Sunday, 30 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: Alfred Garnett and the Abbé Billé

From the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

On returning to England Teresa spent some three years assisting the Garnett family in Liverpool.  Miss Margaret Garnett, who seems to have been their mainstay, had fallen ill and Canon Snow (whose teacher she had been) had asked Teresa to come to their aid.  She nursed Margaret until her death and then secured for the remaining brother and sister a little shop in the Mount Pleasant area of the city.

One witness here is Alfred, the youngest of the family who had from birth been handicapped with a leg disease.  If Mrs. McKeon is the best observer of Teresa in the classroom it is to Alfred that we must turn for an impression of her as a nurse and quietly efficient family friend.  Miss Arkwright who knew him very well, made from their frequent talks together a written account of his testimony.  Some of this, including Teresa's prediction to him of the present Liverpool Catholic cathedral, she published, but the following may be new to readers: 

 Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, with the 'Crown of Thorns' dome, foreseen by Teresa

"When Teresa came to the Garnetts she was eating nothing at all and afterwards in obedience to Canon Snow began to take a little food.  Every morning after hearing two or three masses she sat down to read the very many letters she received daily.  These letters were after her death discovered to have been from priests, religious and others asking advice.  She dealt with her correspondence in a very methodical way, sorting the letters into separate piles, and all were read before breakfast.  Teresa, Mr. Garnett said, never seemed to want food.  He would pour out her half a cup of tea, and more often than not it would get cold.  She would pour hot water into it so that it was more like water than tea.  Sometimes Mr. Garnett would try to put some cream into her tea while she was reading her letters but she would look up at him with her usual sweet smile and put her hand gently over the cup, and he never succeeded in his attempt."

Such was Alfred's devotion to Teresa that after her death, before opening his shop he would go into her old room and pray to her, and after closing at night, no matter how tired he felt, would again enter her room and, in spite of his painful lameness, kneel and pray again.  Until his death in 1940 he paid for a friend to go to Neston each year to put flowers on her grave for her birthday; 35 years of rememberance!

An unforgettable impression of Alfred Garnett in later years has been left by the Abbé Billé, translator into French of Lady Kerr's life of Teresa.  Somewhere about the year 1936 he called on several witnesses, and we find him at Mount Pleasant enquiring of a passerby the whereabouts of Mr. Garnett:

"Oh yes, go down there to that little shop on the corner!"  I directed my steps to the door, which was open.  It was a little grocery of most modest appearance, with all the goods jumbled together, common and uninviting.  No one was there when I entered but  presently an old man emerged from behind the counter.  Before I had time to speak he looked at me and exclaimed 'You are the Abbé Billé!  You are the Abbé Billé!'  In spite of my surprise at being addressed by my own name, I admitted he was right and told him I had come to speak to him about Teresa Higginson.  He then led me into a little back room.  Here everything was piled one on top of the other - clothes, papers, old kitchen utensils, etc.  He looked round for a seat to offer me and drew one out from beneath an pile of old papers.  It was leaning against the wall in a corner.  He sat on an old chest, pushing aside various odds and ends.  His voice was feeble and I had to lean towards him to catch what he said.  'I was the one who accompanied her to the station very late one night in September 1904 when she left us to go to Chudleigh in Devonshire' he said.  'She had a feeling she would not return and gave me her last instructions: 'If I do not return, give this case to Canon Snow' she said.  'This I did, although I did not know what was in it.  She has a particular devotion to the souls in purgatory and prayed continually for them - not those of her own family but for others, the most abandoned, for those Our Lord Himself wished to deliver.  Her favours and care Teresa lavished on others rather than her friends.'

"What struck me particularly in talking to him was the strong conviction of the old man in the necessity of suffering - wretchedness truly seemed to be a mark of predilection, of the special protection of his friend.  And in it he was very, very happy.  'Have confidence in her' he told me, 'she will help you - but has a way of waiting until one gets into great difficulties!'  At last I rose to take my leave.  Mr. Garnett took my hands and looked at me with tears in his large eyes.  Mine also moistened. He knelt for my blessing, and after losing myself in the noisy streets of the great city I still felt that he was following me with his affectionate gaze.  In spite of his extreme poverty this good old man knows how to communicate to his friends a little of the happiness and joy he has deep in his heart."

