By a Staff Reporter
On Wednesday last, July 2, Campion House, Osterley, known to thousands simply as "Osterley," celebrated the ordination of its 500th priest. Cardinal Griffin presided at the High Mass with which the day's celebration began. With the ordination to the priesthood for the diocese of Westminster of the Rev. George Swanton a few weeks ago, this house of studies for late vocations, founded after the last war by Fr. Edmund Lester, S.J., numbered its 500th priest.
Osterley is the home of late vocations. In its 28 years of existence it has made priests of plumbers, prize-fighters, clerks, Civil Servants, schoolmasters. convert clergymen, sheet metal workers, bricklayers, actors, carpenters, electricians, Bevin boys and — largest number of all — ex-soldiers.
Its graduates have served the Church in all parts of the world Ninety of them were present on Wednesday to join the Cardinal in the singing of the Te Deum of thanksgiving after Mass.
I went out on Sunday to see the college: it is just 45 minutes from
Piccadilly. It is a pleasant place four houses set in eight acres of green land farmed by the students. Fr. Clement Tigar, S.J., showed me over the grounds and buildings. The sun was shining and from a nearby cricket pitch the characteristic sound of an English Sunday afternoon could be heard. The Superior told me part of the story of Osterley. It was founded in March, 1919, by Fr. Edmund Lester, S.J. Fr.
Lester was a gay little man who loved playing the piano. He had £100, an unlimited fund of faith, nine young men, a ruined cottage and a renovated stable.
His students were ex-soldiers of the first World War. Fr. Lester supported them by writing witty appeals in the Catholic Press. Of those nine, five were present at. the celebrations this week. Fr. Lester
died in 1934. His grave is in the
garden: He rests on the " Way of the Cross."
DECORATIONS BY THE STUDENTS Fr. Tigar showed me the latest addition to the College, St. Thomas More's House, It was opened last year and most of the work of interior decoration was done by the students. One of them is a painter; he trained his comrades.
" We found the shortage of wood and plumbing fittings most difficult to overcome," said the Superior, " but we made a novena and I was able to purchase 200 Army beds which supplied the wood."
He showed me doors made from these beds by the students, and re marked with a smile that " it does not do a priest any harm to know how to work with his hands."
Young men on holiday throughout England had purchased wash hand basins. Another novena produced a plumber who was able to supply baths, and St. Thomas More's House was opened in time to admit 118 new students.
" Are most of these ex-Servicemen?" I asked Fr. Tigar. " Yes," was the reply. " 110 to he exact. Of these, all ranks up to major, represent the Army: we have many R.A.F. men, including some pilots; the Navy has contributed ratings and petty officers. Among the others there are two ex-miners and five industrial workers who were conscripted to munitions."
FOUR READY FOR RUSSIA I then asked Fr. Tigar if the men were all English and if those ordained in the past had all gone to English dioceses.
"Almost every diocese in England has graduates of Osterley," he replied. " But our priests have gone all over the world. Indeed we have four who were ordained for the Slavonic Rite and they will go to Russia as soon as the Pope gives permission for that mission to be opened. One of these, Fr. Milner, Si., is at present in Shanghai, in charge of the College of St. Michael; another, Fr. John Ryder, 5.1., is in Los Angeles, les, at the Slavonic Church
in that "Graduates of Osterley are working in England, Scotland and Wales; some are in the United States, Canada. Africa, and one was drowned while on missionary work in China; just as war broke out we had four ordained for Palestine — I think they all became chaplains. We have had Danes, Hollanders, Germans, a Jamaican and Gibraltese students, as well as Britishers."
" How many of the 500 priests are members of religious orders?" I queried. " Two hundred and sixty-one," was the reply. " We have 212 secular Fathers and the others arc on the foreign mission." " Do laymen find difficulty in settling down to the studies for the priesthood?"
Fr. Tigar smiled. " Latin, I think, intimidates them more than anything. I have seen the lightweight champion boxer of England more afraid of his professor than ever he was of an American fellow prize-fighter. But he is now Fr. Con O'Kelly and a curate in Nottingham. Our students are intimidated sometimes, but they overcome that.
" I also think," continued Fr. Tigar, " that men who have suffered and known the hard discipline of the Army, soon settle down to our quiet, ordered life here; and they are grateful for the peace of the priesthood after the horrors some of them have known. One of our students was a commando, and in the course of his service, at one time, had to stab two German soldiers to death in cold blood. Such an experience has a deep effect on a good man."
" And how is it all financed" I asked Fr. Tigar. "We have our fairy god-parents," he replied. And from his conversation I gathered they also had their novenas.
Before leaving, I asked him how many chaplains Osterley had given to the Forces during the war. The number was 42 and of these two were decorated with the M.B.E. and others were mentioned in despatches.
The total number of British chaplains was 700, so Osterley, which draws on the Services, to a great extent, for its students gave a high percentage back as soldier priests.