Monday, 29 October 2012

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

Bootle March 1883

First I must tell you that the fire of which I wrote seems to me to be purely spiritual, and I feel that without it I could not have withstood that which it pleased Our Blessed Lord to give to me, or in other words that the human soul must be purified in this flame before it can gaze so far into the infinities of God, and it would seem to me that eye hath not seen nor ear heard nor is it given to the mind of man to conceive this part of the dreadful bitter passion, for the soul finds itself launched out into the infinities of God and carried away in the torrent of His wrath, or pressed down beneath the weight of His judgements, and as the Precious Blood, the stream of life, trickles from the Sacred Heart, it sets the poor trembling soul on fire with desire and love, zeal and impatience, raising it from the earth earthly and pressing on it nearer and nearer, deeper and deeper down into those unfathomable  depths of the infinite attributes of God.

This knowledge is of greater value to the soul than any which God has given to me, and yet I see clearly that I do not know in any way how to express the depths into which I have been plunged by God.  All that it has pleased Him for me to endure in His name (other years) is but a little stream from a scalding torrent He has now deluged my whole being in and saturated me through and through.  The dreadful tortures and awful sufferings which I have been able to write of other years were within the scope of human feeling or human intelligence to conceive, but the most terrible part of the Passion of Jesus was in the soul and in the intellectual faculties.  He had to atone to the all holy and infinitely pure Spirit of God (by His submission) for the sins of the great intelligences which rebelled against God and for whom hell was created.  He had to make full satisfaction for the sins of rational beings made to the image of the Triune God....

I think really without that fire (I don't know exactly but I think it is from God's awful purity) I could not possible have gone through half of that which it pleased our dear divine Lord to give to me, for in the first place I could not have seen things as they really are.  The understanding is wonderfully illuminated and the eye of the soul purified in this fire, and the flame of divine love seems to shoot up higher.  In it I saw man's ingratitude in a deeper dye and God's love for His own glory and for souls in a new and more glorious light than I had ever seen before...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Teresa's accounts of her mystical marriage to Fr. Alfred Snow

The following are two letters to Father Alfred Snow, from Lady Anne Cecil Kerr's biography:

“In the name of the Adorable and undivided Trinity, and to the glory of Jesus my divine Spouse and only Treasure, in honour of Mary my Immaculate Queen and Mother, and in obedience, I will try and write something of those things which He has vouchsafed to me the very least of His little ones. I have written an account of the unspeakable favour which Jesus Christ the Son of God and the ever blessed Virgin Mary has granted to me, and when I read it over it seemed in no way to convey what He really has accomplished, for the change that has come over my soul is so astounding that I cannot express it or convey by any comparison what has really been done. I feel and realise those wondrous words of our dear Lord, ‘My peace I give you’ etc. and it brings such a sweet bright light in the soul that they only can understand who experience it, and our dear Lord has taught me the hidden things of God with such excessive delights that all the senses enjoy such an immense degree of sweetness that nothing here could in any way describe. And if you wish me to tell you what I have seen or what He has taught me, I can only say He has taught me great truths hidden in His immensity. He has laid open His secret and I have drunk to excess, and yet, as there is no image of any sort represented to the understanding, the soul learns and enjoys without knowing what she learns and enjoys. These things may seem to you to be folly on my part, but perhaps it is on account of my nothingness and misery that I am not able to give you a better idea of what passes now or how my soul is contained or held in God and how He acts with her. But even if it is so, oh how I thank Him for knowing nothing and having nothing but Himself, oh how rich I am in His possession! And though the soul may be astounded at first at His condescension, yet afterwards when she considers His immense love, she lies as it were in peace without in any way considering herself. Yet she knows and understands how He is all hers and she is all His, but she has no thought but of Him. I mean she forgets her own misery and sins and does not wish to do this or that but only His adorable Will, and this she hungers and thirsts for as He makes her understand like Him she ‘must be about her Father’s business’ and testify to the world the love and goodness of Jesus, her divine Spouse. Oh that I had the tongue of men and angels that I might proclaim to the whole world what He is and His wonderful love, that I could tell or give them to taste how sweet is the Lord and what they lose who run after the empty bubbles of the world. Oh all we could do or suffer for ages would be nothing to purchase so great a good. Oh that I could tell what I experience in Him who is all good, all powerful, all Wisdom. My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.

