Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

South African VCs in the Russian Civil War

The South African contribution to the Russian Civil War is not very well known, nor particularly well researched by historians of the period. Several South African officers who found themselves in Europe by the time of the armistice ending the Great War volunteered to serve in Russia fighting the Bolsheviks — either with the Allied force there or with the White forces themselves.

Among the South African volunteers were two winners of the Victoria Cross — Major Oswald Reid (above, left) of Johannesburg, and Lt Col John Sherwood-Kelly (above, right) from the Eastern Cape.

The South African aviation pioneer K R van der Spuy — who ended up a major general — managed to serve from the early days of 1914 all through the First World War. His engine failed in Russia, however, and he was taken prisoner after a forced landing in Bolshevik-held territory. The Soviets released him from imprisonment in 1920.

As Cdr W M Bisset wrote elsewhere: “Despite the harshness of the Russian winter and the growing prowess of the Red Army, South African officers were able to make a valuable contribution to the operations of the Allied and White Armies which is well illustrated by the important posts which they held and the awards they received.”

February 17, 2017 3:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Fillon: Which Right?

A Rémondian Analysis of the French Presidential Candidate

One of the most significant contributions of the historian and political scientist René Rémond was his theory regarding the tendencies of the French right wing. He contended that, broadly speaking, there are three right wings in France: legitimist, bonapartist, and orleanist. These terms are not bound by their historic use, but rather (Rémond argued) serve as useful guides to understanding French conservatism today.

Gaullism, for example, with both its populism and its reliance on the authority of a charismatic leader, is classified as bonapartist. Social conservatism, meanwhile, with its affinity for the Church and for tradition, comes in under legitimism. And economic liberalism — the bourgeois supremacy of the markets — is orleanist.

What to make of the current presidential candidate of the French right, M François Fillon? The Québécois website Dessinons les élections (“Let’s draw the elections”) sought to apply a Rémondian analysis of Monsieur Fillon in one of its weekly cartoons (by Frédéric Mérand & Anne-Laure Mahé).

Their conclusions are as follows:

Legitimism: 60%
– social conservatism
– Christian values
– order and tradition

Orleanism: 30%
– economic liberalism

Bonapartism: 20%
– a sense of the State
– idea of the providential man with reference to de Gaulle

Of course, many now think that, due to the usual scandals, Fillon is yesterday’s man and that Macron is the man of the hour. The two are chalk and cheese. Fillon is the family man from the country, loves hunting, and clings to the values of the Church. Macron is a socialist énarque and investment banker who married one of his school teachers (twenty-four years his senior).

The elephant in the room: Madame Le Pen. The leader of the Front national will, there is almost no doubt, top the first round of the election but then, in the second round, will have to face whichever other candidate gains the next highest number of votes. Whoever that candidate is will almost certainly gain all the anti-frontiste votes and be propelled to victory and the Elysée.

At the moment, it looks like the second candidate will only have to win around 22 per cent of the vote in order to effectively gain the presidency. Such a low level of actual support is one of the things the 1962 changes to the constitution sought to prevent, but when faced with an FN candidate as in 2002 or (presumably) this year the two-round system fails to prevent this.

As usual, the conservatives are calling for change and the progressives arguing for stasis, but it remains to be seen which option France will choose.

February 16, 2017 3:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The slums of the Louvre

The slums of the Louvre
“One of those protests against common sense Frenchmen love to make.”

We are so used to the now-familiar image of the palais du Louvre — with its central wing and flanking arms wide open to the Jardin des Tuileries — that it’s easy to forget just how recent a creation this ensemble is. The palace began as a square chateau expanding upon the site of the medieval citadel. The Tuileries it eventually stretched towards was then an entirely separate palace. In-between the Louvre and the Tuileries was a whole neighbourhood of buildings, streets, alleyways, and squares.

Henri IV built the grande galerie on the banks of the Seine connecting the Old Louvre to the Tuileries by 1610, but the Louvre we know today really only came together under Napoleon III in the 1850s.

