Page 9, 9th February 2001

9th February 2001
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Page 9, 9th February 2001 — Desolate diocese
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Desolate diocese

David Twiston Davies on the secrets of Shrewsbury THOSE WHO bemoan today's lack of priests should ponder the resources of James Brown when he was consecrated

Bishop of Shrewsbury in 1851: some 33 clergy to cope with 20,000 souls spread across Shropshire, Cheshire and much of North Wales. No wonder he talked of "my desolate diocese".

The Catholic community was still heavily dependent on the landed gentry. In one of the essays assembled here to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the diocese's foundation, Maurice Abbott and Dom Aldan Bellenger paint a charming picture of an archetypal squire, Sir Walter Smythe, who retained a Downside monk as chaplain. Sir Walter laid on a generous breakfast for Massgoers but had a notorious temper which he took out on his chaplain over cards on Saturday night; next morning the monk would smoothly preach on the virtue of patience.

Brown had an ability to get things done, and some useful friends. One early decision was to build a cathedral, which was designed by Pugin and paid for in significant part by the Earl of Shrewsbury. Another was to draw in religious orders. Fr

Peter Phillips shows how Brown went about his business in a quietly efficient way, though he was not always sedulous in dealing with the problems of difficult clergy. This was partly because he was involved in such larger issues as the

dispatch of nursing nuns to the Crimean War. He also had to keep a wary eye on the historian Lord Acton • (though Acton seems to have • , disarmed his suspicions when they eventually met) and attend the Vatican Council, where he was lukewarm about the tide of Ultrarnontani sm.

The diocese's problems multiplied further with the • • steady stream of Irish arrivals to work in the new Birkenhead docks, but Brown found invaluable support in the resolute Faithful Companions of Jesus who had a Hail Mary said every hour for the town's conversion. Inevitably there was a Protestant reaction against the "papal aggression" shown by the restoration of the hierarchy; and,' equally inevitably, the Irish • were happy to respond with sticks and spades. One court case involved a threat to burn down Birkenhead town hall, another aired allegations against Liverpool's Orange policemen while the Italian leader Garibaldi sparked further trouble.

CANON MARMION concludes with a detailed account of the battle to establish a Catholic school system. It is a story of slow, steady progress, thanks particularly to the educationalist T W Allies and the stalwart efforts of the Christian Brothers, until the falling off of vocations in the 1960s sent the orders into retreat.

This volume, full of recondite information about'.

ordinary Catholics from . every social background, serves as a useful reminder that the Faith survived and • continues to this day outside the great urban centres.




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