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The Fruitfulness of Ruthlessness

 

Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS, the Shrine Administrator writes:

 

Earlier this summer we welcomed a group of people to Walsingham for our first Icon writing pilgrimage.   Among the group were two sisters from a Roman Catholic community. So moved were they by the experience of staying and praying at the Shrine that they paid a visit to the grave of Father Hope Patten to say thank you to him.


Moved by this, it has made me reflect about the debt those of us who regard the Holy House as a spiritual treasure and home owe to this remarkable man. A few years ago at the priests and deacons retreat pilgrimage dinner I interviewed Father Augustine Hoey, formerly of the Community at Mirfield and now a Roman Catholic priest. He himself had a profound and life changing experience in the comparatively ‘new’ Holy House as a young man, and later came to lead a parish mission here. Now living in Walsingham, he attends Evening Prayer here each day. At 98 he can still genuflect!


During our conversation I asked him what Hope Patten was like. He answered with a single word, ‘Ruthless’ and then after a moment’s silence, ‘He had to be.’


Certainly all those who knew him spoke of his single mindedness. He had decided that God had called him to Walsingham to restore the pilgrimage in the hope that England may again be known as ‘Our Lady’s Dowry’ and that devotion to the Mother of God might again be central to the spirituality of the English people. Though no academic, he had discovered, like Newman before him, that a right devotion to, and understanding of the place of Mary in the drama of salvation was needed  to ensure a right understanding of the identity and purpose of her Son.


Though there were clearly times of discouragement and disappointment, even times when he had to flee from Walsingham for periods of rest abroad (which in turn gave him more ideas about how to run and decorate the Shrine!) he kept on. He persevered.


Today we rejoice in an excellent relationship with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, but in his day, though he longed for reunion with the Holy See, he suffered the loneliness of misunderstanding, even disdain from that Communion, and from his own. Even some Anglo Catholics gave Walsingham a wide berth. But he kept on.


If he was indeed ‘ruthless’, he was nevertheless a pastor, if not a very democratic one! Last year  a group of former residents of the children’s home relocated to Walsingham after what was by all accounts a draconian regime in Cornwall, came to visit.  Now quite elderly, they spoke so warmly of his love, his sense of fun, and of his protective care towards them.


And then there was the visit this year of a former brother in the Community of St Augustine founded by him to serve the Shrine. He lived in the building of that name, and was delighted to see its recent transformation. It was to the pump that still stands as a ‘feature’ outside that building that he went to draw water as a novice, though he admitted that there was running hot water in the Superior’s cottage across the garden!
He spoke of a man both authoritarian and kind, strict, and yet at times indulgent and forgiving. ‘He was never late for the Office…because we dare not start until he got there!’ There were so many projects, so many concerns; so much that relied on him.’


What a mixture of a man! What a costly ministry! Like Richeldis he has no date in the Kalandar of the Church, but the traces of his fruitful life and ministry are all around us here, not only in the buildings but in the pilgrims, especially the pilgrims.


Next time you are in Walsingham, stop by his grave as you enter St Mary’s Church. Give thanks, and pray for his soul.


+Lindsay OGS

 


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