Until that point, a slum was built right up to the walls of the Palace, and even within the old courtyard. Balzac, predicting that one day all this would be cleared, noted the slum with amusement as “one of those protests against common sense that Frenchmen love to make”. (more…)

February 9, 2017 11:05 am | Link | No Comments »

An Hollandic Hovel

A friend sent this link to a property for sale in Amsterdam. I can easily imagine getting a lot of writing done while listening to LPs of baroque music (my latest craze) through a haze of cigarette smoke in a garret like this.

Its drawback is that it’s on an actual street — what’s the point of living in Amsterdam if you’re not on an actual canal?

February 9, 2017 10:50 am | Link | 3 Comments »

The Delarue Proposal for Parliament

Peers & MPs could still convene in the Palace during renovations

The Royal Gallery set up for temporary use as the House of Lords chamber
Credit: Anthony Delarue Associates

MPs are kicking up a fuss about the controversial proposals to shut down the entire Palace of Westminster for perhaps as long as eight or nine years. (Previously mentioned here.) The building is completely structurally sound, and on solid foundations, but the accumulation of mechanical, electrical, and technological systems over the course of the past 150 years has created a confused mess within the walls of the palace. Electrical lines compete with fibre-optic cables, telephone wires, not to mention various heating and cooling pipes, and even some lingering telegraph wires. No one’s quite sure what is what and all of it is getting older. Even just accessing it to figure out what to do requires taking the building apart — removing wood panelling, drilling through walls, etc.

Parliamentary authorities commissioned management consultants from Deloitte to come up with a number of options on how to tackle this problem, but in their Independent Options Appraisal they treated this merely as an ordinary engineering job, rather than recognising the Palace as one of the most important places in British history both medieval and modern and, importantly, one still in constant daily use.

The Joint Committee formed of members of both the Lords and Commons perhaps unsurprisingly endorsed the option Deloitte claimed was the quickest and cheapest: that the Lords, Commons, and everyone else be chucked out of the Palace entirely and that temporary accommodation be found nearby.

Further investigation by respected former minister Shailesh Vara MP suggested that Deloitte had failed to take into account that any VAT costs on this major project go back into the Treasury anyhow, and that there was a failure to account for the loss of revenue if the Lords are moved into the government-owned Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre nearby. The QE2 is a profit-making venue popular with private clients, after all, and deploying it towards full-time legislative use will mean another significant loss for the Treasury. Meanwhile, in the courtyard of Richmond House on Whitehall, £59 million would be spent on building a new chamber for the House of Commons. This would be a permanent ‘legacy’ structure even though once the renovations to the Palace are complete there would be no use for it whatsoever.

The architect Anthony Delarue, having been taken on a tour of the Palace’s working underbelly by the engineers from the Restoration and Renewal programme, came up with an alternative proposal. Looking at the structure of the House of Lords chamber and the adjacent Royal Gallery, he realised that these two rooms could be maintained and occupied, with temporary services (electricity, heating, etc.) run from external sources. This would allow the renovation team to shut down the Palace’s systems entirely and re-do them completely, while the spaces in mind would still be able to be put to use. The Commons could then meet in the Lords chamber (as the wartime precedent suggested) and the Lords could meet in the Royal Gallery. Or indeed vice versa depending on the wishes of both Houses.

The advantages of this are no need for taking up the QE2 conference centre (with consequent loss of revenue for the Treasury) and no need to waste tens of millions on a temporary-but-permanent Commons chamber in the courtyard of Richmond House. In addition, both houses would be allowed to maintain their presence in the Palace of Westminster, in accommodation suitable to the traditions of the “Mother of Parliaments”.

Of course, the Restoration and Renewal programme ran a “high level review” of Delarue’s proposals and pooh-poohed the whole idea, amazingly claiming that it would probably cost £900 million more than the Deloitte option the Joint Committee preferred. Anthony Delarue has now written some comments responding to this review, pointing out that it relies on outrageously pessimistic estimates of timing, assumptions that are beyond the worst-case scenarios of project management.

MPs were expected to debate the matter last month, but the campaign organised by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Shailesh Vara MP has found considerable support among other Members of Parliament and it is believed the powers that be are looking for a delay. The Government have promised a free vote on the issue when it comes up for debate, which may very well be before the end of February.


