On 20th February, Pope Francis declared that the 19th-Century Passionist priest known as Fr Ignatius Spencer would now be referred to as ‘Venerable’ – a significant step on the path towards his hopeful canonisation.
George Spencer – later to be known as ‘Ignatius’ – was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in England. Educated at Eton and Trinity Cambridge, he was ordained in the Anglican church. Even at this stage of his life, he was tireless in his ministry. “His great charity to the poor and wandering beggars was unbounded,” one parishioner wrote. “At times he gave them all the money he had, and stripped himself of his clothes to give them to the distressed.”
However, he remained restless in his spiritual journey. Close examination of the early history of the Church, and a meeting with the 21-year-old Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, led him to decide to enter the Roman Catholic Church in 1830. In the process, he essentially gave up his considerable prestige and income, adopting an ascetic lifestyle as he worked in the Black Country. Any spare time he had after his parish work was spent working for Christian unity.
In 1847, he found his spiritual home by joining the Passionist Religious Order, and for a time lived with Blessed Dominic Barberi. For the next 17 years Ignatius spent his life giving missions in England and Ireland, and spent several months at a time traversing Europe begging for prayers for Christian unity. Central to his preaching was the need for each individual to be personally converted before they could look to converting others.
Pope Francis’s decree states that Fr. Ignatius lived a life of ‘heroic virtue’, and it would be hard to argue with that assessment. After his death in 1864, one of his coworkers wrote about the integrity of Ignatius’ private life: “All reverenced [Spencer] as a saint, and every day of his religious life increased the estimation in which he was held by his own brethren.”
Fr. Ignatius’ role in establishing the Passionists movement in England was hugely important – but that’s not the only reason that we pray for his canonisation. His life, and his actions, exemplified Christ’s love and passion, and God’s preferential option for the poor.
If you’d like to join us in prayer at this time, you could use the words below:
Loving Father, your servant, Ignatius Spencer,
Spent his entire life preaching the love shown for us
in the Passion of Your Son,
and working tirelessly to bring
the people of this country to know that love.
Help us to follow his example,
and show us that you are well pleased with his life,
by granting the favour we now ask through his intercession.
In particular, at this time we pray
for the healing of John Kearns, another son of the Passion.
May the Lord grant him hope, peace and healing.
Mary, Mother of Holy Hope,
Pray for us.
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