Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Cardinal Hinsley. Priest and Patriot

Family Publications have just published a substantial biography of Cardinal Hinsley by James Hagerty. Dr Hagerty was, until 2001 Headmaster of St Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford, which was founded by the Cardinal; he is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Over 400 pages, the book will surely be a lasting monument to one of the greatest English bishops of the twentieth century.

Hinsley’s fifty years of priesthood encompassed many and varied responsibilities, each of which might be considered a major achievement in anyone’s lifetime. He was a professor of theology at Ushaw College, the founding Headmaster of St Bede’s, Rector of the Venerable English College, Apostolic Visitor to the African colonies, and later Apostolic Delegate to co-ordinate missionary endeavours in Africa. His hopes of a peaceful retirement in Rome as a canon of St Peter’s Basilica were shattered by his appointment as Archbishop of Westminster in 1935 when he was nearly seventy.

Hagerty notes that “Hinsley’s career was never entirely free from controversy.” He changed dioceses after a disagreement with his bishop, was appointed to the Venerabile in defiance of the English and Welsh bishops, and later was to express “his frustration at the inner workings of the hierarchy”. Concerning the breadth of experience that he brought to his appointment at Westminster, Hagerty says:
“Hinsley’s vision and experience of the universal Church was far wider and greater than any possessed by an introspective English and Welsh Hierarchy weakened by years of idiosyncratic leadership, divisive disputes, and the jealous defence of Episcopal jurisdictions.”
The second world war thrust upon Hinsley the role of being a national spokesman for the Catholic Church in the face of totalitarian aggression. His love of country, a genuine example of pietas, and his international experience made him a trusted voice whose Sunday radio broadcasts reached six million listeners.

One part of the Cardinal’s life has a personal significance for me because he was Rector of the Church of Our Lady and St Philip Neri in Sydenham from 1911-1917. When I was there for a couple of years as an assistant priest in the early 1990s, there was an elderly Italian parishioner who used to speak of “Dottor’ ’Insley”. He also taught at Wonersh whilst being a parish priest – I expect that the journey down each week was more arduous than my spin round the M25.

Hagerty’s monumental and objective study of the Cardinal Hinsley’s life significantly enriches the corpus of work related to recent English Catholic history. Drawing from an impressive and well documented range of sources, the author manages to bring to life not only the character of Hinsley himself but also the impact that his strong personality had on others, particularly within the Church.

Family Publications are to be congratulated on this impressive addition to their list of titles. As we have come to expect, the book is of fine physical quality, substantially bound and printed clearly on good quality paper. The 32 plates are very well chosen, giving in themselves a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Church of the time. (List price £19.50.)
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