Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Princess Diana's Great-Great-Great Uncle

The Honorable George Spencer, son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, now known as Servant of God Father Ignatius Spencer, is thus the Great-Great-Great-Great Uncle of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and his brother Prince Henry (Harry) of Wales. He should be proclaimed Venerable soon, according to the Diocese of Shrewsbury:

The Vatican has taken a key step along the road to declaring a priest related to Princes William and Harry to be a saint.

A 20-year investigation into the life and works of Father Ignatius Spencer has been approved by Vatican historians.

The document, known as a positio, has now been passed over to theologians of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Sainthood.

If they decide there is “evidence of sanctity”, they will then ask Pope Francis to declare the Victorian Passionist priest as “Venerable”.

At that point, the Catholic Church will begin the search for two miracles needed first for his beatification – when he will be given the title of Blessed – and then his canonisation, when he will be declared to be a saint.

Fr John Kearns, the British Passionist Provincial, described the development as a “step down the road” to sainthood.

“The positio has been finished and finalised and has been submitted to Rome and has got through the historical commission and is now going to the theologians,” said Fr Kearns . . .

“We would invite people to pray that the sanctity of Father Ignatius Spencer can eventually be recognised by the Church.”

Princes William and Harry are related to Eton-educated Father Spencer through their mother Diana, Princess of Wales.

Members of the aristocratic Spencer family, he was her great great great uncle and also a great uncle of Winston Churchill.

This blog provides his account of his conversion, which must have been as shocking at the time as John Henry Newman's especially since Spencer was a scion of English nobility. He was ordained a minister in the Church of England but then began to have doubts and difficulties with its teachings and even to think about the claims of the Catholic Church to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus:

It is now time, then, to state the principal steps by which it pleased God gradually to overcome my prejudices against the Catholic Church. In my early education I heard very little about the Catholic Church. I had been taught in general terms, that it was full of errors and superstitions; that at the glorious era of the Reformation, Luther had begun the work of dispelling the darkness with which the spiritual tyranny of the Popes had covered the world; and that England was one of the favoured nations which had shaken of the yoke, and had adopted the most admirable system of faith and worship of any of the Reformed Churches. This is the general statement of the case, which has been handed down from father to son since the days of Queen Elizabeth. If it be asked how people can suffer themselves to be so imposed upon, I can only answer, that men will readily believe what flatters their personal or their national vanity, and therefore the English have received this tale with ready credulity; and hardly one in a thousand stops to doubt what comes confirmed by such a weight of authority, and what he naturally desires to be true. As it was under these impressions that I looked on what I saw of the Catholic religion when I was in Italy ten or twelve years ago, it is no wonder that I went home only confirmed in my prejudices.

After I had taken orders, I began to make theology a study; I read some Protestant Commentaries on the Apocalypse, applying to what are called the errors of Popery what is there revealed of the great defection from the truth to take place in the latter days; and I put it down for certain, that in whatever body of men the truth was to be found, the last place to seek it in was among the Catholics. Protestants, in general; would consider Catholics not only as misguided; but as incorrigible in their errors; and if any of them should entertain the thought of a future healing of the divisions of the Church, and its reestablishment as one united body, they would not look forward to this being to take place by the return of Protestants within the pale of the Catholic Church, after a reformation of her abuses. Their idea is, that God’s people must come out from her; that she is prefigured by the spiritual Babylon, and that her end is not to be corrected, but utterly destroyed.