(From the French magazine Message Jan - Feb 1938).

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: Margaret Murphy

From the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

There is one friend of Teresa who must certainly not be omitted from our list, and that is Margaret Murphy, the former mill-hand who became housekeeper to Canon Musselly at Rawtenstall.  She met Teresa in the summer of 1887, Teresa as has been mentioned staying then with Minnie Catterall and Helen at Newchurch, and having come to Ravenstall for mass.  Margaret fell under the spell of her personality, visited her several times at Newchurch, and later when the Canon moved to St. Patrick's, Manchester, had her there as a guest on several occasions.  Her devotion was exceptional.  She attended Teresa's funeral and the family offered to open the coffin for her. 

Lady Kerr gives a touching account of how a visiting priest found her sitting alone by the fire and asked her how she passed her lonely days of retirement.  Her face lit up, and pointing to Teresa's photo she said: "I speak to her, and she speaks to me."  Two days later she died a holy death.  This was not the well known photo of Teresa in the mantilla, but a gravely beautiful one of her seated and holding flowers, evidently taken towards the end of her days.  Was she perhaps presented with it after the requiem at Neston?  Margaret was a reserved person who kept things in her heart, and is said to have given evidence under oath with much diffidence and pleading her prayers.  I have not heard that she left anything in writing.  Teresa's letters she destroyed at death, also a lock of her hair.

Photo of Teresa in 1904 in Margaret Murphy's possession

Margaret's protege Kitty Deady also knew Teresa at St. Patrick's and went to church with her.  She became a Sister of Mercy and was sent to their convent at Gravesend, taking the name Sr. Mary Evangelist.  She died in 1938.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: Miss Isabella Arkwright

From the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

A special place on our panel of witnesses must be reserved for Miss Isabella Arkwright of Ormskirk, although she met Teresa on one occasion only and then seems hardly to have conversed.  As a secondary witness she was however unique and could claim: "I knew many of Teresa's friends now deceased and know those living," adding "not one ever had or had the least doubt as to her sanctity." (From a letter to me of 4th June 1946.)  She has been described by Mrs. McKeon as "forthright, prudent and kindly" to which might be added steadfast and self - effacing and other noble attributes.  Like Teresa and many other friends she had been a teacher.  At Ormskirk she was only a few miles from Canon Snow's parish of Aughton where for twenty years her sister Elizabeth had served as housekeeper.  It was in this connection that her meeting with Teresa took place, which I give here in her own words:

"A cousin of mine went to Aughton to visit my sister and of course see Miss Higginson.  This cousin in my presence asked Teresa to pray for her intention.  Teresa with a twinkle in her eye asked humourously, 'Are you going to me married?' to which my cousin replied, 'Oh no, no, Miss Higginson.'  Then Teresa asked seriously, 'Is it your vocation dear?'  No answer from my cousin.  Teresa then said, 'Yes - if it is God's will.'  My cousin answered 'It must be God's will!'  I said to myself, you will be rebuked for that exclamation, but Teresa just smiled sweetly and repeated, 'If it is God's will.'  (This cousin did later enter religion.  

Teresa impressed her as being "very natural, simple, homely and full of humour".  Her look however was "very searching." 

Miss Isabella Arkwright

On her retirement from teaching Miss Arkwright devoted her days to the furtherance of Teresa's cause.  She had literature printed and distributed, kept in touch with clients at home and abroad, and had the vision to persuade witnesses to put down on paper their testimony.  "When I think and see what I ought to do I am overcome.  I feel too small for this great cause," she wrote.  On another occasion she said, "We are not working for Teresa but for God; what can be greater than the Wisdom of the Godhead?  Is that not the greatest devotion?"  Again, "We are very favoured to have the least part in so mighty a cause."  At her home she established a repository of Higginsonia - letters, photos, souvenirs, and welcomed all genuine enquirers.  For many years before her death in 1969 at the age of 86 she was the centre of reference for English speaking clients of Teresa.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: from witnesses in Devon