Credit: Anthony Delarue Associates

February 2, 2017 2:10 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Holy Trinity Kingsway

Holy Trinity, Kingsway

Not much information is available about this church. The architect was John Belcher but the ambitious tower was never built, nor was there much money to complete the interior.

After it was made redundant in the 1990s the church was demolished — except for the façade so obviously influenced by Santa Maria della Pace.

February 1, 2017 3:01 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Crown of Stars

Following the horrors of the Second World War, there was a concerted effort to re-Christianise Europe, to ensure that the horrors inflicted by nationalist and Marxist socialism would never be repeated. For a time, statesmen like Konrad Adenauer in Germany and Alcide de Gasperi in Italy actually had remarkable success in promoting a Christian Democracy in which the sovereignty of Almighty God and the sanctity of human life, which carries the Image of God, were considered sacrosanct.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1955, the new flag of the European Union was inaugurated, emblazoned with twelve stars on a blue background. Its designer, Arsène Heitz, later disclosed that the stars represent the halo seen in images of Our Lady. After his first design incorporating the Cross had been rejected as too overtly Christian, Heitz was happy to take his inspiration from a picture of the Immaculate Conception.

At that time, there seemed to be so much promise for a Christian future in Europe — a future in which all human life at every stage of its existence, from conception to death, would be considered sacred and inviolable, thanks to that indelible Image of God emblazoned on every human soul.

Fr Julian Large, Cong. Orat.

So preached the Provost of the London Oratory during a stirring sermon to, as usual, a packed church one Sunday in 2013.

Of course, as Fr Julian correctly continued, “then something seemed to go badly wrong”, but it would take a volume to transcribe the numerous missteps and mistakes in the process of attempting European political unity.

Still, one would need to be blind not to acknowledge some of its accomplishments, among which I would count the European flag the genesis of which Fr Julian describes. The design is both simple and dignified which is amply attested to by the ease with which it has been deployed to myriad purposes.

While adopted and used by the European Union (and its predecessors, the EEC and EC) it was actually created by an entirely separate organisation, the Council of Europe, which still holds the copyright to it and which includes among its members many parts of Europe and beyond that are not part of the EU, viz. Russia, Denmark’s Greenland, Turkey, and parts of the Caucasus.

As Great Britain’s membership of the European Union draws to a close, it is some reassurance that we can still claim the European flag as our own, not just vaguely as a European country, but even legally as a Council of Europe member state. Just as one mustn’t surrender the Cross of St George to be waved only by football hooligans and racists, nor must we allow the Crown of Stars to be monopolised by ‘remoaners’ with blind faith in ever-centralising and ever-more-remote institutions.

One hopes that, in time, whatever negative connotations the European flag may have had amongst some will fade into the past as Britain takes her natural place as the bridge connecting Europe and the rest of the world.

January 30, 2017 1:35 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

The Queen

Richard Stone, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II
1992; Oil on canvas, 96 in. x 60 in.
January 24, 2017 12:53 pm | Link | No Comments »

Floating an Idea for Parliament

Members of Parliament are currently battling one another over plans for the ‘restoration and renewal’ of the Palace of Westminster. One side, backed by management consultants and the Joint Committee report, say the whole place has to be shut down completely for years starting in 2020. The other, led by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Shailesh Vara MP, says if work is so urgent it should start immediately, but that both the Commons and the Lords should continue to meet within the Palace, preserving centuries of tradition and keeping up the dignity and ceremony for which Great Britain is known.

With ideas flowing back and forth, outsiders to the Westminster bubble have put forth their own ideas — the architect Anthony Delarue’s suggestion has received the most serious consideration so far — and the global design firm Gensler has weighed in with its own proposal.

Gensler’s idea calls for a floating slug bearing a distinct resemblance to the Gherkin to be built and moored alongside the Palace of Westminster. This floating parliament would have plenary chambers for both the House of Lords and the House of Commons as well as committee rooms and other meeting places necessary to the functioning of the legislature.