 Mystical marriage of St. Catherine

“Oh my Father, you must pardon me. I do really wish and desire to make all clear to you, and I beg of Him, whom I know will not refuse my request, to teach you by experience and show you my soul as He sees it, that so you may know how to guide and take me with you to His eternal possession.

“Ah what a foretaste I have already of that eternal bliss, for the soul seems to have become one with God in such a close bond of union that all fear of losing Him seems out of the question, for it seems that the soul as a little drop of vapour is drawn up into the immeasurable ocean of God’s infinity. Here she feels to possess all and she cares not whether she lives or dies.

“I don't know but what those great impetuosities may return, but at present I feel as though I had not to run after God as it were, but that I possessed Him and was more closely united to Him than my soul is to my body, that He is the soul of my existence and that I feel and live in Him, that He does all and that I do nothing.

“He has taught me oh so clearly too, all that He has done for me and how miserable a wretch I should have been without Him, and when He shows me the beauty with which He has clothed me and the wonderful works He has accomplished in me, I am forced as it were to sink in the abyss of my own nothingness and praise Him for His mighty acts. And instead of trying to run away as it were at telling you, I feel as though I were robbing Him of that which is His if I did not try to tell you as I know things myself, for all is His and I am and have nothing, and it would seem to be a false humility that I have hitherto had – wishing to hide His favours, as though I considered they were in some way mine, or that I had anything to do with them.

“I seem to have become as a powerful eagle that can soar to and gaze on the midday sun, and as those who look at the sun can see nothing but it for some time, so now I see nothing but Him in all things and all things in Him. That great fear of death and desire of it are gone and I feel such a real disengagement from all created objects, and I feel to have gained such a great dominion over myself that I don’t think anyone can understand but those to whom our dear Lord my Spouse and only Love has given it, for I know too so well that I never could have acquired it no matter how I worked or exerted myself. It is all His work and I feel myself so freed out of this prison of death that I lie basking in peace in the light of His Truth. He has dug deep in the trench that so He might fill me with Himself. He has filled up the valleys on a level with the hills, and the mountains He has lowered that I may view their tops and look down on all things beneath. Oh my Father, I could never tell you all that in His goodness and mercy He has done for me, and it seems to take away from it rather than anything else when I try to express them in such cyphers as is the language of men, when trying to describe the truths and favours of Almighty God.

“Begging of you again and again to bless the Lord for all He has done for me, and offering His adorable Precious Blood in thanksgiving, I unite my voice with His, with Mary’s and the whole court of Heaven in praising and blessing our God who sitteth upon the throne, and the Lamb who redeemed us by His blood and made us to reign with Him for ever and ever. Amen.
“TERESA HIGGINSON              “Enfant de Marie”
“Oh my Father it seems presumption almost on my part to attempt to describe the wonderful things our dear b. Lord has done for my poor soul, and yet I know I must endeavour that you may thoroughly understand His workings in me. Though it seems as if I could not comprehend at once all that His infinite goodness accomplishes, oh how clearly He has taught me in very truth the true estimate of all things here and to judge rightly of His gifts and graces. Here the soul becomes as it were a very queen of liberty, she has bound up all for Jesus and He sets His little captive free, she has sunk in the abyss of her own nothingness and He raises her to a most intimate union with Himself and the adorable Trinity. She has stripped herself of all things for His sake and He clothes her in His glory. She has tasted of the bitterness of life for His sake and He fills her with unutterable sweetness; and now she who was so afraid and weak is made strong and desires to fly to the heights and gaze on and bury herself in the centre of that sun at which sometimes she felt unable to look, for the light was too strong for her weakness. Now she desires to plunge deeper and deeper into that eternal Essence, to gaze into that sparkling crystal and there drink the waters of life and eat the food of the strong. Here she is taught that she is nothing and has nothing, that all is her divine Spouse’s, and she feels as though she could go to the tops of the mountains and proclaim His greatness, His wisdom, His love, and His goodness aloud to the whole world, that all might acknowledge that He is the Lord and praise and magnify His Holy Name.