From the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

Passing on now to Teresa's final year we move south to the Torbay area in Devon.  Lord Clifford, you will recall, had advertised for a teacher for the Catholic children on his estate of Ugbrooke, and she had answered the call.  The schoolhouse was about a mile from the house (where there was Sunday mass in the chapel) and a similar distance from the village of Chudleigh, the nearest town Teignmouth, being a few miles distant.  She came unknown, a frail, dowdily dressed little woman, some stranger from the North.  No doubt Canon Snow had communicated with Lord Clifford and his chaplain to give a good reference, and perhaps mention her delicate health, but would have hardly gone beyond that.  The school and adjacent schoolhouse were isolated and Catholics few and scattered, so that apart from the children she did not meet many people.  Yet four individuals from this final year bear testimony to her sanctity.

Ugbrooke house

First may be cited Fr. H. J. Dowsett, chaplain to Lord Clifford, and a man described by Abbot Vonier as being without frills or decorations in his religion.  Teresa's nurse (Sr. Mary Francis of Assisi in later years) writes:

"When I arrived at the church several people were waiting for confession.  I asked Fr. Dowsett if he would kindly give me Holy Communion before mass as I felt uneasy at leaving my patient so long alone.  He asked the name of my patient.  When I told him him replied 'My dear child, do not have any scruple about leaving her, for Miss Higginson is a saint'"  (From the Last Days of Teresa Helena Higginson, by a Poor Clare Colettine, pg. 8).

Extraordinary form mass in Ugbrooke chapel

Next there is a Fr. Dawson who met Teresa when there was a school outing to Teignmouth.  Then as a 'locum' for Fr. Dowsett during the latter's absence from Ugbrooke he got to know her well through visits to the schoolhouse.  He sought her advice on various matters, and according to Sr. Mary Francis she foretold things concerning him which later proved true.  So impressed was he by Teresa that after her death he made a report to his bishop and travelled around seeking information, thus becoming a pioneer of her cause.  In the presbytery of Stonehouse, Aberdeenshire, he called on Agnes Donnelly.  This was in 1905 or 1906 and at the end of his visit he said, 'I have had the honour of being present at the deathbed of a saint.' (from Agnes Donnelly's memoir).

Miss Emily Ewing is another who saw holiness in Teresa.  She was a nurse friend of Miss Casey and visited Teresa once or twice during her last days and writes:

"On standing in Teresa's room one felt one was on holy ground.  I shall never forget her and her sanctity; she seemed to radiate happiness; there seemed to be a radiance around her as she was in bed." (from a letter to me of 23rd August 1957).

Monday, 24 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: from Agnes Casey (Sister Mary St. Francis)

From the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

Finally we turn to the most important witness of the times, Sr. Mary Francis of Assisi.  You may recall that Teresa had prayed that she might be tended by one who knew and loved God.  Miss Agnes Casey, a Franciscan Tertiary from Newton Abbott, was such a one.  In her presence we may surely bless a triple providence - see her as the one sent to minister to a dying saint, record her last days, and leave an account of her spiritual doctrine.  No need to comb through Sr. Mary Francis' account for the word 'saint', since the exalted holiness of her invalid is implicit on every page, but all may he summed up in the following passage:

"The three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity shone out with the greatest splendour in her life.  To me they seemed part of her very being.  She loved God above all things, and all other things she loved purely for His sake and in union with Him."  (from the "Last Days" p.30 - 31).

Several years passed before Agnes Casey became a Poor Clare at Lynton.  Her people did not think she would be able to endure the austerity of such a rule, but Sr. Mary Francis gave decades of devoted service in the order and after long arthritic suffering died in old age in 1963.  (Reading over our list of witnesses one wonders if Teresa, if she is canonised, will become the patron of longevity!)

