FROM MEGHALAYA, North India, comes a picture captioned "Almost a Bishop!" Of a colourful local character who happens to be able to hear Mass regularly thanks largely to an organisation called Our Lady's Missionary League.
For 68 years now the League has been sending parcels out to hundreds of mission stations throughout the world, one of their most valuable items being Mass Kits. (88 of these went out last year). Thousands of priests and sisters have come to depend on articles from sick call sets and monstrances to vestments and medical supplies.
Now all this work may have to come to an end.
The League has been operating from the basement of
Tyburn Convent near Marble Arch, London, headquarters of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart or Jesus of Montmartre.
These are the Benedictine sisters whose main activity is to maintain round-the-clock adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with ever changing shifts of nuns, two at a time, kneeling before the beautifully decorated altar.
1 At the turn of the century, a romantically-minded young woman called Adele Gamier, later Mother Mary of St Peter, lived in Paris and fell in love
with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Such things do happen.
She spent long hours in prayer in the huge new church dedicated to the Sacred Heart dominating Paris from the hill of Montmartre.
This amazing building was still a novelty for parishioners its construction having started in 1875 as a result of a vow made during the Franco-Prussian war. Even before the basilica's final completion in 1910, thousands flocked to pray on this traditional site of the martyrdom of France's patron saint, Saint Denis.
' Though the French National Assembly had, in 1873, voted in favour of "the public usefulness of the construction of a church at Montmartre", the Third French Republic was strongly anti-clerical and ultimately declared an end to State-Church .co-operation as established by the Concordat of 1801 and brought about separation between Church and State.
Nevertheless, in 1898, Adele Gamier, having herself been professed as a Benedictine nun, founded a new contemplative Congregation called the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; of Montmartre, OSB. Ironically, however, her Congregation could not operate in France because of legal restrictions and the Mother house of the new Congregation became, as it still is, Tyburn Convent, London.
It was founded by Mother Mary herself in 1903, ever since which date perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued without a break. Even the war did not cut the chain.
Tyburn still flourishes with 40 fully professed members and a total community of 55. There are many visitors and pilgrims, and frequent all-night vigils in which the laity participate. This has necessitated a plan to take over space in the basement for the use of the ever-increasing number of visitors for rest and refreshment during long sessions of watching and praying.
Back then to Our Lady's Missionary League . . .
THE LEAGUE'S President, Mrs Victoria Ingrains (mother of Private Eye Editor Richard) has received a polite letter from the Mother Prioress of Tyburn reluctantly informing her that there will, as of next Easter, be no room for the League's offices and headquarters in the basement of the convent.
A tribute and vote of thanks had been given to the Sisters in the League's April Newsletter, where it was written that "We work in the shadow of the Tyburn Nuns . . . They guard our premises, they take in our post, and awkward parcels when we are not there. They are available in all desperate situations . . . We smile and take it all for granted."
But now Mrs Ingrams has had to write to Friends and Members informing them of the need to leave. "I can hardly believe," she writes, "that Our Lady's Missionary League is to close down after 68 years. 'There is nowhere else where we can go in Central London, and there is at present no one else to undertake our kind of work. I do not feel able myself to embark on anything further."
But is the situation really hopeless? Mrs Ingrams ends her letter with the words "1 am more than sorry to be the bearer of such bad tidings, but Our Lady has her own ways and who knows?"
Who knows, indeed? The bond of friendship between the Tyburn Nuns (at 8 Hyde Park Place, London W2) and the Missionary League (at 9B Hyde Park Place) will, whatever happens, remain firm after so many years of happy coexistence and fruitful cooperation.
The League's offices, moreover, will continue to be open every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, between 9.30 and 3.30, until next Easter. Their telephone number is 01-402 4608. (The office is closed for the rest of August, but will reopen in September).
One can only hope that the work of the League, on which so many people depend in so many parts of the world, will not have to be abandoned.
The letters of appreciation from grateful beneficiaries of the League make sorrowful reading if read with the idea in the back of one's mind that this uniquely important work may have to end next year. DV, it will not.
WERE William Theodore Heard alive today, he would be a hundred years of age. He was a scholarly Scotsman who went to the famous Fettes College in his native Edinburgh, later covering himself with glory at Balliol College Oxford, not least as a rowing Blue.