“I feel as though I had no heart or soul but that God Himself is my soul and there He shines and rules all in such wonderful wisdom and peace. Oh my soul, bless the Lord and let all that is in thee praise His Holy Name. It would seem to me as though our dear Lord my divine Spouse and Mary my dear queen and my mother were keeping high court within my poor soul and allowing me to understand the glory that so many angels and saints are enjoying in His presence, for they are present with and seem to accompany me. Oh my Father, if it were only to witness the beauty of the stones in this circle of our union, to behold the gems that represent His sacred Wounds, I think it is more than human nature could endure, and it seems to fill my poor body even with a spiritual life and brightness that it seems buoyed up so to speak; but I do not now care what becomes of it, whether it is raised up before others or not. His glory and Holy Will are all I desire. I feel as though I could sing the Magnificat aloud with my more than Mother Mary.
“T. HIGGINSON.             
“Enfant de Marie.”

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Teresa's account of her mystical marriage to Fr. Edward Powell

From the biography of Lady Anne Cecil Kerr.

The wonderful ceremony of her Mystical Marriage took place during the night of the 23rd of October, 1887, between the feast of the Holy Redeemer and that of St. Raphael. She wrote at once to Father Snow and a few days later sent a somewhat fuller account in reply to a request from Father Powell. Her eyes had beheld that which it is not given to man to utter and she speaks as one still dazed from the glory of that vision. Her very writing, wavering and almost illegible, betrays that she was trembling on the verge of ecstasy as she wrote. The following is what she wrote to Father Powell:

  Mystical marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria

AMDG et in hon BVM et St J
“In the Name of the most august and blessed Trinity and in holy obedience I write of the unspeakable favours which Jesus Christ true God and true Man, my divine Spouse and only Treasure through the excess of His infinite Love has bestowed on me, the very least of His little ones. Oh my Father, how can I find words to express this wonderful mystery, this excess of His mercy and love which is more astounding to me than the great mystery of the Incarnation. Oh my Love, my Love, my beautiful One, My Jesus, my Own, my All, my God, my (the writing becomes illegible).

“Oh my Father it seems to me almost impossible to continue, or rather I should say I am unable to begin and describe what I would. This is the third paper I have spoiled; I am carried away at the recollection of His wonderful condescension. I have twice before written the four pages and when I read them over I found it full of little prayers, and now again I find myself like one only half awake, for my whole being seems lost in His infinite immensity, His wonderful Attributes, the unspeakable dignity to which He has raised this little nothing. And so prostrating myself before the thrice holy Trinity and before Jesus, my own Jesus, my spouse and my Treasure, I beg of Him to guide my hand and my understanding that I may write without these little wanderings and make clear to you all that you would wish to know, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. Oh my soul bless the Lord and magnify, for He has regarded the nothingness of His handmaid and has had compassion on my weakness and misery. He has drawn up this little drop of water from the earth into the ocean of His infinity, into the Essence of the Unity and Trinity of the Almighty God of Wisdom and Love, the all-pure and uncreated One, and made me one with Himself in the most holy and solemn bond of marriage. He has really and truly united Himself to me in the presence of the whole court of heaven, presenting me as His beloved Spouse to the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, and His Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the Cherubim and Seraphim, etc. etc. and making me feel and understand how this sacred alliance was as real and as true as the union of His divine and human Nature in the one Person of Himself, Jesus Christ the Coeternal Son and the Son of Mary since the moment of the Incarnation. And in His Name and with His help, I will tell the way as far as I can that all has been accomplished.

“Remember oh my Love and my Lord that I am all Thine and Thou art the God of Truth, the Word that is God, and that now I am one with Thee as the body and soul of man are one person, so my words must be a reflection of Thine, must be, as Thou hast said to me they shall be, Wisdom and Truth, as the honey that drips from the hive, pure and sweet, and all men may confess that these things are the works of Thy Wisdom and Love.