At one time; perhaps, I should have assented to principles like these; but I did not hold them long, when I began to think for myself. The first circumstance by which it pleased God in some degree to open my eyes, was a correspondence into which I entered with a person who withheld his name; but who professed to be a young man of the Protestant Church, who had been some time in a Catholic town abroad, where conversations he had had with some Catholics, and his observation of their worship and character had led him to doubt the truth of what he had been taught in his childhood about Popery and the Reformation. He professed to be under great suspense and misery, and entreated me, as a well-informed Protestant, to satisfy him on a few questions which he proposed. I entered with joy on this correspondence; which continued for six months. I expected easily to convince him that the Catholic Church was full of errors; but he answered my arguments, and I perceived that he became more and more disposed to join it. I discovered; by· means of this correspondence; that I had never duly considered the principles of our Reformation; that my objections to the Catholic Church were prejudices adopted from the sayings of others, not the result of my own observation. Instead of gaining the advantage in this controversy, I saw, and I owned to my correspondent, that a great change had been produced in myself. I no longer desired to persuade him to keep in the communion of the Protestant Church; but rather determined and promised to follow up the same enquiries with him, if he would make his name known to me, and only pause awhile before he joined the Catholics but I heard no more of him till after my conversion and arrival at Rome, when I discovered that my correspondent was a lady who had herself been converted a short time before she wrote to me.

After Spencer became a Catholic, he studied for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome and met Father, now Blessed, Dominic Barberi, the Passionist who yearned to go to England as a missionary. According to the same blog, he also tried to meet with one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement in Oxford, John Henry Newman:

In August 1832 George returned to England to act as a curate to a church in Walsall where he was given particular care of a chapel in West Bromwich. Here he opened three schools, gave lectures on religion and made many converts, as well as his usual activities in the parish. George’s reputation as a preacher began to grow and soon he was preaching as far afield as St. Chad’s, Manchester and St. Mary’s, Derby. During a visit to France in 1838 George proposed a ‘Crusade of Prayer for the Conversion of England’ to the Archbishop of Paris. Many of George’s influential friends joined this campaign and news of it spread throughout Britain and the Empire. In May 1839 he was appointed spiritual director to the seminarians at Oscott College and in the same month preached at St. Chad’s, Manchester on ‘The Great Importance of a Reunion Between the Catholics and the Protestants of England and the Method of Effecting It.’ In January 1840 George visited John Henry Newman at Oriel College, Oxford to ask Newman to join him in prayer for “unity in truth”, Newman sent him away and refused even to see Spencer, but later apologised for this in his Apologia;

“This feeling led me into the excess of being very rude to that zealous and most charitable man, Mr. Spencer, when he came to Oxford in January, 1840, to get Anglicans to set about praying for Unity. I myself then, or soon after, drew up such prayers; it was one of the first thoughts which came upon me after my shock, but I was too much annoyed with the political action of the members of the Roman Church in England to wish to have anything to do with them personally. So glad in my heart was I to see him when he came to my rooms, whither Mr. Palmer of Magdalen brought him, that I could have laughed for joy; I think I did; but I was very rude to him, I would not meet him at dinner, and that, (though I did not say so,) because I considered him ” in loco apostatx ” from the Anglican Church, and I hereby beg his pardon for it.”

Spencer did become a Passionist and succeeded Blessed Dominic Barberi as leader of the order in England and Belgium:

On January 5 1847 George Spencer received the Passionist habit from the hands of his old friend Father Dominic Barberi who had brought the Congregation to England in 1841. George received the religious name Father Ignatius of Saint Paul, the name he would be known by ever after. Ignatius threw himself into Passionist life and after making his religious profession in 1848 began preaching sermons throughout Britain and Ireland, always calling for prayers for the conversion of England. In August 1849 Ignatius was preaching in Belgium when he heard of Father Dominic’s death, consequently he was now Provincial of the Passionist Congregation in England and Belgium. In 1851 Ignatius set out to Rome to gain the approval of the Pope for his work, on his return he also met with several prominent bishops, as well as with Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

During a visit to Paris in 2010 I visited the church of Notre Dame des Victoires and noted this large Ex Voto near the shrine of Our Lady of Victory which thanks the Blessed Virgin Mary for three conversions. It also references prayer for the conversion of England encouraged by the "Reverend George Spencer", known as "Father Ignatius" of the Passionists, who had died on October 1, 1864. 

Blessed Dominic Barberi, pray for us!
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!
Servant of God Ignatius Spencer, pray for us!


  1. Bl. Richard Bere, Roman Catholic Monk and English Martyr. When he and his fellow monks voiced their opposition to the planned divorce of King Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon, they were starved to death in Newgate Prison. Feastday Aug.31

    1. The other date given for his death is August 9, 1537: