I returned home last night from England, where I had gone to arrange for the transfer of a stained glass window; Father Gary kindly acted as my driver (-driving is one of the many things I can’t do). We left Saint Mungo’s on Sunday afternoon, after the Corpus Christi procession and went as far as Stone in Staffordshire, where we spent the night. The village of Aston-by-Stone was the first home of the Passionists in these islands. We were shown around the former Saint Michael’s Retreat by two Sisters of Charity of Saint Paul the Apostle. Aston Hall had been the hiding place of the relics of Saint Chad (now in his Cathedral in Birmingham) after the Reformation. Just after the discovery of the relics, Blessed Dominic Barberi and his companion, Father Amedeo McBride, a Kerryman who had entered the Passionists in Italy, arrived there to inaugurate the Passionist life in England. The house, now a home for retired priests, was rebuilt after the Passionists left, but the chapel of Blessed Dominic is still there , as is the mausoleum in which his remains rested for a number of years.
John Henry Newman’s friend, John Dobree Dalgairns was received into the Catholic Church in the chapel at Aston Hall on 27 September 1845. A week before, Dalgairns had written to Father Dominic: I am becoming a Catholic. I should like to be received into the Church in some quiet, out-of-the-way place, and at once I thought of your Retreat. The friendly consideration you have always given me makes me hope that I should be welcome there. Dominic’s reply gave directions for finding Aston and concluded with the words: I shall remain at home, waiting for you. I was to go next Sunday into Cheshire for a retreat, but I shall send one of my companions there in my place.
Newman himself came to Aston Hall to pray at the tomb of Blessed Dominic on 3 May 1854. The chronicles of Saint Michael’s Retreat record how Doctor Newman had come over from Dublin to preach at the opening of the new church in Stone. During the sermnon, he alluded to the labours and zeal of the lamented Father Dominic of the Mother of God, who was sent from Rome to continue or rather reassume the work once so happily accomplished by St Augustine and his associates in the conversion of England. The chronicler adds: Doctor Newman came on the same day with great inconvenience to visit the tomb of Father Dominic, where he prayed for a little while.
Father Ignatius Spencer C.P. was professed at Aston Hall on 6 January 1848; he wrote in his diary: I made my vows in the Sacristy privately. Blessed Charles (Houben) of Mount Argus celebrated Mass in the chapel at Aston Hall during the years he was stationed there. -More to follow.