Monday, 20 February 2012

Hobnail Boots in Religious Orders

Yesterday I wrote about Pam Ferris's character in Call the Midwife, a Sister Evangelina. It got me to thinking of another great member of a religious order who was known for walking the streets of London in his hobnail boots and of being "a 13th Century monk in 20th Century London" - Fr Vincent McNabb the Irish Dominican Priest (1868 - 1943).

Not in any way happy clappy, steeped in scriptural knowledge and with a burning desire to speak out against poverty, he lived an absolutely Catholic life.

Some of the best known Catholics of his day had nothing but nice things to write about him:

"The greatness of his character, of his learning, his experience, and, above all, his judgement, was altogether separate from the world about him... the most remarkable aspect of all was the character of holiness... I can write here from intimate personal experience ... I have known, seen and felt holiness in person... I have seen holiness at its full in the very domestic paths of my life, and the memory of that experience, which is also a vision, fills me now as I write — so fills me that there is nothing now to say."
Hilaire Belloc

Father Vincent is the only person I have ever known about whom I have felt, and said more than once, 'He gives you some idea of what a saint must be like.' There was a kind of light about his presence which didn't seem to be quite of this world.
Monsignor Ronald Knox 

... he is one of the few great men I have met in my life; that he is great in many ways, mentally and morally and mystically and practically... nobody who ever met or saw or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him.
GK Chesterton

I like to think, as Fr McNabb worked for the reunion of Anglicans with the Holy See, that Sister Evangelina (or the person she was based on) would have known of Fr Vincent McNabb in pre-war London.

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