“Since the feast of our holy Father St. Francis, when my divine Spouse gave me the general absolution (as I complained to Him that I had not been able to receive it from the hands of a priest and we had no Franciscans here), He caressed my soul as it were and told me that He would give me the absolution, not to take away sins from which He had preserved me, but to saturate me with His most Precious Blood and make me more like Himself. And He let me feel that my soul (through His presence and the holy Sacraments) gave great glory to the adorable Trinity and was a reflection of Themselves in the powers in which He had and they had taken up their abode and which was glistening and saturated with His adorable precious Blood. He told me frequently that, as I had given myself wholly to Him to be His entirely, so He would be all mine, and that He would glorify me in the sight of the angels and saints, because I had emptied myself and become as naught to myself and had gladly clothed myself with the sins of others for the price they had cost Him and for the love of His image and likeness. And because I desired Him with a longing nigh unto death, He would unite Himself to me in the closest union possible and clothe me with the brightness of His glory, and because I had rejoiced and united myself to Him when I was reviled by men and had clothed myself in the fool’s garment (as it were), as He was during His bitter Passion, so He was about to clothe me with the wedding garment of Purity, Charity and Truth.

He also shot those fiery darts of love from His Sacred Heart into the very centre of my poor soul so frequently that I felt as though my breast was a liquid fire: a boiling seemed to be going on in and through my entire being, and the pain it caused was so excessive that I continually cried aloud to Him for pity and told Him again and again that He knew how I loved and desired Him and begged of Him to burn away all that was not Himself and so unite me and make me all His own, though never for one moment dreaming of the unutterable favour which His love has accomplished. In this fire which burns very clearly for there is no smoke or wet fuel – in this consuming flame all is brightness, and the light thereof is very pure so that the soul sees very clearly what God is and what He has done for her and that she has nothing of her own, all being the gift of her great and wise Creator and Redeemer, and she knows and understands how the Holy Spirit has sanctified her, and seeing what she is and what God is, she is as it were annihilated in His sacred presence. Oh how He has taught me what I am and what I owe Him and His excessive love!

 St. Raphael with Tobias

“Well, on Sunday the 23rd, the feast of our Holy Redeemer, I thought of the holy Sacrifice being offered for me, I tried to make the same act of oblation to God of myself as my divine Spouse made to His Eternal Father during His most bitter Passion, and I felt that He graciously accepted the offering I made. Then in the evening I begged of the angel Raphael to guide me to my divine Spouse as he did of old the young Tobias, and I sent the angel of the Incarnation to present my soul to Him with all its affections, my body with all its senses to be all His forever, and I begged him to present me through the hands of Mary His Queen and my Mother as a clean oblation in His sight. Then I repeated several times: ‘Oh Wisdom of the Sacred Head, guide me in all my ways, oh love of the Sacred Heart consume me with Thy fire’, when I found my soul fluttering on my lips almost and my spirit softly stealing through the gates of death and I was fainting away with desire, and yet such a calm sweet peace was in my soul that it seemed to check the throbbing of my poor heart that tried to break, because it was overwhelmed with His goodness and love and yearned to be united with Him whom it loves with all its affections.

Oh how I hunger and thirst after Him for He alone can satisfy! And as I was thus literally dying I think of desire of Him, He appeared holding the b. Sacrament before me and I thought He had come as He so frequently does to feed me with His adorable Body and refresh me with His most precious Blood, but refrained for some time (it seemed an age to me) and stood gazing into the very centre of my poor trembling soul, which would have left this poor prison of the flesh if it could to fly to and rest in Him, her only Good.

Then He gave me Himself in Holy Communion and the Sacred Host liquified and I seemed to drink of the Precious Blood till I was saturated through and through. And it changed all into Itself, and my divine Spouse spoke to my soul and said He would now fulfil the promise He had made to me so often and present me to the adorable Trinity, and unite Himself to me in presence of the whole court of heaven. I felt annihilated at these words, for I felt my nothingness and unworthiness and I think I would really have died if He had not supported me by a new miracle of power and love. Then He said, ‘Arise my Beloved that I may glorify the triune God in Unity and espouse thee in Their adorable presence.’ And turning then to His blessed Mother, He gave me to her as her daughter, and Mary taking hold of my hand gave it to Jesus and He withdrew the ring that He had before placed upon it and then replaced it on the same finger, saying: ‘I espouse thee in the Name and in the presence of the uncreated Trinity and in presence of My Immaculate Mother, and I give you to her as a daughter and my Spouse for ever.