In 1910, he became a solicitor but despite excellent prospects, he decided to become a Catholic and, within three years, a student for the priesthood. Meanwhile, in silk top hat and bobtail coat, he had started to visit the premises, in Rose Court, Dockhead (south-east London) of the newly-founded (1910) Fisher Club.
This was a club for Catholic boys of 12 and over which, in 1912, had an offspring in the form of the Downside Club. These were the origins of today's Downside and Worth Boys' Clubs, run by the Downside Settlement, which, this year, celebrates its 75th anniversary.
Its present address is Coxson Place, Druid Street, London SEI and letters have been going out to all old Gregorians — and, no doubt, others — with latest news and needs of the everflourishing Settlement.
One of the needs is for a new Director/Administrator, and the work of the Settlement is thought to be more important today than ever, since "a good boys' club provides the right environment in which boys can develop into responsible members of the community and citizens of this country."
There is also an appeal about which little needs to be said since the generosity of would-be benefactors to such good causes these days seems, despite everything, to be almost unlimited.
WHAT HAPPENED, in the meanwhile, to Father Heard? He was ordained in 1918 and in 1922 went back to the Dockhead parish as a curate.
But in 1927 he was whisked back to Rome to become an Auditor of Sacred Rota. Later he became its Dean and finally, in 1959, a Cardinal.
He thus became the first Scottish Cardinal since the Reformation, a man of immense influence, popularity and prestige, but always of charming modesty and great good humour.
Did his early visits to Dockhead constitute the turning point in his life? Quite possibly. With no trace of paternalism, his glimpse of another side of life impressed him profoundly.
Something similar, if in a different context, happened to his almost exact contemporary, Clement Attlee. Had he not been manager of the Haileybury House boys' club in Stepney for a short time before the first world war, he probably would never have been the practical idealist he became in later years.
What other names does the Downside — originally the Bermondsey — Settlement bring to mind? Robert Hugh Benson, Charles Duchemin, Abbot Trafford, C C Martindale? Yes, these surely, and many more besides.. Will we ever see their like again?
EVERILD FEENY has written a most delightful book called Peeps Round the World Diary (published by Anchor Books) all of whose profit will go toward the Handicapped Children's Pilgrimage Trust.
The book is a light-hearted account of a finally fulfilled ambition taking the reader by air clockwise round the world in thirty days.
The author visits Asia, Australasia and America with "peeps" at Japan, Hong Kong, Sydney and surrounding country, New Zealand (both islands), Fiji, Los Angeles, Mexico and New York.
Everild Feeny is a retired artist of considerable talent. Eight excellent drawings illustrate each of the chapters. Miss Feeny, who lives at 2a Fulwood Park in Liverpool, is also going to sell the originals of the drawings with proceeds equally going to the Handicapped Pilgrimage Trust.
The latter is combined with the Hosanna Trust and takes handicapped children and adults to Lourdes. Last year it took 5,000 pilgrims. Next year it may be able to take more — thanks to Everild Feeny.
TALKING OF pilgrimages, a new El million centre tracing the history of pilgrimage to Canterbury is to be established in a medieval church close to the cathedral.
Two million people visit Canterbury each year. In the days following Becket's murder in 1170, it became one of the four great pilgrimage centres of the medieval world.
The church which will house the museum is that of St Margaret which has not seen pastoral use since wartime bombing. But now the Canterbury Archaeological Trust has come to the rescue and it is hoped that the new centre will open in about three years time.
Canterbury's various churches are used to unexpected vicissitudes. There is a church called Black Friars which is actually a Christian Science place of worship. But it incorporates the fourteenth century undercroft and refectory of a Dominican priory.
The ruins of St Augustine's Abbey contain embedded traces of the Church of Sts Peter and Paul founded by Augustine himself in the sixth century.
Then, just outside the city, there is Herne church built mostly in the thirteenth century but heavily restored and containing some fine fifteenth century brass.
Even more famous for its brasses is my own favourite church in Canterbury, namely Chartham church. It is a cruciform church from the fourteenth century and the brass in memory of Sir Robert de Septvans, who died in 1306, is a minor masterpiece.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is Canterbury's one and only Catholic parish, that of St Thomas of Canterbury. It is a parish so heavy with history that it would be insulting to speak of it in a few lines only. Thus, more, I hope to follow.