volume to the amazing work of detection and scholarship which he edited and which appeared last year, entitled English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800.
The book contained a "working list" of all Catholic priests, with salient details about each, who had worked in England and Wales between those years. No other work has ever covered such a range in this field.
Brother Aidan, who was helped, among others, by Downside's Bursar, Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard, is the administrator of the Abbey's celebrated Petre library, a post which he took over from Father Edward Crouzet.
The industrious and erudite Brother Aidan, for the purposes of his second volume, would welcome information on English priests who worked abroad during the penal days.