Mystical marriage of St. Catherine of Siena

“I was wrapped in the Essence of the Eternal Godhead and I heard and saw things which it is not given to man to utter, and when I began to come to myself I beheld the ring (which encircled the finger next the little finger of my left hand) which was a circle of thorns as it were, set with seven beautiful crystals more beautiful than diamonds which looked like liquid gems, the centre representing the Holy Soul of my divine Spouse in which the adorable Trinity is represented by the three powers, and are as it were a reflecting glass in which They behold their Unity in Essence. Then to the right is represented the Sacred Head as the Seat of divine Wisdom, and on the other side the Sacred Heart is represented, and the other four are to represent the Wounds in His sacred Hands and Feet. Oh what brightness and beauty issues from this little ring; what glory it gives, that I could not behold it I think and live if it were not that He who gave it sustains me with His power. Then He allowed me to see the soul I have often seen before but now more beautiful than ever, and He told me, as I sang with the angels hymns of praise, that was the soul of His beloved Spouse, that that glory was my nuptial robe and that He with the Father and Holy Spirit were glorified in me and that I should dwell with them and His Blessed Mother and St. Joseph for ever. He also told me to remember that I was His, that He was Almighty God and I like Him must be about my Father’s business. I understand I have a great deal to do for souls and many difficulties will surround me, but I must take courage and have great confidence in Him. Since then it seems to me that so many saints are with me, and the angels as a guard of honour watch in admiring wonder the mercies of the adorable Trinity to this very least of His little ones, and I could and do continually unite with my dear Mother Mary in singing the Magnificat and singing praises to the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ my Divine Spouse.


“I could not describe what God has taught me while held in His infinite and divine Essence, for it seems to me that no form is represented to the understanding, but that the soul is in God’s Immensity, and she sees and knows mysteries which are hidden in God and which it is not given to her to utter, and she enjoys without actually knowing what she enjoys. The secrets of God are made known, but the understanding, being lost in God, cannot comprehend what He has taught her.

“But when I see you I will try and tell you more.

“Begging your prayers and blessing and promising to do all I can for you and yours, I remain dear rev. Father
“Your obedient and devoted child                
“In the S. Head and loving Heart    
“Enfant de Marie.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The 125th anniversary of Teresa's mystical marriage

Today on Tuesday 23rd October 2012 is the 125th anniversary of the mystical marriage of Teresa Helena Higginson that took place on the night of October 23rd - 24th 1887 in Clitheroe, between the Feast of the Holy Redeemer and the Feast of St. Raphael the archangel.  She was one of the very few souls in the history of the church to have been raised to such a great honour, and Teresa was probably the only Englishwoman to have received the privilege.  

Mystical marriage of St. Catherine

The mystical marriage consists in a vision in which Christ tells a soul that He takes it for His bride, presenting it with the customary ring, and the apparition is accompanied by a ceremony; the Blessed Virgin, saints, and angels are present. This festivity is but the accompaniment and symbol of a purely spiritual grace; hagiographers do not make clear what this grace is, but it may at least be said that the soul receives a sudden augmentation of charity and of familiarity with God, and that He will thereafter take more special care of it. All this, indeed, is involved in the notion of marriage. Moreover, as a wife should share in the life of her husband, and as Christ suffered for the redemption of mankind, the mystical spouse enters into a more intimate participation in His sufferings. Accordingly, in three cases out of every four, the mystical marriage has been granted to stigmatics. It has been estimated by that, from the earliest times to the present, history has recorded around eighty mystical marriages; they are mentioned in connection with female saints, beatae, and venerabiles — e.g. Blessed Angela of Foligno, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Colette, St. Teresa, St. Catherine of Ricci, Venerable Marina d'Escobar, St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, St. Veronica Giuliani, Venerable Maria de Agreda.
Tomorrow I will hopefully post Teresa's account of the experience in her letter to Fr. Edward Powell.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson the schoolteacher mystic by Brian Honner

This is from a pamphlet by the late Brian Honnor that was compiled in the 1950's of reminiscences of those who knew Teresa Helena Higginson.  It is now out of print, but now appears in this blog as a series of consecutive posts.

