Friday, 22 June 2012

Canon Francis Ripley on Teresa Higginson

From the Diary of a Small Town Priest.

October 3rd 1979: Today I received a reprint  of the well - known biography of Teresa Helena Higginson by Lady Cecil Kerr.  It has been published in Belgium.  There are many strories I could tell about experiences connected with Teresa.  In the late 1930's Canon Joseph Cartmell wrote either and article or review of a book containing some of Teresa's letters.  He said that some matters made him critical.  For example she described the head of Our Lord as the seat of Divine Wisdom, which it is not.  It could be described as a symbol or sign of the wisdom of God but it is certainly not the seat of infinite wisdom.  Secondly she taught the doctine of purgatory which did not seem to fit in with the traditional teaching of the church and thirdly she said that if anybody spoke out against her cause the Lord would take the punishment into his own hands. 

Canon Francis J. Ripley

One Saturday afternoon when we were students at Upholland seminary we had our sermon classes with the good Canon: the student who was to preach a practice sermon was ill and unable to do so.  We asked the Canon to speak us about Teresa.  He repeated the points he had made in his article which was, I think, in "The Clergy Review".  Next morning the procession was making its way into the chapel for solemn high mass.  Towards the end of it among the senior professors was Dr. Cartmell.  Nearing the chapel door he suddenley fell and had to be helped to his feet, and indeed carried to his room by four stalwart deacons.  The story is that as he was being carried away he was heard to say, "I have Teresa Higginson to thank for this!"

I visited him regularly after he became parish priest at St. Mary's, Chorley, and often spoke to him about this and other incidents concerning Teresa.  It always amused us but he never went back on his conviction that the sudden attack of sciatica or whatever it was, which kept him rigid as a ramrod for about 3 weeks, was the result of his criticism of Teresa.

Another story which was told to me personally by the one to whom it happened is even more fascinating.  Not long before his death Canon Murray of Salford diocese said he wanted to tell me something which I could always remember and pass on to others concerning Teresa.  He was a young priest, ordained only about a year, when one night, as he was undressing to go to bed, there was a sick call.  The young priest asked the house keeper to enquire whether the sick person was able to receive the Blessed Sacrament. The reply was in the affirmative and so Fr. Murray went to the church for the Blessed Sacrament and the lady waited at the door.

They set off together, the lady silently and piously leading the way.  After a while the young priest realised that they had passed into another parish.  Still he walked on and eventually came to a court, one of the old fashioned sort in which there are several houses on each side and at the far end but no exit.  A gas lamp was burning under which he could clearly read the name of the court.  The little lady went and pushed open the door of the last house on the left.  There was a man in bed.  The priest asked if he wanted to go to confession and he was left alone with the patient for a few minutes.  Then he summoned them all to return as the sick person received Holy Communion and was anointed.

The little lady then led the way out of the court but at the end they stopped and the priest took out his pocket book and wrote down the name of the court that was clearly visible under the gas lamp.  They walked on and when they were back in Fr. Murray's parish he dismissed his guide and returned to the presbytery.

Next morning he got in touch with the neighbouring parish priest, thinkingthat it was his duty to advise him of what happening during the night.  The parish priest said that there was no such court in his parish.  They made enquiries and discovered that the address clearly written in Fr. Murray's diary was six miles away in Failsworth.  They got in touch with the priest there who told them that indeed there was such an address and that that night a man had died.  A priest had come bought by a strange lady.  That was all.

Canon Murray related this to me and said that some time later he had been at a clergy gathering and told his experience to Canon Snow who had been one of the directors of Teresa Higginson. He described the little lady who called him and the Canon was quite convinced that this was Teresa.  I tell the story was what it is worth but that is exactly how it was told to me.

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