This article aims, against the background of Eugene’s letters (Oblate Writings I, vol. 3, pages 129-149) to clarify the context of Eugene’s 1857 visit, to add some further details from other sources, to establish its chronology, and finally make some reflections.
Context of the visit
Much had happened since Eugene last visited England in 1850. In the General Chapter held in August 1850 the decision was made to set up provinces within the Congregation and a ‘British Province’ was established in April 1851. Fr. Cooke had been provincial since November 1851. Fr. Aubert and Fr. Bellon, who had hitherto directed the mission, were no longer in the Province. Fr. Aubert had been the first provincial of the British province but only for a few months and was now provincial of the Midi Province of France and also acted as Oblate secretary to Eugene. Fr. Bellon had returned to France, and was presently superior of the major seminary of Romans, France though he had gone to Britain as Visitor in 1852 and 1853. New missions had been founded: Mount St. Mary’s, Leeds in 1851, Sicklinghall and Galashiels in 1852, the House of Retreat, Dublin in 1856. Missions had been closed: Penzance, Maryvale and Ashbourne in 1852, Aldenham in 1853, and Everingham in 1855. No good solution had been found to the Ashbourne debt problem and the Province had suffered the consequences both in financial terms and in terms of its reputation. Fr. Pinet had been brought in from Canada to handle the financial affairs of the mission. It would not be too much to say that the face of the mission had changed completely in the short time since the 1850 visit. Eugene went now to England with a specific project in view: to preside over the opening of the new Oblate church at Mount St. Mary’s. Leeds, which was to take place on July 29, 1857. But he had a wider aim: to “make or strengthen ties useful to our budding community” (Letter to Fabre, Oblate Writings I, vol. 3, p. 137) and in this perspective he also accepted to visit Dublin. When the visit was being planned, he had hoped to see his friend Fr. Gustave Richard in Dublin. However, to the distress of the Founder, Fr. Richard died on 20 April 1857
Chronicle of the visit
Departure from France: 28 June to 10 July
Eugene accompanied by Fr. Aubert and Fr. Guiol, a priest of the Marseilles diocese with some knowledge of English, left Marseilles on 28 June for Nancy where he was to ordain an Oblate to the priesthood. Three scholastics from Montolivet were also travelling to England to continue their studies in Sicklinghall and Eugene would ordain two of them to the diaconate in the course of his visit. Eugene was able to observe something of their characters on the journey. From Nancy Eugene went on to Paris and stayed there a few days attending to business matters. From Paris the two groups travelled separately. Eugene with Aubert and Guiol left Paris on 10 July and arrived the same evening in London where they remained for a few days. The scholastics travelling by a more economical route arrived in London on 11 July and were dispatched immediately to Sicklinghall where they arrived on 14 July.
The London visit: 10 July to 16 July
The Oblates still had no mission in London. Fr. Cooke the provincial was at this time in Dublin. Eugene and his companions stayed with Mr. Dahdah, a rich businessman. Eugene mentions that while in London he drew money from “the Pastré people”. The Pastré family (Pastré Frères) were a merchant-shipping firm in Marseilles and at this time they had an establishment in London. Eugene had a very busy stay in London. He said his daily Mass in a nearby church. The party were shown the sights by the Duke of Norfolk, and dined at his house in St. James’ Square on several occasions. They saw sessions of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, the Crystal Palace, which had housed the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the British Museum. Eugene did not succeed in meeting Cardinal Archbishop Wiseman in London, but he would meet him later and Eugene did meet Bishop Grant of Southwark, and Lords Campden, Stafford, and Devaux, as well as Mr. Monsell and Mr. Hope-Scott, the barrister who sponsored the mission in Galashiels. Eugene visited the Sisters of the Retreat. He received letters from Frs. Tempier and Fabre while in London and sent one to Tempier dated the 15 July.