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson 
the School Teacher Mystic 
compiled mainly from the statements of those who knew her 
by a Tertiary of St. Dominic

The following bouquet of tributes to Teresa by those who knew her in life or admired her after death will it is hoped interest all who share a like devotion to the servant of God.  Addressed chiefly to readers with some knowledge of her life, it has as its aim to show in what veneration- and indeed what love - the teacher mystic was held by those whose close association with her entitles them to speak.  But while I am not attempting a short biography it will often be necessary to refer to her life, taken in chronological order, and I thought it would add interest to the bouquet to include details about some of the witnesses, and also other material not generally known.  This came my way mostly through correspondence, particularly with that stalwart of Teresa's cause, Miss Isabella Arkwright of Ormskirk.  In many cases the authorities for this information is given, and I am confident it can be relied upon.  It only remains to add by way of preface that while these pages are graced with the word "saint" or even "great saint", no intention is made to anticipate the verdict of the Church in any dogmatic way.

Glancing at her early years we note that Teresa was born in the shrine town of Holywell and was in infancy blessed by the great apostle of England's Catholic "Second Spring", the Blessed Dominic Barberi.  Another Passionist visitor to the family home at Gainsborough was Fr. Ignatius Spencer, who dubbed her his "little apostle" for her zeal in spreading his League for the conversion of England.  It was Fr. Ignatius you recall, who later indicated to her her vocation to be a teacher and warned her not to make friends, saying that one would be sent her when needed.  The venerable missioner who died in 1864 must have been near to the close of his days, and his words to her in the confessional in Sutton have a prophetic ring.  A third great priest, Fr. Frederick Faber, touched her life in her convent schooldays, when on being told her name he challenged her with the words "see that you are a Teresa!"

Fr. Ignatius Spencer

Moving forward to her Wigan days we find Teresa guided in the confessional by the young Fr. Wells, who finding the task beyond his experience enlisted the postal advice of a Dr. Lennon.  At this point her first friend, Susan Ryland, arrives on the scene.  Teresa's life is half through when she is sent her first friend! Susan is also the first witness and to her we owe most of our knowledge of Teresa's Wigan days: she testified to the stigmata and other extraordinary phenomena.  She left Wigan to enter a convent at Selly Oak, Birmingham, where she remained until her death in 1941.

Another teaching colleague of the two friends at St. Mary's, Wigan was Margaret Woodward.  She it was who at her confessor's request helped Susan to record what Teresa did and said during her passion trances.  When Lady Cecil Kerr was preparing her biography of Teresa she tried in vain to contact Margaret.  She had married and emigrated to Australia!  A special point of interest here for students of Teresa's life is that Margaret reports that Teresa spoke of devotion to Our Lord's Sacred Head at that time, i.e. 1874 or 1875.  She writes that she met Teresa coming out of church one Good Friday and that she said her "Our Blessed Lord wishes His Sacred Head to be honoured" to which Margaret replied "Tis the very devotion wanted in the world today, when men seem to be worshipping their own brains".  (From a letter of Mrs. Margaret Ashworth nee Woodward to Isabella Arkwright, 7th May 1933.)  And in a letter of the following September she says "I think I was the first she told about devotion to the Sacred Head as I met her coming out of church and she she seemed as though she had just received the commission."  She adds that she is in her 84th year.

St. Mary's, Wigan

Lady Kerr not being able to obtain Margaret's testimony naturally concluded that the devotion had been first revealed to Teresa at Neston in 1879 (see page 100 of her life), when she had the vision on the feast of the Sacred Heart as described in letter no. 4 (page 103).  That it had already been made known to her- at least in germ - may explain the rather mysterious phrase in the same letter: "both you and Fr. Wells (my underlining) told me nothing was to be done in public."

