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Article by Stephen Vooght


Battle of Lepanto

On the 7th October, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Rosary which was instituted by the Church in 1571. This was following the miraculous victory of Christians over the Muslim Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. At this battle, a coalition of Christian ships were vastly outnumbered when having to face the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire. So, asking them to put their trust in prayer, Pope Pius V urged all the crew members to resort to praying the Rosary. He also sent word out to all of Christian Europe to join them in praying the Rosary to obtain victory. He too engaged himself in prayer by leading a Rosary procession in Rome.

The triumphant outcome of the battle for the Church was hugely significant, for if they had been defeated it would have meant the invasion and inevitable capture of all Europe by the Muslims and the banishment of Christianity. Certainly, thousands, upon thousands of Christians would have been slaughtered and the Islamic Ottoman Empire would have made a huge step towards world domination.

To commemorate the victory at Lepanto, which he attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pius V instituted ‘Our Lady of Victor’ as an annual feast. However, two years later in 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title to ‘The Feast of the Holy Rosary’.

This story is a perfect illustration of just what a powerful prayer the Rosary is and how effective it is in obtaining a favourable outcome to seemingly insurmountable problems that we sometimes have to face in life. When enough people pray it together for a special intention, it can change the course of global events! The Rosary is truly a prayer that gets results!

A Prayer with ‘Suction Power’

Back in the 1980’s, when I was in my 20’s, I was a part time salesman for Kirby vacuum cleaners (an American company). They were very expensive vacuum cleaners (£400 back then – now, you can pay over £2000). It also shampooed carpets and could be used as a buffer and polisher for furniture, even for your car. But its biggest selling feature was its SUCTION POWER. It had the deepest and most effective suction ability than any other vacuum cleaner on the market (it could suck 3 inches deep into any carpet and it was especially good in dealing with shag pile carpets which were all the rage in the 80's). Because it had such powerful suction it really did do a good job. It was regarded as the Rolls Royce of vacuum cleaners. Why am I talking about vacuum cleaners?

Because in his book, 'The Power of Positive Thinking', Dale Carnegie writes about a Christian minister who would often speak about prayer in terms of suction. He would say that with a big problem you need a prayer with “big prayer suction”. A prayer, if you like, that can “get hold of the problem” - that can “swallow the problem up” as it were, and remove it out of the way. A big enough prayer that will overpower, uproot and get rid of whatever is threatening us.

This is the kind of prayer the Rosary is – it’s a prayer with great suction power!


St John Paul II

Like many Popes before him, St John Paul II was a big fan and promoter of the Rosary and constantly encouraged the faithful in the practice of praying it daily in their lives. When proclaiming October 2002 to October 2003 to be the ‘Year of the Rosary’, he released an Apostolic Letter entitled: ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’ (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary). In his opening words, he speaks of how influential the Holy Rosary has been in the life of the Church over the centuries. He says it is “a prayer loved by countless Saints, and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of the third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.”

He points out that though it is “Marian in character” at heart it is “a Christocentric prayer” and “has the depth of the gospel message in its entirety.” He explains that “with the Rosary the Christian sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depth of his love.”

St John Paul II’s devotion to Mary and the Holy Rosary was greatly influenced by St Louis Marie de Montfort. One of the books he wrote was called ‘The Secret of the Rosary’. If you wish to learn more about the Rosary, this is very inspiring and well worth reading. It explains what kind of prayer it is, how to recite it and why it is such a powerful prayer. It contains many quotes from different Saints and the reasons why they were such strong believers in the power of the Rosary. It also has many anecdotes about the powerful effects the Rosary has had on the lives of many different people, bringing them great blessings and graces of conversion and helping them grow in holiness.

Holding back no punches, St Louis says: “I beg you to beware of thinking of the Rosary as something of little importance – as do ignorant people and even several great but proud scholars. Far from being insignificant, the Rosary is a priceless treasure which is inspired by God.”

In his book, St Louis lists seven benefits for those who practise praying the Rosary. He says: “I should like to give you even more reason for embracing this devotion which so many great souls have practised; the Rosary recited with meditation on the mysteries brings the following marvellous results:

1. It gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ.

2. It purifies our souls, washing away sin.

3. It gives us victory over our enemies.

4. It makes it easy to practise virtue.

5. It sets us on fire with love of Our Blessed Lord.

6. It enriches us with graces and merits.

7. It supplies us with what is needed to pay our debts to God and our neighbour, and finally, it obtains for us all kinds of graces from Almighty God.”