The Liverpool visit: 16 July to 20 July
On Thursday 16 July Eugene travelled to Liverpool by train, via Birmingham. In Birmingham they left the train and brought Fr. Guiol to Bishop Ullathorne’s house, as he wanted to visit Oscott. The Bishop was away and Eugene had no business to transact in Birmingham. Fretting at the delay Eugene reboarded the train at New Street Station and arrived at Lime Street Station Liverpool in the evening where he found Frs. Jolivet and Gubbins waiting to meet him. They brought him to their house at the Holy Cross mission and met Fr. Dutertre. The fourth member of the community, Fr. Bradshaw, was on retreat in Sicklinghall. Eugene spent three fairly leisurely days in Holy Cross. He admired the newly built schools. He went to visit the Bishop of Liverpool Bishop Alexander Gosse but he was away on holiday in Wales. He called on the Jesuits whose church, situated in Salisbury Street quite close to Holy Cross and dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, had been founded in 1845. He visited the city on foot with Fr. Aubert and observed a service of the “Catholic Apostolic Church”, commonly known as “Irvinites”, in Canning Street, on the corner of Catherine Street, completed in 1856. Rey tells us he visited the great ships that laid the Atlantic cables. He wrote to Fr. Tempier. On Sunday he made his first appearance in the still simple Oblate church. At his Mass, the sermon was given by Fr. Fox who was passing through on his way back to Dublin from Sicklinghall, where he had made his annual retreat. Fr. Fox left for Dublin that very day to prepare for Eugene’s arrival there. Eugene left by boat for Dublin the next day, Monday 20 July. Did he take the boat in Liverpool or did he journey to Holyhead to shorten the sea journey? Either is possible, but the former seems more likely as the weather was excellent, the sea calm and there is no mention of a long journey overland to Holyhead.
The visit to Ireland: 20 July to 27 July
Eugene landed in Ireland late in the evening of Monday 20 July. He was brought to Inchicore where he was to stay with the Oblates in the small farmhouse that was their residence at that time. It was a warm summer’s evening and although it was 11 o’clock there would still have been light in the sky. News of his arrival spread quickly and crowds came to welcome him. He was deeply touched. Next day at 10 a.m. he received visitors: Bishop O’Connor OSA, titular Bishop of Saldes and former Vicar Apostolic of Madras, and Father Crane, the Augustinian Prior who spoke Italian, both good friends of the Oblates. He then went to pay his respects to Archbishop (later Cardinal) Cullen, the Archbishop of Dublin, in a coach sent by the Archbishop. The Archbishop was then residing at 55 Eccles Street, Dublin. Eugene had dinner with him. Rey tells us that at table were all the notable people from the Catholic University, several guests from the major seminary of Maynooth, and the Archbishops of Armagh and Cashel. Eugene was given the place of honour at table. Wednesday 22 July was another busy day. Eugene was brought to All Hallows Major Seminary, the Jesuits’ house, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and the Augustinians. The Founder also visited the National Seminary at Maynooth, Co. Kildare, and dined there as the guest of the Rector Dr. Russell. Returning home, he visited some of the leading citizens of Inchicore and the Sisters of Mercy in Goldenbridge. On Thursday 23 July he visited the Catholic University in Stephen’s Green. The House of Retreat Codex tells us that he also visited a neighbour in Inchicore, Mr. Ryan, whose garden the Oblates crossed as they went to say Mass every day for the Sisters of Mercy. He dined with the Augustinians. Here he met again the Augustinian Bishop O’Connor and the famous Passionist priest Ignatius Spencer whom he had met several times in Marseilles. Friday 24 July he visited another friend of the Oblates, Dr. Yore, Vicar General and parish priest of Arran Quay. He distributed prizes at the Convent School of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a ceremony at which Archbishop Cullen presided, and, to the delight of the Oblates, returned home for dinner. On Saturday July 25 the Founder was taken on a tour of the Great Southern and Western Railway Works, adjacent to the Oblate property, where the workers gave him a most respectful welcome. Many would be at his Mass and receive communion the next day. He dined with Canon Pope, the administrator of the pro-cathedral, at the cathedral presbytery, the Archbishop also being present. On Sunday 26 July he said his Mass at 7 a.m. in the wooden church and was engaged for an hour in distributing Holy Communion. Later, as had been announced in the Press (Freeman’s Journal, Saturday, 25 July 1857), he went with Frs. Aubert and Cooke to the pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street to preside with the Archbishop at Pontifical High Mass and give Benediction. Afterwards the Archbishop brought him in his carriage on a short sightseeing tour. Returning at 4.00 p.m. he was met at Inchicore by the Inchicore band. Acting as interpreter, Father Robert Cooke, o.m.i., told the people that Eugene was delighted to see their faith which was the same as his own and that of his ancient diocese of Marseilles, said to have been founded by Lazarus. There was Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Eugene went under the canopy to the Oblate house surrounded by the men’s and women’s confraternities and the girls of the convent of the Sister of Mercy. He then blessed neighbouring houses and the Sisters of Mercy convent, before going again to the house of the Archbishop for dinner, accompanied by Frs. Aubert and Cooke. His Act of Visitation of the Community of Inchicore is dated this day. He has nothing but praise for the religious spirit of the community and for their missionary work. He urges constant fidelity to the Rule. As in his 1850 Act of Visitation he insists on strict observance of the Roman usage in respect of confessionals. He also insists that no building works are to be undertaken without his approval! On Monday July 27 Eugene returned to Liverpool. In the course of the visit Eugene and Archbishop Cullen had discussed the possibility of a parish being created for the Oblates by dividing the parish of St. James and the Archbishop seemed to agree to this, but nothing came of it.
