If we want converts, we must be as uncompromising as Blessed Dominic Barberi

Following a recent spate of disputes on the web surrounding converts to Catholicism – including accusations of incomplete Catholic instruction programmes for the catechumens – this captivating story of Blessed Dominic Barberi (the Italian priest who was instrumental in bringing Blessed Cardinal J.H. Newman into the Church) could shed some light.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on the CATHOLIC HERALD

Like Blessed Dominic, we have to tell it like it is, without cowardice and without apology

On Saturday the Catholic Church in England celebrated the memorial of the Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, the Passionist beatus better known as Dominic Barberi, whose major claim to fame is that he received the Blessed John Henry Newman into the Church. He is not yet a saint, which means that his cult is only celebrated in this country where he spent a significant part of his pastoral labours; but even in England he remains too little known. Wikipedia has a good article on him, and the Archdiocese of Birmingham also has this useful biographical sketch of him.

Every saint has something to teach us, and Blessed Dominic is no exception. Newman had this to say about him:

“Father Dominic was a marvellous missioner and a preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He had a great love for England.”

Blessed Dominic was known for his kindness and his sense of humour. He even cracked the odd joke. But it was zeal that was his chief characteristic, which drew souls to God. He actually believed with all his heart what he wanted other people to come to believe as well, and his converts knew it. That was why there were so many of them.

Blessed Dominic’s life in England was remarkably short, less than a decade, and he was not a young man when he ministered here, but his efforts certainly bore fruit. Most of his energies went into preaching retreats and holding missions. The retreats were important for the clergy, religious and seminarians, who would, in their turn, pass on what they had heard. They would be pretty full on “total immersion” experiences with sermons, periods of silence, prayers and devotions lasting all day, from very early in the morning until late at night. As for the missions, which would usually take place in industrial urban centres, these were pretty exhausting and exhaustive too, consisting of series of sermons early in the morning and late at night, for workers, and various devotions during the day, as well as numerous opportunities to go to confession. They certainly drew in the crowds, and in this they probably got a free helping hand from the Protestant clergy who would do all they could to try and dissuade people from going.

Blessed Dominic was frequently assaulted in the street, verbally and physically, and had stones and mud thrown at him, as he walked along in his Passionist habit, wearing his biretta. He did not mind at all, and perhaps knew that attracting any attention at all was always good for the Gospel.

Catholics today know that we should concentrate on mission not maintenance. There can be no debate about that, but the truth remains that we have very little clue about how to go about mission. The model used in the nineteenth century has faded from view, and we still don’t know with what to replace it. Many of the models we have tried since have shown very poor results. (You may remember this report on the matter from the Daily Telegraph.)

So what then can be done? One thing is clear: without courage and zeal, of the type Blessed Dominic had, nothing at all can be done. So the first thing to do is to pray for these virtues. We won’t become heralds of the Gospel until we are given the grace by God to be such; and we won’t be given that grace until we want it. So let us start wanting it.

The other pre-requisite, before we can even get started, is to get into the mindset of proclamation. There is only one Truth, that of Jesus Christ and His Church, and we should not allow ourselves to be infected with the heresy of indifferentism, the idea that every “truth” is somehow valuable. We have to be forthright, and we must not give an inch when it comes to the truth of the faith.

Talking of which, I just love this story about Blessed Dominic: “[When a Protestant minister] followed Barberi along a street shouting out various arguments against transubstantiation, Barberi was silent, but as the man was about to turn off, Barberi retorted: ‘Jesus Christ said over the consecrated elements, ‘This is my body.’ You say ‘No. It is not his body!’ Who then am I to believe? I prefer to believe Jesus Christ.’” Like Blessed Dominic, we have to tell it like it is, without cowardice and without apology.

Something similar is happening today in certain quarters, as readers of the Catholic Herald will have noticed. Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, for example, has met challenges to the Catholic faith head on. This cannot have been easy at all times for His Lordship, and he has had the equivalent on the stones and mud that Blessed Dominic endured thrown at him, but he has stuck to his guns. As a result (and yes, I do think there is a direct connection between the two) the diocese of Portsmouth now has 14 young men entering seminaries this year, the highest in living memory.

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12 Responses to If we want converts, we must be as uncompromising as Blessed Dominic Barberi

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    Wonderful article! The stories of the saints and soon to be saints help me focus on the mission. And other distractions are put behind me. Thanks.


  2. “Uncompromising”? Does this pope and his enablers even know the meaning of that word?


  3. CORRECTION: “Uncompromising”? Do this pope and his enablers even know the meaning of that word?


  4. Reblogged this on caroburt1 and commented:
    This resonates with me as I am a convert of over 5 years and still going strong.


  5. Roger says:

    One of my long term favourites. Have offered prayers to him since for many many years.
    A mystic entrusted with praying for and working for the Conversion of England. He came here and arrived on 5th November (Bonfire Night). He died of a heart attack on Reading railway station.
    My personal privilege was to be able to honour Him at that station. England has had many Saints inspired to pray for her.
    Thank you for this!


  6. Roger says:

    Something very important to share with you about Father Dominic Barberi. I have personally prayed daily to him since late 1970’s. Dominic Barberi had a very special influence on Father Ignatius of St Paul was an Ancestor of Princess Diana who death was 20 years ago today.

    Father Ignatius of St Paul (1799–1864), born as Hon. George Spencer, was a son of the 2nd Earl Spencer. He converted from Anglicanism to the Roman Catholic Church and entered the Passionist Order in 1847 and spent his life working for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith.