Friday, 19 October 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: at St. Alexander's, Bootle

On taking a teaching post at St. Alexander's school, Bootle, Teresa became the penitent of Fr. Edward Powell, the first of two spiritual directors who were to be her guides for the rest of her life.  Both these priests had daily opportunity of knowing Teresa in school and the parish and would have heard many of the accusations made against her when she became an object of controversy.  Yet neither wavered in their belief in her.  What calibre of men were they?

St. Alexander, Bootle, with the school to the left

Fr. Edward Powell (1837 - 1901) early showed a talent for languages and as a student in Rome had won a gold medal in Hebrew against all comers.  After ordination he returned to the Liverpool diocese and became secretary to Bishop Goss.  As a young priest he volunteered to minister to victims of a fever then raging, took it himself and for two weeks lay at death's door.  In 1866 he was appointed to the new mission of St. Alexander's and afterwards made priest - in - charge.  During 13 years of incessant toil he built the church, school and presbytery, and on being transferred to Lydiate worked with like zeal there.  He was a devoted shepherd to his flock - in the pulpit, at the altar, in the people's homes, with a zeal that drove him out to the highways and byways.  His piety was deep and his austerities included the discipline and hairshirt.  After his death his confessor declared his belief that he had never stained his baptismal innocence by any deliberate venal sin, and said that as a confessor and director of souls he had discharged his duties "to the utmost perfection of his gifts".

Fr. Edward Powell

Such was the priest who guided Teresa during her early years at St. Alexander's and put her under obedience to write out her life and spiritual experiences. 

When in 1883 Bishop O'Reilly ordered Fr. Powell to cease his direction of Teresa the latter's curate Fr. Alfred Snow assumed the task, not without heart - searching and prayer.  Recognising the responsibility of guiding a soul being led by extraordinary paths he set himself to the study of mystical theology.  I am afraid I can offer no more details about Fr. (later Canon) Snow than can be found in the books, but we know that in addition to undoubted piety he possessed administrative gifts that led to his being appointed chancellor of the archdioscese.  And as well as being a confessor to Teresa he was a most constant practical friend, e.g. it was Fr. Snow was secured for her a haven in St. Catherine's convent, Edinburgh, where his sister was Mother Superior.  On his deathbed in 1922 he declared to Archbishop Keating "I feel it right to say that I have the firm conviction  that Teresa Higginson was not only a saint but one of the greatest saints Almighty God has raised up in his church."

Canon Alfred Snow

Our two main witnesses to Teresa's life in Bootle are Margaret (Minnie) Catterall and Helen Nicholson who later became Mrs. Lonsdale.  Both remained life-long friends and after death stalwart activists in her cause, giving their testimony under oath and leaving written memoirs.  Isabella Arkwright said that when she and they got together to talk about Teresa they would allow themselves three hours and then felt they had "only touched the surface".  Particularly valuable is the testimony of Miss Catterall who shared accommodation with Teresa, taught in the same school and often accompanied her on parish visits.  In her memoir published as "Minnie Catterall's Narrative" in 1936 she writes:

"I have never before or since seen of known anyone like her - a veritable model of perfection in all circumstances, the very essence of humility, a well of goodness and love of God.  In my mind she stands as the greatest handmaid of God's saints - in her ardent humility, in her intense love of her Spouse in the Blessed Sacrament, in her love of sufferings for His sake, and her complete abnegation of her own dear self.  The mere thought of her is one of my greatest comforts in life, and I shall ever remember what a debt of gratitude I owe to her even since her death, for the many and most remarkable favours she has gained for me."

Minnie - described by her niece as a striking personality - eventually became the headmistress of Holy Cross School, Liverpool, and in retirement lived in Wigan.  She died in 1935 aged 75.

Another witness for this time is Miss Agnes Donnelly.  She was then a schoolgirl but both her parents were on the staff of St. Alexander's and knew Teresa well.  She writes:

"My parents always spoke of Miss Higginson as a saint ... my mother knew her for many years and spent many hours in her company.  On her deathbed she suddenly said 'I wonder when the church will recognise Teresa's sanctity.'"  Her father was once heard to declare "If Teresa had been in an order of nuns she would have been canonised long before this."