St Paul VI

In 1974, St Paul VI issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled ‘Marialis Cultus’ (Devotion to Mary). Seven pages of it are dedicated to speaking about the Rosary with the intention of, as he puts it, to dwell on the renewal of “its pious practice”. He describes it as a “Gospel prayer”. He says: “In the harmonious succession of the Hail Mary’s the Rosary puts before us once more the fundamental mystery of the Gospel – The Incarnation of the Word contemplated at the decisive moment of the Annunciation to Mary.” He emphasises that because the Rosary is centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, it is therefore “a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation.”

Addressing one of the biggest criticisms that is levelled against the Rosary, i.e. it is just a meaningless circle of repetitive prayers, St Paul VI points out that the element of contemplation is absolutely essential to the Rosary. He stresses that “without this the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation is in danger of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas and of going counter to the warning of Christ: ‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:7). He then beautifully explains how it should be prayed “By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord.”

In this month of May, dedicated to the Rosary, let us not ignore this precious and powerful prayer which has for several centuries been a strong part of the Catholic Church’s spiritual tradition. Let us follow St John Paul II’s wise advice and “confidently take up the Rosary up once again” and rediscover it “in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of our daily lives.”(Rosarium Virginis Mariae)

Jo Halford – Seminary Archivist

During this latest lockdown, I’ve been permitted to come to the seminary to work in the archive. The size of the seminary buildings means that it is easy to work alone, away from others in a Covid secure manner. The sorting and cataloguing of this extensive archive is now essential work, as St. John’s seminary will sadly cease to operate as a house of formation in July 2021. The archive comprises over 250 boxes of records covering all areas of seminary business, from administration to recreation; from academic matters to the records of the buildings. The collection dates from the foundation of the seminary in 1889 to the present day. Over the next 18 months, all of this will be prepared to move to a new home.

Whilst I’ve been busily working my way through the boxes, the seminarians have been continuing their studies locked down in a ‘house bubble’! A couple of weeks ago, I received an unexpected enquiry from Stephen Corrigan, a seminarian from Clifton diocese in his final year at Wonersh. Stephen had always been aware that he had a relative who was a priest and had been a seminarian at Wonersh, but it hadn’t occurred to him to find out more about his time here until recently. All he had to go on was that his name was Fr. Gerald Gamble, and that he was his great-great uncle.

Stephen says:

“My time at Wonersh has often been busy with my focus on my studies and all the other things we do at Seminary, so there was never much of an opportunity to think about or look into a family connection at the Seminary. But when the seminary appointed an archivist, it occurred to me that I really should investigate the archives and see what could be discovered about him.

I think at the human level the upcoming closure of the Seminary, and my own departure in July, when I will be ordained priest and return to full-time to work in the Diocese of Clifton, prompted me to finally ask Jo to look into the matter, and I am sure there was a spiritual dimension encouraging me as well.”

Stephen was fascinated to discover that there are indexed registers recording every student who has ever entered the seminary. I was quickly able to find Gerald Gamble for him. Gerald entered the seminary on 6th September 1912 and was ordained on 12th July 1925. The register tells us that his studies were interrupted by World War I during which he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Student Register, 1904-1918

Using the dates from the register, I moved on to consult the diaries of the Dean and Rector to see if Gerald featured in them. These revealed that he had been a very sporty member of the Wonersh community. He was a regular member of the football team, and had been the captain of the cricket and hockey teams. This in turn led to the sporting committee minutes and photographs.

Here is the report of a Juniors v. Seniors hockey match played on 16th April 1924, during which ‘Mr Gamble gambly stuck to his post’! The minutes are signed by Gerald and he appears as a proud captain of the team in the adjacent photograph.

Gerald was one of a group of seminarians who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to Salonika in Greece during World War I. News of this group features in the wonderful ‘Wonersh Mail’, 'An Unofficial Chronicle of all that Wonersh did while her doughty sons were absent from her on military service'. It was sent to the students 'called up'. It included news from the seminary and of those fighting, and was illustrated with humorous drawings by Fr Alexis Hauber, then procurator, later Parish Priest of Guildford.

An illustration from the Wonersh Mail, March 1918

Once I had located the sources, I was able to allow Stephen to consult them, after a period of quarantine and with social distancing observed.

