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A Life in Order: The Memoirs of Brother Francis SSF

Brisbane: The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

[49] Chapter Seven: Brother Douglas

In 1953 I was asked to help Brother Douglas in his work among post-mental cases and others at the old wayfarers home at Goodworth Clatford near Andover. After his heroic work among crippled German Soldiers in Germany, a naval chaplain, John Armstrong, having heard him preach to sailors, suggested he become chaplain for the services hostel, the Trafalgar Club, in a heavily bombed area of Portsmouth. He wrote to Fr Algy about it, and received the reply that the Chapter had agreed to his accepting the invitation. He soon drew around him a group of interested servicemen. In the spring of 1951 he had been one of the missioners of the University Mission, but he was already showing signs of ill health. In the autumn he had to go into hospital for a prostate operation. I was then asked to go and substitute for him at the Trafalgar Club. The group of servicemen whom he had gathered round him brought him quantities of oranges, grapes and "Lucozade". I was able to attend the Eucharist at what was Fr Dolling's half-bombed church, nearby in Portsea.

Brother Douglas began to talk about his concern for the many young servicemen, who had developed some form of mental trouble, but were not bad enough to go into a hospital. He thought that the Goodworth Clatford wayfarer's home might be a suitable convalescent home for such men. Though still officially chaplain of the Trafalgar Club, he went alone to Goodworth Clatford and, with the help of the servicemen and some friends, he began getting the place in order. The men also cut wood for the fires. In the Autumn, he was again very ill and returned to the hospital for a second operation, having developed enteritis. After his operation he went to stay with his old friend the Rev. D. J. Taffinger in Wiltshire and I was asked to go and help with things at Goodworth Clatford. (For a description of what I found there, see my biography of Brother Douglas page 139.) The locals made some protest at what Brother Douglas intended to do there, so Brother Douglas had to say that he would not be taking patients straight from mental hospitals.

Randall Dale, who later became a brother in S.S.F., came to help as steward and cook. Through the generosity of a friend in Banbury he [49/50] began to take in some working men, who were finding it difficult to find accommodation elsewhere, for those who for some reason drifted onto the roads and for those who, because of some temperamental difficulty, were not able to hold their own in the world. But, although he was still able to plant potatoes in the garden and to look after poultry, Brother Douglas was beginning to spend a lot of time lying in bed. This gave me the opportunity to collect material from him for the writing of his biography, which I had been asked by the chapter to do. I was able not only to get his story from his own lips, but also to look at a rough note book in which he had recorded various incidents in his life.

In 1954 I was asked to return to Hilfield to look after the novices there. Br. Charles was sent to take my place looking look after Brother Douglas and the Goodworth Clatford home. At Hilfield, I found Fr Algy becoming increasingly infirm and in much pain, but still conducting retreats in various places. On the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis he preached his last sermon at the Friary, which left him utterly exhausted. The next week he went for a rest to his mother's house at Ealing. The doctor ordered him to have a strict diet and to take a complete rest. On Sept. 25th he wrote to Brother Christopher a letter, to be read to the community at supper. In it he said that his heart was giving him trouble, and that he was asking Fr. Denis to be the acting Guardian and his representative in community matters during his absence. Lectures were to begin on Michaelmas Day and were to be given by Br. Reginald and myself. I was to shepherd the novices. In November Algy had to go to the Gordon Hospital in Westminster for observation. He prayed that his suffering might be for the glory of God, and that his time in hospital might be used for prayer and for growing in love. He was found to have an inoperable cancer of the liver, which was growing very quickly. On November 23rd 1955 he passed away.

Brother Douglas now grew worse and had to go St. Peter's Hospital, Convent Garden, where he was told that he had an inoperable cancer of the bladder. In June 1957 he had to be taken by ambulance to the sisters at the Hostel of God at Clapham, accompanied by Fr. Stephen. The chaplain there was a Tertiary of ours.

[51] Among Br Douglas' many friends, who visited him there, was a man, who had been a communist when he had been on a mission to working men at Leighton and had been very impressed by him. The two books he enjoyed most were Friendship with God by our Tertiary, Amy Blake, and In the Footsteps of St. Paul by H.V. Morton. By Sept.3rd the Sister Superior told Fr. Denis that Br Douglas was worse and could hardly speak. He came to visit him and heard his last confession, after which he seemed to be a little better, but on September 7th.he died peacefully. A requiem was said within half an hour of his death by the Chaplain. Another was celebrated by Fr. Denis in the morning after with the Absolutions of the Dead. His body was cremated in the presence of Fr, Denis, the Sisters' chaplain and Coleman Jennings his great American friend. On the Eve of St. Francis October 3rd a solemn Eucharist was sung in Westminster Abbey in the presence of Morton, the Bishop of Exeter and Protector of the Society of St. Francis. The sermon was preached by Professor Charles Raven before a large congregation. At his own request his ashes were laid beside those of Fr. Algy in the chapel at Hilfield. After an all night vigil kept by the brothers on November 9th, another solemn requiem was sung. The eulogy was preached by Dr. John Moorman, the Franciscan scholar.

In August 1960 I was invited to go to a World Council of Churches consultation on prayer for Christian Unity at Bossey, at the conference house on Lake Geneva There I met many international leaders of the ecumenical movement including the Russian Bolshakof, Oliver Tomkins, and Fr. Michalon, who was carrying on the work of the Abbé Couturier at Lyons. In the late summer of that year I joined a group of priests and others to attend a bible course on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans at the training college for worker priests at Pontigny in France. I gave the students a rather hesitant talk in French on the S.S.F. From there we went on to a Catholic Workers' chaplains' conference at Versailles. The chaplains all said their daily mass on separate desks in a schoolroom. But there was a united Sung Mass on Sunday at which the Bishop of Bruges celebrated. After that there was another conference at the Palace of Versailles. I then went down to Dinard in Brittany (my train fare was fare paid for by a kindly French priest) to join a gathering of people interested in prayer for unity. Present were the Abbé Meura, Marjorie Milne, Barbara Simmons and others. Marjorie was especially [51/52] interested in the promotion of ecumenical retreats. After that I stayed a day or two with the Capuchin Friars who lived nearby.

In November 1961, I was sent to our house in Cable St., Stepney, in East London, to help Fr. Neville in the sad business of closing of our work there. It was a very snowy winter and I used to cycle through the snow to celebrate mass for the Sisters of St. Francis at Dalston in the early mornings.

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