On leaving St. Alexander's, Teresa returned home to Neston, and after teaching in village schools , spent the following summer as a guest of Minnie and Helen who were now in charge of a school at Newchurch in Rossendale.  Then we find her in Clitheroe in where she received the grace of the mystical marriage, or transforming union, with Christ.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson: witnesses in Scotland

At the close of the year 1887 Teresa passed to Scotland where she remained for some dozen years.  Most of this period she spent in St. Catherine's Convent, Edinburgh, though she had short stays in neighbouring towns (Dalkeith, Linlithgow, Selkirk, etc.) in a teaching capacity.  Our chief informants for this relatively tranquil and hidden phase of her life are Mrs. Helen Fleck, and two of her pupils Mrs. McVey and Mrs. Margaret McKeon.

St. Catherine's Convent, Edinburgh

Mrs. Helen Fleck will be remembered for having taken Teresa to Rome where they had an audience with Pope Leo XIII.  The opportunity arose as follows.  Mrs. Fleck asked her daughter Mary which she would prefer as a 21st birthday gift- a party or a visit to Rome.  She chose the latter, so Mrs. Fleck asked Teresa to accompany her instead, all expenses met.  She had known Teresa for some years and in 1895 had collaborated with her in providing a needy priest in Selkirk with a daily meal.  Another bond was that they were both Tertiaries of St. Francis.  Mrs. Fleck gave a full length statue of the saint for her room in St. Catherine's, and at the end of the pilgrimage they exchanged tertiary habits, Teresa asking her to come to her if she was dying, and promising to do the same for her.  (This was not to be.  Late in 1904 Teresa wrote to say that the weather was so bad and Biddlecombe so out of the way that she could not think of Mrs. Fleck coming.)

At this time Mrs. Fleck was a wealthy widow owning a modern hotel in Dunbar, but later her fortunes changed.  The Lord, she said, took everything from her by degrees.  He seemed to be leading her somewhere, she did not know where.  At the age of 77 she entered to Carmel at Gillingham, Dorset, where she became an extern sister, taking the name Sr. Mary Teresa.  "It often appears to me in a dream" she wrote to Miss Arkwright in 1931 "that we were so closely united in Rome, and yet I never realised I was beside a saint."

Of the two pupils mentioned, Mrs. McVey of Dalkeith was a witness to something of the extraordinary side of Teresa's life, while Mrs.Margaret McKeon expressly disclaims having seen anything miraculous about her.  Her memoir is however in my opinion the most revealing account of Teresa left by any of her pupils, this no doubt due to her spirituality and perception.  For Mrs. McKeon was herself a wonderful person.  Towards the end of a life of devotion to God and neighbour she wrote "I was ten years of age when Teresa's voice fell upon my ears.  I am now 74.  It's a long time to remember one outstandingly saintly, gentle, kind person".  She took every opportunity to spread knowledge of her revered teacher and sought out the testimony of others, including the nuns who had known her in St. Catherine's convent.  The following is taken from her memoir:

"I distinctly remember an instruction Teresa gave us in the top classroom of the school in 1889.  The lesson was on the incarnation and at the end she asked us all to kneel and honour Our Lord's Sacred Heart beating beneath the heart of Our Lady before he was born into the world."

"About the year 1890 when I was twelve years of age I attended St. Catherine's Convent for the sewing.  There was an apple tree in the garden with a surrounding seat where Miss Higginson placed my work.  I've seen birds coming down into her hands.  She used to turn away and I would hear a faint whistle, then turning back she would she me the bird.  When I found out that she was the one who whistled (not the bird) I said "Miss Higginson, you're the one whose whistling!" and she laughed joyously.  Before leaving I was sure of a cup of tea with buns."

In 1925 she received a great favour after praying to Teresa and mentioned this to Mother de Sales.  She also asked her if she thought she was a saint.  Mother de Sales replied "When Teresa is honoured by the church it will be as a very great saint."

I was privileged to receive many lovely letters from Mrs. McKeon before her death in 1966 at Bathgate.