Stephen commented:

“It was wonderful to be able to hold the primary sources in my own hands the very books that these people had written about my great-great-uncle. I was able to see various photos of his sporting endeavours which brought the whole thing to life, especially recognising where the photos were taken, and how in some ways how little the place has changed in the last 90 or so years. Sadly, my own career playing for the Wonersh football team has not been so prestigious!”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to investigate the life of my great-great uncle, and to learn more about my own family’s connection with Wonersh. By all accounts he was a good priest and a good man, and in following in his footsteps both at Wonersh, and in the priesthood, I hope and pray I can emulate him.’

Many thanks to Stephen Corrigan for bringing me this interesting enquiry and for his contribution to this piece. Let’s hope that the archive continues to receive many more such enquiries far into the future.

Article by Seminarian Scott Coleman

“There but for the grace of God go I…”

I have read and enjoyed plenty of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited most notably among them. There one finds a certain vision of Catholicism, of priesthood, and the world; that vision is not without its challenges, and the Catholicism which attracts Ryder in Brideshead is not an easy or a straightforward thing. Still, there is something irresistible about the faith as presented; suffering and hardship there may be, but there is a certain dignity in the action of grace in the lives of human beings.

I recently read, for the first time, a novel by one of Waugh’s near contemporaries, Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, and how great a contrast there is. My first reaction to Greene’s whisky-priest was “there but for the grace of God go I”, but this seems an inadequately trite response to the drama of faith and humanity in this novel. Whenever I thought I had grasped the message, or was confident that I had understood the character of the priest, there was something more to learn, something more to experience - and generally something which I struggled to pigeonhole as either positive or negative.

The opening scene introduces us to the nameless main character, who, unbeknown to us, is attempting to escape anti-clerical persecution in Mexico. He misses his chance (for the sake of a drink and some hospitality from an unwitting English dentist) and almost shuffles off, back into the interior of the country, back into his ministry. The lack of drama, the resignation of this long-suffering man was, to me, almost unbearably tense. Right from the start, and throughout the story, I found myself longing for him simply to pick himself up and run for it.

But simple answers are emphatically not on the table for Graham Greene. For every community and individual whom the whisky-priest meets there is a mixed blessing, the blessing of God’s presence vouchsafed by a fragile and wounded human being. He retains throughout a deep faith in the reality of what he is doing for people when he celebrates the sacraments. He continues to minister to people at enormous personal cost, even if it is a cost that he bears almost unwillingly; he certainly has no plan to minister to them other than that which providence presents to himself.

There is deep insight into human vulnerability, woundedness, and sin. The priest’s knowledge of his unworthiness is profoundly affecting; however much I wish to make excuses for him, he will not let me; he retains the deepest sense of his sin in the sight of God. The passages in which he contemplates his own damnation are hard to read, and again the temptation I felt was constantly to explain away his misdemeanours, to try to work out a way of explaining his situation. But he simply depends on God. He knows he can do nothing without Him and consequently does nothing without Him. He is all too aware of the inadequacy of his own contrition and love for God; he longs for the assurance of sacramental absolution that is not forthcoming (there being no other priests available).

The hardest point on this journey is when, having escaped into a neighbouring state without such persecution, he allows himself to be led back. He knows he is going towards a trap, but goes willingly to attempt to reconcile and hear the confession of a murderer; it ends with his being shot.

What am I to think in response to this? Thanks be to God, I do not live in such a state of persecution, and have the comfort of knowing that the sacraments and the support of friends and family are never far away. Would I have the courage to admit my faults, to carry on, to resign myself to any fate, simply because providence so guided me? These are questions, inevitably, that one cannot answer in advance. And perhaps rightly so: each of us can only respond to the present situation, to the challenges and opportunities that God in fact gives.

But I am not sure that that is an entirely adequate response. The whisky-priest certainly has his failings, and does not always act for quite the right motives, but he has love. He has a deep love for the real human beings around him. He does not love simply because he is commanded to do so; he loves because he sees something of value in each person; he sees each person as at least as lovable as himself. His love is not blind and he does not pretend that people are better than they are, but his self-knowledge and self-awareness opens himself up to the other.

This article might read like rather a stream-of-consciousness (and it is), but that is perhaps because this novel defies easy answers and neat categorisation, at least to my mind. Is the priest a martyr, hero, and saint, or is he a scoundrel who scrapes through life by luck, ultimately condemned by his own fecklessness? The answer is undoubtedly a little of both - but these are hard ideas to reconcile. It will continue to be a source of provocation in my reflections on priesthood and vocation.

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