When I had the treasured privilege of a visit to Sr. Mary Francis in 1947 she described at some length the circumstances leading to her vocation (which she attributed to Teresa's prayers) and spoke with emphatic conviction of her belief in her sanctity.  But the most memorable visit to Sr. Mary Francis must have surely been that made by Miss Catterall, Miss Arkwright and a Miss McGinity in 1929.  They had come on from seeing Sr. Mary Teresa (Mrs. Fleck) in her Gillingham Carmel, and Miss Arkwright writes:

"It was a wonderful tour.  Teresa's friends, nearly all passed away now, meeting for the FIRST time.  To be an onlooker when they and Miss Catterall met was awe inspiring.  Sr. Mary Francis when she saw Miss Catterall exclaimed - 'Oh, a breath of Teresa!'"  (From a letter to me 16th March 1958.)

As a major witness Sr. Mary Francis was called upon to testify to the Liverpool tribunal instituting the informative process of Teresa's cause, and she described her inquisition to me in a letter of 10th October 1957.  As it is so interesting and gives an account of how the church proceeds in such matters, I quote the relevant passage:

"One morning before 9am the parlour bell rang and our extern sister said to the portress that six priests had just arrived and wished to speak to me, so Sister came up and told our dear Rev. Mother Guardian Angel, who was Abbess then.  She died in 1942 and it was some years before her death that these priests paid me this honourable visit!  Well, dear Rev. Mother came down with me to the parlour, but Mgr. O'Brien who was the vice postulator of the cause of Teresa Higginson, kindly asked Rev. Mother to withdraw as they wished to speak to me alone, so poor dear Rev. Mother bowed in silence and went away.  Then Mgr. O'Brien put the Holy Bible before me and told me to take it into my hands and make a most solemn oath that what I said in regard to the Servant of God, Teresa Higginson, was the truth.  You see, when anyone is giving their testimony of anyone who may be eventually raised to the altars, how very careful one has to be not to be governed in any way by mere natural enthusiasm, only to say the exact truth.  You can imagine it was a very solemn ordeal for me, but I am sure that holy Teresa was praying for me for I felt very calm, and stood my ground (as we say) in spite of the devil's advocate being there trying to trip me up at any moment. 

But I seemed to ignore his presence and thought only of the work before me.  Next to the devil's advocate was a doctor of divinity, who was very kind to me, then Mgr. O'Brien, who was ever so fatherly, then three other priests, most of then writing down what I said.  After this ordeal, which lasted for four hours, was over I said to Mgr. O'Brien, I was ever so anxious not to make a mistake that I may have said less than more, and he replied, 'My dear child, you have done very well indeed, and I am quite satisfied.  So don't worry, but if anything should occur to you after we have gone, something you may have forgotten, just write it down and send it to me'.  So I did, and often wrote to him as time went on.  Well now, before I left the parlour Mgr. O'Brien and all the priest put me under a most solemn oath of obedience not to say one word to our dear Rev. Mother or to any member of our community, or to anyone, which of course included any priest or religious elsewhere, and I promised absolute obedience, but you can understand what this silence cost me, not to say one word to our dear Rev. Mother of what had been said during this long interview, but our dear Lord gave me the grace to obey."

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: from Teresa's pupil Tom Strowbridge

This is from the booklet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson, Schoolteacher and Mystic, by Brian Honner.

Before ending this little bouquet of appreciations, I would like to mention one of Teresa's last pupils, whom I had the interesting experience of meeting in 1958.  His name was Tom Strowbridge, and was then aged 64.  Our venue could not have been more ideal, for Tom met me at Biddlecombe,  We entered the school together and reminisced.  He said that he was about 12 years old at the time and had 4 miles to walk.  At first he brought his meal, but Teresa said that she would provide one for him.  Questioned as to her ability in teaching secular subjects he replied that she was good in all ways, but that religion was the special thing with her.  "She never used a cane and didn't bully us, but had her own way of getting what she wanted", he said.  "You couldn't get out of it - you had to do it!  She was a good teacher.  Topping!  All the children liked her.  You couldn't help it.  She was strict but gentle."  He then told me how he had been among the children invited in to pay their last respects to their teacher as she lay within her coffin.  "She looked very peaceful" he said, "more like an angel than anything."