    From 1827, George began to make the acquaintance of several Catholic priests who encouraged George to continue with his reading. Soon afterward George received the first of three anonymous letters from a correspondent in Lille. The correspondent was aware of George’s troubles and suggested he give further thought to Catholicism. Finally, a meeting with Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, a recent English convert to Catholicism, set George on the road to conversion.[7] After several encounters with de Lisle and a number of priests, George resigned his living of Brington and on 30 January 1830 the Honourable and Reverend George Spencer was received into the Catholic Church.

    To remove himself from the public eye and to lessen the blow to his parents, George went to Rome to study at the Venerable English College. Here he came into contact with Nicholas Wiseman, later Cardinal, who tutored him on matters of Catholic tradition. Whilst in Rome Spencer also met Dominic Barberi, the Passionist priest with such enthusiasm for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith. Father Dominic would later have a great part to play in George’s life. During his studies at Rome, George wrote an account of his conversion from the Protestant to the Catholic faith that was published in the Catholic journals and finally he was ordained deacon in January 1832 and on 26 May of that same year, he was made priest

    George had often considered the possibility that he might have a vocation to enter the religious life and in 1846 he made a long retreat, finally deciding that it was God’s will that he should enter the Passionist Congregation. On 5 January 1847 George Spencer received the Passionist habit from the hands of his old friend Father Dominic Barberi who had brought the Congregation to England in 1841. George received the religious name Father Ignatius of Saint Paul, the name he would be known by ever after Ignatius threw himself into Passionist life and after making his religious profession in 1848 began preaching sermons throughout Britain and Ireland, always calling for prayers for the conversion of England. In August 1849, Ignatius was preaching in Belgium when he heard of Father Dominic’s death, consequently he was now Provincial of the Passionist Congregation in England and Belgium. In 1851, Ignatius set out to Rome to gain the approval of the Pope for his work, on his return he also met with several prominent bishops, as well as with Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

    He was buried alongside Dominic Barberi and Elizabeth Prout in St. Anne’s, Sutton, St. Helens on 4 October and now rests in the shrine church there. When his body was exhumed in 1973 it was noted that Father Ignatius suffered from horrific arthritis, but that his tongue had not suffered any decay since the day of his death.

    In March 2007, the Church announced that the first stage of Father Ignatius’ cause for beatification had been completed and that all the necessary documents had been forwarded to Rome. The next step in this process would be a declaration from the Holy See that Father Ignatius could be styled ‘Venerable’; on 6 December 2010, the BBC reported that the Vatican has made such a declaration


  7. Mary Salmond says:

    Roger, great addition to the article. Thanks.


  8. Crow says:

    Thanks Roger


  9. kathleen says:

    Roger, I join with Mary and Crow in thanking you for giving us this very interesting story of Venerable Fr Ignatius of St Paul. I wonder why such a prominent convert who strived so hard for the conversion of England is not better known among Catholics in the UK. I, for one, had never heard of him before.
    But I believe most people know about the charismatic Passionist priest, Bl. Dominic Barberi, who painstakingly guided the famous Anglican convert, Bl. Card. Newman’s journey home to the Catholic Church. You say you “honour him” where he died from a heart attack at Reading railway station… Does that mean the spot where he fell is actually marked? (I believe it’s a big station.)

    We have so much to gain from our wonderful converts to the Catholic Faith, don’t we? I am baffled by the suspicion some cradle Catholics appear to bear towards converts, when it is often the converts who bring a well-founded knowledge and greater enthusiasm for the history of the Church and her Magisterial teaching (having studied it in depth before entering) and whose journeys are frequently peppered with suffering and trials. If they have had to overcome all these difficulties in their search for the One True Church, should they not be welcomed with opened arms? Some of my closest friends are converts to the Faith, and I have still to meet a convert who is a raving liberal! 😉


  10. Roger says:

    No its Not actually marked!! But at my earliest oppurtunity I simply prayed my rosary on that station!
    I have prayed to him since late 70’s for the conversion of England.
    He appeared after His death in I believe Broadway Worc.
    Cardinal Vaughan was disobeyed by certain of the Old Catholics who wanted there children to go to the Top University’s (which frankly were secular and anti Catholic).. Vaughan said No so they went over his head to Rome!
    Vaughan set up the White Fathers and built Westminster Cathedral (USA Catholics kindly donated money towards this).
    Leo XIII request for the Consecration 1893 of England to St Peter (He made St Peter Patron Saint Of England) and to Our Lady and this was done by Vaughan and the English Bishops at Brompton Oratory on I believe 29th June 1893.(you will find this in the Tablet)
    If this had been renewed every year would England today be Catholic?
    I would say that Fr Dominic Barberi was by far the best Catholic English man of his generation if you take my meaning!
    Father Faber another fantastic Convert. Cardinal Manning Convert. There was a flowering of the pick of the English in 19th century..
    Heaven inspired many hidden Patrons over centuries to pray and work for England’s Conversion. The reason isn’t Nationalist its because this country was with France, Spain and Italy Catholic right from the beginning. It is believed that within 10 years of the Passion there was Church in England and this was before the Romans arrived.
    With Fr Barberi we have Heavens singular love for England perhaps better said Britain.
    How many of Heavens initiatives have been snuffed out for Diplomatic (worldy reasons by Catholics?


  11. mary salmond says:

    Yes, today’s converts are amazing! Their understanding, their questions, their more personal encounter of Christ, their knowledge of the Bible, BUT their desire for more than just a feeling is what is powerful. They realize the CC has even more depth, they love the devotions, the saints, the sacramentals, the sacraments, the Mass, the Eucharist. They are usually on fire!! I have looked most of my Catholic life for “on fire” cradle Catholics, met only a few. The converts give me hope, make me happy, and get me excited about the Catholic Church.


  12. Roger says:

    Mary the converts gives you a experience of what the Early Church was like! These are those coming through the fire often of intense Persecution.


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