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."

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