Teresa Higginson with her pupils in Chudleigh 1904

"Like an angel."  Yes - let us leave old Tom Strowbridge with the last word.  He has spoken for all the friends of Teresa Helena Higginson, those privileged ones who revered her in life and yet more after death.

Blessed Dominic Barberi 1792 - 1849

Blessed Dominic Barberi, the great Passionist missionary who was to receive Blessed John Henry Newman into the church, also knew and loved Teresa Higginson as a child as he was a regular guest at her family home in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.  At that time in the 1840's it also served as the local Catholic mission as their house chapel served the district.  He was to baptise Teresa's sister Louisa Higginson, and he took much delight in carrying little Teresa in his arms.  Lady Cecil Kerr was to comment: 

'...did he, to whom the future was so often shown, perhaps foresee the heights of sanctity to which this child would reach — how steadfastly she would scale the path to Calvary, there to be ennobled by our Lord Himself with the sublime title of “Spouse of the Crucified”? Surely we cannot doubt that his fervent prayers won for her a share in his own heroic zeal for souls, and that his burning words sank deep into the opening mind of this little one whose infant heart was aflame already with the love of God.'

He lies buried in Sutton near St. Helens along with his fellow Passionists Fr. Ignatius Spencer and Mother Elizabeth ProutFor a full biography (this blog's author has no time!) please click here.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Susan Ryland (Sister Mary St. Barbara) 1852 - 1941

Susan Ryland, later Sister Mary St. Barbara, was one of Teresa's fellow teachers at the school of St. Mary's, Wigan, and was to be the closest friend she ever had, staying with Teresa and her family in Neston during the school holidays.

She was born on February 29th 1852 to James and Elizabeth Ryland in Edge Hill, Liverpool.  Like Teresa she trained to be a teacher and was living with Teresa in Wigan during the period January 1874 to July 1875.  During that time Susan saw at first hand the diabolical attacks on Teresa, was a key witness to her mystical manifestations and came to nurse her during her illnesses.  Their time together was exceptionally close yet very brief, and when they parted although they corresponded they never saw each other again face to face.  Lady Cecil Kerr gives Susan Ryland's accounts of what she herself witnessed at this time:

“To begin with the receiving of the Crown of thorns. It took place on Passion Sunday, 1874. I was the only person present. She asked me to come upstairs in the afternoon. She was apparently suffering and she went to lie down. She asked me to pray that she might be able to go to Sunday school and at night she would bear all our Lord wished. She added: ‘He gave me this pain Himself.’ She was able to get up, and went to Sunday school and also to Benediction. Towards night she got very weak and after we were in bed became very ill. I wanted to go for Miss Woodward who slept in the next room, but she would not let me so I returned to bed. All at once she sprang up and I am sure she left the bed, for I sprang up too to pull her down. For a while she spoke to her heavenly visitor. Then she put out her right hand towards our Lord (for it was He) and said aloud: ‘No, not that, the thorny crown, give me the thorny crown.’ Then in a few moments she fell back just as she had got up. I said to her: ‘Teresa are you going to die? If you are I must go for Father Wells.’ She did not seem to wish to get him up so I left it alone. Then she said to me: ‘Our Lord has given me His Crown of Thorns, and also the Wound in the shoulder.’ I saw no signs of it next day, except I thought there were pimples on the forehead, but I could not say whether they had anything to do with it or not.

“On the eve of Palm Sunday after going to bed (I think I had to take her as I often did on account of her weakness), I was kneeling by her side and she was unconscious (at least so far as I was concerned). She was speaking (to herself) to someone present. She raised her right hand and held it up quite firmly for a minute or two.2 Then she let it drop. I did not examine it. I was strangely wanting (as I think now) in curiosity about these things, but the next morning she kept it closed, placing her thumb in the middle. I think she washed herself that morning with the left hand but I forget. However, when she handed me back the towel it was stained with blood. The morning after both hands were closed. I washed her and she said to me: ‘I can wash my own hands, dear.’ So I gave her the same towel and she returned it to me again spotted with blood. This happened every day…