While it’s a serious idea, the floating slug is not under actual consideration but is merely a conceptual exercise put out there by Gensler. Security concerns alone would lead to its rejection, not to mention worry over the hole in the historic fabric that would need to be punched through in order to access the slug. (more…)

January 23, 2017 1:15 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

All Change for Argentine Newspapers

BsAs Herald emerges as weekly as La Nación goes tabloid


Not Lucas de Soto

One of the saddest pieces of news to hit the Cusackosphere in 2016 was word that the Buenos Aires Herald was ending its 140th year by moving from daily to weekly production. The English-language Herald has been a stalwart of its city and country and, though little known abroad, has ranked among the finest newspapers in the world. But from 2007, when Charleston’s Evening Post Publishing Company sold the Herald onwards to controversial businessman Sergio Szpolski, the paper found itself in increasingly chaotic situations. Robert Cox, Herald editor in the difficult period from 1968 to 1979, said what happened to the paper was “like a car crash”, and blamed the papers owners.

My favourite feature of the Herald was Martin Gambarotta’s weekly ‘Politics and Labour’ column — a witty and insightful peek behind the curtains of Argentine public life. Like Miriam Lord’s Dail sketches for the Irish Times, one wished it was possible to redeploy Gambarotta’s pen at will towards whichever corner of the globe one happened to be situated in.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the republic’s venerable broadsheet La Nación announced around the same time its conversion to a smaller compact size. The centre-right daily is the most prestigious in Argentina since the demise of La Prensa under Peronist persecution. While its weekend editions will maintain their broadsheet format, from Monday to Friday La Nación will be printed in a compact format similar in size to a tabloid.

Marcelo García’s explanation of the changes at the Herald can be found below. (more…)

January 18, 2017 11:52 am | Link | No Comments »

Colonel Moore

Senator Colonel Maurice George Moore, Companion of the Order of the Bath, is an understudied figure from that remarkable period of rapid transformation in Ireland’s political history. While certainly far from typical, Colonel Moore’s experience reflects the changing age rather well.

He was born in 1854 at Moore Hall in Co. Mayo where his family — English settlers who had converted to Catholicism — made their home. His father, George Henry Moore, was known as a kind landowner, and when his horse Coranna won the Chester Gold Cup during the height of the Great Famine, the £17,000 winnings were spent on giving each tenant a cow and importing thousands of tons of grain to relieve their hunger. During this dark period, not a single family was evicted from the Moore lands for non-payment of rent, and not a single Moore tenant died of hunger.

Younger son Maurice was educated locally before heading off to Sandhurst and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Connaught Rangers in 1874. The Ninth Xhosa War brought him to South Africa for the first time, also seeing action during the Anglo-Zulu War not much later. Promoted to captain in 1882 and major in 1893 it was the great Boer War (1899–1902) which transformed Moore’s entire world.

As a field commander Moore was highly regarded and proved himself capable at the Battles of Ladysmith, Colenso, Spioen Kop, and Vaal Krantz. His conduct in combat notwithstanding, Moore was appalled by the atrocities committed by his own side against the Boer civilian population — women and children herded into concentration camps where many starved to death while, just beyond the barbed-wire fences, British troops were exceptionally well provisioned. One wonders what effect the stories of the Great Hunger that took place just a few years before his own birth may have had on witnessing these horrible and frighteningly avoidable horrors.

With the Boers finally defeated, Moore ended up a colonel and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in honour of his achievements. In South Africa he became fluent in the Irish language having started to learn it from soldiers under his command. Back home in Ireland, Col Moore became active in promoting the study of Irish language and history, whether at evening schools on his family’s estates or in joining Conradh na Gaeilge and supporting compulsory Irish at the National University.

When Óglaigh na hÉireann — the Irish Volunteers (now Ireland’s defence force) — was founded in 1913 his military experience was judged useful and he was appointed to its provisional committee. He opposed Redmond’s takeover bid a year later but nonetheless followed him into the National Volunteers when the split did occur, the Redmondites putting themselves at the disposal of the British forces during the Great War. Colonel Moore’s final break with the constitutional nationalist leader came after the Easter Rising, and he joined Sinn Féin the following year. In 1918 his son Ulick was killed in action during the German’s spring offensive.