The visit to Leeds 27 July to 1 August
After spending the night in Holy Cross, Liverpool, Eugene and his companions together now with Fr. Cooke travelled to Leeds via Manchester where they visited the cathedral. In Leeds Eugene stayed with the Holdforth family (Rey) but dined and spent the day with the Oblate community, where Father Arnoux joined them during recreation in the evening from Sicklinghall, though the local Oblates were very busy preparing for the opening of the new church on the next day. Fr. Lynch was superior here, assisted by Frs. Pinet (bursar), Kirby, Gobert and J. Gubbins and Br. Vernet. On Wednesday 29 July there took place the blessing and solemn opening of the new church, the centrepiece of the visit to the Province. Bishop Briggs the local bishop was present, and Bishop Brown of Newport. Cardinal Wiseman preached. At vespers, Dr Manning preached. It was an event of enormous magnitude, celebrated by the whole city, Catholics and Protestants alike. It concluded in a banquet in one of the city hotels. On 30 July Eugene visited the principal families of Leeds who had made donations to the church. On Friday 31 July a Provincial Council meeting was held. He followed this with a visit to Henry Maxwell, in whose house he spent the night. He went there to thank him for the invitation that had been extended to him to stay there during his visit to Leeds, along with Cardinal Wiseman, who did stay there during his visit. Eugene had declined this offer as the location was too far from Leeds. The next day 1 August was Eugene’s 75th birthday. He celebrated Mass with the family in the Maxwell mansion. In a letter that he wrote to Fr. Tempier from here Eugene baulked at describing in detail the events of the last days, instead he sent him newspaper cuttings. He left in the afternoon for Sicklinghall, less than two hours’ journey by train, to be met at Wetherby station by Frs. Arnoux and Hickey and Br Regan.
The visit to Sicklinghall: 1 August to 4 August
This event is described in colourful detail in the Sicklinghall Codex. He met the community which comprised some 35 members in all and consoled Fr. Bouquillon who was terminally ill. In the evening he received Fr. Bennett into the novitiate. Fr. Bennett was at this time directing the beginnings of the juniorate. The next day was Sunday and the Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Eugene said Mass for the community and Fr. Hickey preached on the saint of the day, making some comparisons with Eugene. After Vespers it was time to visit some of the neighbours: the Hon. Mrs. Bland who had put her carriage at Eugene’s disposal, Lady Dowager Stourton the sister of Cardinal Weld whom the Codex describes as Eugene’s friend, the Clayton family and “poor John Shepherd a cripple from his birth. He gives the poor fellow his pectoral cross to kiss & his blessing.” On the 3 August he was available to meet any member of the community who wished to speak to him: one of the Fathers translated. He also addressed separately the novices, the Brothers and the juniors. In the evening he received Robert Barrett into the novitiate. Rey reports that a Provincial council meeting was held on this day: Frs. Cooke, Arnoux and Hickey. Eugene does not seem to have left us an Act of Visitation of Sicklinghall. The Codex reports some of his thoughts: “He reminded to R. F. Master to write to him every quarter & send him a detailed account of the novices, of each of them. He spoke very strongly to him against apostates …” On 4 August he rose early to say Mass at 5 o’clock and a cab took him to Pannal junction to catch the train for Edinburgh. His party was now accompanied by Fr. Noble.
The visit to Scotland: 4 August to 7 August
Eugene was met at the railway station by Bishop Gillis and Fr. Mangin and they did some sightseeing. Eugene lodged with the Bishop. The two men had many common sympathies. Eugene started the next day by writing a letter to Fr. Tempier in which he complains of receiving no letters. He was then brought by the Bishop to celebrate Mass in the church of the convent of St. Margaret of Scotland and planned after breakfast to leave by train to visit the Oblate community at Galashiels. However, the Bishop brought him for some more sightseeing: the museum, the University, the library, Edinburgh Castle, and Holyrood Palace, so he did not leave for Galashiels until the evening. There he stayed with the Oblate community in the presbytery built for them by Mr Hope-Scott. Thursday the 6 August was spent in making courtesy visits to benefactors. On their way they saw the ruins of Melrose Abbey. They called on Lord Henry Kerr and his wife and ended the day at Abbotsford. Friday was to be devoted chiefly to making a canonical visit of the community, which was however interrupted by the unexpected appearance of Bishop Gillis to pay his respects once more. While in Galashiels Eugene received an unwelcome letter from the Bishop of Quimper terminating the Oblates’ contract at the seminary, bitter news that soured the memory of the visit to Galashiels. Eugene left that evening by train to travel to York, which he reached at two in the morning. He said Mass in a convent and met and thanked Bishop Briggs. He left York in the afternoon, spent some hours in a courtesy visit to Everingham, which he left at 5 in the evening to return to Mount St. Mary’s Leeds.