“On Good Friday we went to the morning service leaving Miss Higginson in bed and the house door locked. When we returned we both ran up to her at once and found her stretched on the bed, her arms extended in the form of a cross, and wounds in her hands. As usual I did not go very near. I just saw Miss Woodward throwing up the clothes at the foot of the bed to see if the feet were the same, and I ran off to bring Father Wells. He came. She was still the same, and he said to me: ‘Run for the doctor.’ I went and when I got back accompanied by Dr. Hart she was natural again and talking to Father Wells. Dr. Hart found her extremely weak, but, as Father Wells said, he did not at all know what was the matter with her.”

St Paul's Convent Selly Park

Susan against advice then tried her vocation in a strict contemplative order in France, but it proved she was completely unsuitable for such a state of life.  She then tried her vocation as a Sister of Charity of St. Paul, a teaching order in which she had more success and took the name Sister Mary St. Barbara.  The mother house is based in Selly Park, Birmingham and exists to this day.  The rest of her life was uneventful, and she was to teach in schools of the order around the country, and she died in 1941 at Selly Park aged 88.  She was later to be a key source of testimony for both Teresa's biography Lady Cecil Kerr and the beatification process during the 1930's.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

February 15th: the anniversary of Teresa Higginson's death

February 15th, the day that Teresa Higginson went to join her Divine Spouse in an eternal embrace is also the feastday of the entry into glory of two other very great servants of God, intimately connected with the Sacred Heart.  They are the French Jesuit Saint Claude de La Colombière, and the Polish canon Blessed Michal Sopoćko.  Both of these priests were the respective spiritual directors of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to whom Our Lord revealed his Sacred Heart, and of St. Faustina Kowalska to whom Our Lord revealed his Heart's overflowing Divine Mercy.

This has enormous significance for the Sacred Head devotion: Teresa was to state that God arranges everything beautifully.  The Sacred Head of Our Lord which was revealed to Teresa is the seat of the Divine Wisdom that governs the motions of the Sacred Heart. These two great and holy priests as it were acted as the Sacred Head in their guidance of the revelations of the love of the Sacred Heart.  It was through the exercise of their priestly authority and their considerable erudition in directing the two great mystics that they were to fulfill such a role.  And like the Sacred Head, both of them in their lives were to wear a severe crown of thorns and to suffer very greatly, for God ordained a very great glory for them in heaven.

Saint Claude de La Colombière

Saint Claude de La Colombière (Saint-Symphorien-d'Ozon, 2 February 1641–Paray-le-Monial, 15 February 1682) was born of noble parentage at Saint-Symphorien-d'Ozon in 1641 between Lyon and Vienne. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1659, and after fifteen years of religious life in the Jesuits, he made a vow as a means of attaining the utmost possible perfection, to observe faithfully the Rule and Constitutions of his order under penalty of sin. Those who lived with him attested that this vow was kept with great exactitude.

In 1674, Claude was made superior at the Jesuit house at Paray-le-Monial, where he became the spiritual director of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and was thereafter a zealous apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1676, he was sent to England as preacher to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, afterwards Queen of Great Britain. He lived the life of a religious even in the Court of St. James's (the official residence of the British Monarchy), and was as active a missionary in England as he had been in France. Although encountering many difficulties, he was able to guide Saint Margaret- Marie by letter.

His zeal soon weakened his vitality and a throat and lung infirmity seemed to threaten his work as a preacher. While awaiting his recall to France he was suddenly arrested and thrown into prison, denounced as a conspirator against the English throne. Thanks to his title of "Preacher to the Duchess of York" and to the protection of the King of France, Louis XIV, whose subject Claude was, he escaped death but was condemned to exile in 1679. The last two years of his life were spent at Lyon where he was spiritual director to the young Jesuits, and at Paray-le-Monial, where he returned to improve his health. His principal works, including "Pious Reflections", "Meditations on the Passion", "Retreat and Spiritual Letters", were published under the title, "Oeuvres du R. P. Claude de la Colombière" (Avignon, 1832; Paris, 1864).