Given Col. Moore’s long experience in South Africa, Dail Éireann appointed him the secret Irish envoy to that country. With the creation of Seanad Éireann in 1922, Col. Moore was appointed a senator and began his legislative career which continued the entirety of the Free State Senate’s existence.

Starting out in Cosgrave’s ruling Cumann na nGaedheal party, Senator Moore quickly began to oppose the government policy. The Boundary Agreement late in 1925 provoked his defection to the new Clann Éireann (or People’s Party) when it was founded early on in 1926. Just two months later, in March 1926, de Valera founded Fianna Fáil which took on what little momentum Clann Éireann had. Once Dev’s efforts proved their worth at the ballot box in 1928, with voters electing eight Fianna Fáil senators, Col Moore sat with the party in Leinster House.

In 1932, the voters put Fianna Fáil in power for the first of many times and de Valera began his reshaping of the Irish state, culminating in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland that has stood the test of time. Significantly, Ireland is the only successor state to have emerged from the First World War to have preserved its constitutional democracy, and much of this is due to Dev’s instinctive conservative republicanism. When the Constitution came into effect in 1937, An Taoiseach appointed Col Moore to the newly constituted Seanad, and he continued to serve as a Senator up until his death in 1939.

January 10, 2017 2:15 pm | Link | No Comments »

Stockholm in the Swinging 60s

The Solemn Opening of the Riksdag was the state opening of Sweden’s parliament, seen here in a recording from 1960 during the reign of Gustaf Adolf. Years ago I wrote about Oskar II’s opening of parliament.

Alas, all this was done away with as part of the constitutional innovations of 1974, and the Swedish legislature is now opened with a much simpler ceremony.

via Karl-Gustel

January 10, 2017 1:40 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

1950s Ireland, the Church, and the Arts

Sitting in Dublin Airport waiting for a flight last week I picked up a copy of the Irish Arts Review which featured a number of interesting pieces (including something by our own Dr John Gilmartin).

Among the articles was an interview with the artist and printmaker Alice Hanratty (born 1939), a member of the Aosdána as well as of its governing council the Toscaireacht.

It was interviewer Brian McAvera’s question to Ms Hanratty about Ireland in the 40s and 50s and her response that proved most interesting.

BMcA: Artists, nevermind historians, often talk about the dark days of the 1940s and 1950s in Ireland: petty, parochial, restrictive, dominated by the Catholic Church, politically conservative and sexually repressed. How did you see this period and was it in any way formative for you as an artist?

AH: I have some experience of the period in question and don’t really recognise the description that you quote.

As far as the arts are concerned you must remember that important Irish poets, dramatists, and novelists, and also painters and sculptors worked at that time. Brian Fallon discusses all that in his An Age of Innocence. As for ‘politically conservative, restrictive, dominated by the Catholic Church’ these I think are quite sweeping statements by people who did not actually live at that time and are re-stating a received perception which is inaccurate.

As for domination by the Catholic Church, to some degree people allowed themselves to be dominated. They were OK with it. It suited them. It provided answers about the imponderables such as death. Nor should it ever be overlooked that the vicious war waged against the Irish people and the practice of their religion by way of the penal laws have had a huge detrimental effect on the national psyche which is not yet dispersed even in the 21st century.

As for political conservatism (don’t start me), that was established by the Free State Government in the 1920s making a deliberate and successful move to stamp out any form of socialism that might develop. Of course the Church was pleased to be of help there, but was not the instigator. President Higgins made reference to this period in one of his 1916 commemoration addresses, so anyone seeking enlightenment in these matters would find it there.

Were the 1940s and 1950s influential for me as an artist? No. I was too young and was not looking outwards for inspiration.

January 4, 2017 3:46 pm | Link | No Comments »

The angel of Görlitz

The angel of Görlitz

An anonymous benefactor gives Görlitz half a million euros every year for the benefit of the Old Town.