Return to Leeds: 8 August to 11 August
Eugene returned to Leeds to ordain Timothy Ryan to the priesthood, and two of his previous travelling companions Brs. Guillard and Ayral to the diaconate. He also ordained William Ring to the subdiaconate. This took place in the new church on Sunday 9 August. On the 10 August he spent time with the Oblate Sisters of Mary Immaculate who had come from Notre-Dame de l’Osier to work in the mission with the Oblates. He called on the Middleton family at Middleton Lodge and admitted them to the merits and prayers of the Oblate Congregation in recognition of all they had done for the Oblates in Sicklinghall. The next day – 11 August – he said his goodbyes, especially to the Holdforth family and began his return journey to France.
Return to London and departure from England: 11 August to 15 August
He went first to spend two nights at the residence of Lord Campden whose family seat was Horn House, near Rutland Water, Rutland. It was a pious household where Lord Campden served Eugene’s Mass. This was presumably a short rest period for Eugene before the long journey that still faced him. He set out for London on 13 August, stopping at Oxford for a visit to the University, which he was keen to see. All the colleges were closed save Christ Church, founded by Cardinal Wolsey. Pressing on he arrived in London at 4 pm, to be met by Mr. Dahdah with whom once again he stayed. He spent Friday 14 August visiting Cardinal Wiseman, the Pastré office, and Dr. Manning, and saying a sad farewell to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. On 15 August after celebrating Mass in the parish church in Chelsea, he left for Paris.
It was a remarkable visit, covering large distances and conducted at high speed. Eugene had scarcely any time for himself – “journeyings and goings to and fro without number” (Letter to Soullier, 2 August, in Oblate Writings I, Vol. 3, p.134); “I cannot find a quarter of an hour of respite to converse with the absent” (Letter to Fabre, 23 July, in Oblate Writings I, Vol. 3, p.129); “I have not been able to put anything on paper about all these wonderful things” (Letter to Tempier, 1 August, in Oblate Writings I, Vol. 3, p.132). From the physical point of view alone it was an extraordinary achievement. In relation to the ends for which the visit was undertaken, the visit was also a major personal achievement for Eugene. Its overall objective was achieved to the full. As ambassador of his Congregation, Eugene had established good relations with major figures in every part of the country in which his men were ministering. He moved easily among all classes of people. In Dublin he had won the trust of the hugely influential Archbishop Cullen. In England he had been able to spend time with Cardinal Archbishop Wiseman and Dr Manning, the two most influential Catholic churchmen of the day in England. These two great figures had seen the work of the Oblates at close quarters in Leeds and would remain on intimate terms with the Oblates. In a remarkable letter to Fr. Fabre of the London Oratory dated 27 October 1852, Wiseman had poured out his disappointment at not having found in England a religious order ready and willing to take up the work of evangelising the poor in his diocese in a “steady, continual and persevering way”. (Wilfrid Ward, The Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman. Second Edition, London 1897, Vol. II, pp.115-123) He must surely have been struck with what he had seen in Leeds when he assisted at the opening of Mount St Mary’s. It would not be long before the Oblates were able to open a mission in the East End of London. Eugene’s own horizons too were widened. His contact with the fervour of Irish Catholicism astonished him. His positive contact with Protestant Britain astounded him no less without diminishing his horror of the Protestant Reformation.
At the same time Eugene strengthened his men’s spirit and resolve in the new directions they were taking. In the House of Retreat, Dublin Codex Historicus we read: “We will never forget the bounty of our good Father who showed us in this short time he could stop in the house all the affections of his heart to his children, it pained him very much to be unable to speak to the brothers, but his kindness and his simplicity was a proof of his fatherly devotion to them and to all the members of the community. He edified us especially by his spirit of mortification, for he spent only some hours in his bed, he went to rest the last, often at 11 and got up the first at 4 o’clock, example very edifying in a person of nearly 75 years old. He left us some words in which he expresses all the affections of his heart and his delight to have been here with this good people in the midst of his children.” And the account of the visit in the Sicklinghall Codex ends with the plaintive cry: “Oh! When will he return again?”
Michael Hughes, O.M.I.