He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on June 16, 1929, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 31, 1992.  His relics are preserved in the Jesuit Church around the corner from the monastery of the Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial.

Blessed Michal Sopoćko

Blessed Canon Michal Sopoćko (November 1, 1888 in Vilnius Region – February 15, 1975 in Bialystok,
Poland was a professor of pastoral theology at Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania.  He was born  in 1888 in Nowosady near Valozhyn in the Polish and Lithuanian border areas. He entered Vilnius Priest Seminary in 1910 and was ordained in 1914. He was a priest in Vilnius (1914–1918), then a chaplain in the Polish Army in Warsaw and Vilnius during World War I. After obtaining his doctorate in theology in 1926 he became the spiritual director at the seminary in  Vilnius. and 1928 professor of pastoral theology at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.

St. Faustina Kowalska in her diary (Notebook V, item 1238) stated: "This priest is a great soul, entirely filled with God." Since 1931 Faustina had been trying without success to find someone to paint the Divine Mercy image until Sopoćko became her confessor in the middle of 1933.  In January 1934 he arranged for the artist Eugene Kazimierowski (who was also a professor at the university) to paint the image.  In 1942, during World War II he and other professors and students had to go into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. However, he used this time to establish a new religious congregation based on the Divine Mercy messages reported by Faustina Kowalska. After the War, Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and helped the formation of what is now the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy.

In her diary on February 8, 1935, (Notebook I, item 378) Faustina had written that the Divine Mercy devotion would be suppressed for some time after her death, but would be accepted again, although Sopocko would suffer very greatly for it. In 1959 the Vatican forbade the Divine Mercy devotion and put Sopocko under severe ecclesiastical censure. But in 1965 Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Kraków and later Pope John Paul II opened a new investigation and submitted documents in 1968, which resulted in the
reversal of the ban in 1978.

Until 1962 Sopoćko remained a professor of pastoral theology at Vilnius University and the seminary in Bialystok, Poland. He died on February 15, 1975 in Bialystok and was buried there: exactly 70 years after the death of Teresa Higginson. In 1988 his remains were transferred to the Church of Divine Mercy in Białostoczek Bialystok. His case for beatification was started at the Vatican in 1987. In 2004, Pope John Paul II issued a decree on the virtues of Father Sopocko. In December 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved of a miracle through his intercession. His solemn beatification took place on Sunday September 28, 2008 at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Bialystok.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Teresa Higginson's experience of the fires of purgatory Part I

From the letters to Fr. Edward Powell

Bootle, March 4th 1883

In the Holy Name of Jesus and in obedience I write of that fire which seems to burn me so excessively and which it has pleased our dear Blessed Lord I should experience.  It seems to me to be in the very centre of the soul and to be a liquid fire, or at least it seems to melt with its heat even the body.  I know that you will say at once that such a thing cannot be, nor do I say that it actually takes place, but that is the best explanation of that which I feel, for it seems to me through every pore of the body the fire evaporates.  And this fire is I feel is of great advantage to the soul, for it breaks every tie which binds the will and the affections to the earth.  It gives a steady clear light to see all things as they are in God, and although the agony is great which it causes, yet the soul is consumed for a desire for it, for the more we burn the more we understand of God's infinite and holy purity.  O, my divine Spouse, I beg of Thee to burn me ever more and more...

The fire of which I was writing is not the same as that fire of divine love of which I have before written, though I think it is something of that nature, though in this fire we learn more and in it the flame of love seems to rise higher and to be more perfect.  These two fires are very different to the wrath of God or that fire of divine justice into which God draws the soul at times.  Oh dear Rev. Father, I feel such a dreadful fear of that which I know is before me.  Oh pray our dear beloved Lord Jesus to have mercy on us through His Precious Blood.  I know this will be the hardest Lent I have yet had, and so feel I have good reason to fear.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Reprint of Lady Anne Cecil Kerr's biography

Lady Anne Cecil Kerr's 1927 biography of Teresa Higginson has been republished, edited with a forward by the Rev. Dr. Paul Michael Haffner.  It can be puchased online from Amazon here.