24.02.2015, by MONA JAEGER, GÖRLITZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)

PASTOR, YOU MUST know, are there angels? He jumped up, went to a shelf, grabbed a thin brochure, and opened it. Here, says Minister Hans-Wilhelm Pietz, pointing to a photograph of the Church of the Holy Trinity, the roof was leaking, it was almost raining. And there, at the Lutherkirche, the facade was washed-out.

Four houses of God are maintained by the Lutheran church in Görlitz, between 100 and 700 years old. From the crypt to the tower there is always something to bang, grind, or sand. Sometimes this costs 500 euro, sometimes 5,000. In any case more than the 2,500 congregants contribute to the Sunday collection. “Alone, we would be overwhelmed with the neverending renovations.” But there is indeed him. Or her. An angel, at least, Father Pietz is certain.

He must be a pretty fat angel. He distributes half a million euros in the city every year — €511,500 to be exact. Not an angel as such, but a wealthy entrepreneur or someone with a rich inheritance, the Görlitzers speculate at the bakery counter or at their Stammtisch. Who else would have had so much money left for twenty years that he could simply donate to the city?

For it’s been the same game in Görlitz every year for that long: always in the first quarter, without announcement, half a million euros (formerly a million marks) find their way into the municipal coffers. It has always been a different date. This year it was 18 February. Whether the money will come next year, the donor does not reveal. (more…)

January 3, 2017 3:35 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A.D. MMXVI

All in all, a rather amusing year I thought. In 2015 there were a lot of jaunts to the continent, but 2016 — in true Brexit fashion — was the year of the domestic excursion (or ‘staycation’ if you’re a modern person). I also, through great cunning, managed to get to the theatre fairly often and even a jaunt or two to the opera.

Here are a few photos from the twelve months just past us, in no particular order. (more…)

December 22, 2016 3:05 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Sir Christoffel Brand

Look at that cragly visage! It belongs to Sir Christoffel Brand, the first Speaker of the House of Assembly in the Cape Parliament.

Brand was born in Cape Town in 1797 and left for the Netherlands in 1815, where he studied at Leiden. In 1820 he was awarded a doctorate in law based on his dissertation Dissertatio politico-juridica de jure coloniarum on the legal relationship between colonies and the metropole, and returned to the Cape. (more…)

December 21, 2016 5:14 pm | Link | No Comments »

The L.A. Times on Papa Pacelli

How News of the Election of Pius XII was Received in 1939

The case against Pope Pius XII, accusing him of complicity in the crimes of Nazism, has been so thoroughly debunked — by Jews like Gary Krupp and Rabbi Dalin more than any — that it is no longer even worth refuting.

Still, it’s interesting to read the Los Angeles Times’s coverage of his election as Supreme Pontiff in the difficult year of 1939:

BLOW TO NAZIS

… The choice of Cardinal Pacelli is believed certain to provoke annoyance in Germany, where he long has been regarded as a moving spirit behind the Vatican’s opposition to Nazi policies.

As the news report goes on to note, Cardinal Pacelli was elected in only three ballots — the quickest papal election since that of Leo XIII in 1878.

December 19, 2016 11:30 pm | Link | No Comments »

Christmas on College Green

There are some good (if brief) shots of the Irish House of Lords chamber in this Christmas ad for the Bank of Ireland, 0:35-0:45.

The former Irish Houses of Parliament on College Green in Dublin were the first purpose-built parliament building in the world, and were purchased by the Bank of Ireland after the parliament was abolished by the Act of Union in 1800.

Unfortunately a condition of sale was demolishing the elegant octagonal Commons chamber at the centre of the building, to prevent it being used in the effort to have the Act of Union repealed.

Sir Thomas Cusack (1505-1571) has the distinction of having at times served as the presiding officer of both the upper and lower houses of the Irish Parliament. From 1541-1543 he was as Speaker of the House of Commons, in which role some scholars argue he was a prime mover behind the legislation erecting Ireland as a kingdom.

In the following decade he served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, presiding in the House of Lords, from 1551 until 1555 when revelations about his involvement in the creative finances of Sir Anthony St Leger’s viceregal regime brought about Sir Thomas’s dismissal and (temporary) imprisonment.

He returned to favour when the Earl of Sussex was appointed viceroy, but never again held high office.

Of course, all that was before this neoclassical building was erected, when Parliament met mostly in Dublin Castle.

December 15, 2016 4:36 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Church of the Intercession

The huge and spacious interior of the Church of the Intercession, New York. One of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue’s masterpieces; so much so that he decided to be interred in the north transept of the church.

December 15, 2016 12:03 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Ordination of a Priest

Michael Rennier and I first met some years ago as we moved in the same vaguely intellectual circles that congregated in various places between New York and Boston. He was an Anglican clergyman then, having been raised a Pentecostal Christian and endured a long sojourn in the Episcopal Church in which he was called to formal ministry. Michael disguises his intellectual rigour with a light heart and a good sense of humour, and I was deeply pleased to see that rigour guided him, his wife, and family into the Catholic Church in 2011. I believe he had been knocking on the doors of the Archdiocese of Boston asking to be brought in under the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II, but I imagine the last thing that Archdiocese wanted to take on was the cost of a man with a wife and kids to look after as a seminarian, then deacon, then priest.

Things moved along anyhow, and Michael moved his family back to his ancestral homeland in the Middle West – T.S. Eliot country – to find his way in life and see what the future would bring. Thanks be to God, last week, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Michael was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church at the Old Cathedral of Saint Louis in Missouri.

In a beautiful reflection, Michael recalls sitting in Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library as a Protestant clergyman-in-training:

I was reading the Apologia; the story of [John Henry Newman’s] conversion to the Catholic Church. I was particularly bothered by one specific bit. I was at the part where Newman makes his point that, fundamentally, there is no difference whatsoever between Arianism and Anglicanism. One is reviled and discredited, the other respectable and vital. But look closer, Newman argued, look underneath. What is there? Rebellion. There, buried beneath the sartorial splendor, the monarchy, the gorgeous liturgy, the incense, the polyphonic chant, and the prestige of Oxford… was a group of Christians steeped in the bitter throes of willfulness. […] Newman got to me that day, blinking in the fluorescent lights of a now disappeared world. My own world, comfortable as it had been, began to slip away as well.

After all, outward appearances are not always what they seem.

Further along, Michael relates attending Mass as a Protestant:

It was fascinating. I was attracted to it. I felt something solid about it, comforting, and yet, I knew for a fact that these people worshiped statues! Okay, with age my critique became a bit more subtle. But in the long run, aren’t all our arguments against the Church just as silly and vain? She outlasts us all. We can kick and scream and throw tantrums; legislate against her, slander her, outlaw her priests and persecute her children: the Church still prevails. She fears nothing. And because of this, she is able to be generous and patient.

The greatest novel of all time (no one argue with me on this) is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. In it, Waugh describes a family who keep their country seat at Brideshead in the ancestral home. The family itself is a mixed lot; A father living abroad in sin, a domineering mother, a son who is a flamboyant dandy, a worldly daughter, and an overly-childlike daughter. Waugh describes the slow decline of Brideshead as the family disintegrates and scatters. This dissipation works itself out universally in the advent of the Great War [sic], which finally swallows up all of England and turns Brideshead into quarters for Army command. In the end, though, we are left with a scene in the house’s private chapel, where the altar lamp is still lit and a lone priest says mass for an old woman. I am a lot like that family. Many of us probably are.

You see, conversion is a gift. Mother Mary holds her Son for us, patiently suffering at the foot of the Cross. We can ignore her, go our own way, rebel … it doesn’t matter. Hanging on the Cross, Christ says to each and every one of us “Behold your Mother.” She is here still. Waiting. We may be elsewhere, doing God knows what, but above the altar the candle still flickers. This is the light by which, in time, we find our way home.

His reflection is worth reading in full.

I hope readers will join me in getting a prayer of thanksgiving in for Fr Michael as well as for his wife and their five children. This is barely even the beginning.

December 15, 2016 11:55 am | Link | 5 Comments »
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