Project Canterbury

Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

[London] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1933.

Chapter XIV. Retirement and Old age

Bishop Montgomery was fond of pointing out that his life moved in cycles. In 1861 his mother brought him to Moville for the first time. In July, 1881, he came with his wife to New Park for their honeymoon. In 1901 he received the call to leave Tasmania. In 1921 he retired to his Irish home. In 1931 he and his wife kept their golden wedding there.

Perhaps these last eleven years were the happiest of his long life. The strain and stress of London work was over. He was able to devote his time to sorting and arranging old letters and family documents, and to writing memoirs of his own life and travels in foreign lands. It was during these last years too that many of his best books were written, notably The Life of Bishop Lefroy, The Joy of the Lord, and Old Age. Every year he came over to London for the annual service of his Order, when he revisited old friends and haunts, and on two occasions he took several country confirmations for his revered friend, Archbishop Davidson. In March, 1924, while Bishop Montgomery was in London he was approached by the S.P.G. and asked to return to his old office there and fill the gap till another Secretary was appointed, Bishop King having resigned and having been made a Canon of Rochester. The bishop felt he could not refuse. This was on a Saturday. On Monday morning he took prayers and then informed the Staff. After half an hour in his old room the five years dropped out and it was as if he had never left. Almost the whole of 1924 was spent at S.P.G. House.

It was a great joy to him during his years of retirement to feel that there was still work for him to do in the Church. He was always at the disposal of his rector, and once during the latter's serious illness he took entire charge of the parish of Moville for seven months. On another occasion he took Sunday duty for the rector of Carndonagh during three months. This entailed four services a Sunday, with long drives among the mountains of Donegal. Just before his last illness he had been in charge of the parish of Upper Moville for three months. And how he loved the people among whom his last years were lived! His happiest hours were those he spent visiting among the scattered farms and cottages in the hills, or in the little village of Moville, at first on foot, in later years driving in his little pony trap, and how many a scolding did he get from his wife for staying out too late! And then there was the joy of welcoming his old friends to his beloved Irish home." Miss Lucy Phillimore, Bishop Knight, Mr. and Mrs. Copeland, Mr. Mynors, Mr. Kelly, the Bishop in Kobe, Canon Houghton, are a few only of those who enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of an Irish country house. And every year saw the sons and daughters coming home from abroad, and carrying back with them priceless memories of their loved father. There too he enjoyed the daily companionship of his brother and lifelong friend, Colonel James Montgomery, who lives close by New Park.

It was during these last years that the bishop's prayer-life had full scope. He had always prayed for the members of his Order by name. He continued this at Moville, praying daily for them, first in the church and later in the beautiful little chapel at New Park. This chapel was a great joy to him. The bishop of the diocese gave him leave to celebrate there on saints' days, and after the daily family prayers, he prayed there for all the parishioners and their families. His first act on being put in charge of the parish of Upper Moville was to get the names of all his new flock and to add them to his daily petitions.

A great missionary, a seer, a mystic, a visionary, Bishop Montgomery was all these, but as the years passed those who loved him realised that they were living with a saint. Day by day he seemed to grow in grace, in humility, in sweetness of character. How else could it be when--as his bodily powers failed--he spent long hours in communion with his beloved Lord and Master? One who met him only once wrote thus: "It was an inspiration to have met him. I shall never forget his testimony that his last days were his best days. Certainly 'the joy of the Lord' was on his face that day."

And it was the same with all those who came in contact with him. A cheery word in the street on a windy day, a quiet talk in his study followed by prayer and his blessing in chapel, the letter written after sorrow and bereavement--instances could be multiplied of the love and gratitude he inspired in all who met him.

On August 30th began the long illness of three months. Was it hastened by the charge of the country parish? Perhaps; but he would be the last to regret it. He rejoiced to think that he had been allowed to minister to the people he loved best, the farmers and their families, and they returned his love to the full. Sunday after Sunday he drove up to the little church to find all the congregation assembled outside waiting to shake hands with "Sir Henry" as they loved to call him.

And it was a beautiful illness. There was little pain, only great weakness. For the last few days a nurse was engaged. For the rest of the time he was ministered to by those who loved him. His serene happiness never failed him. He enjoyed every bit of his life even to the end. The one daily visitor; the reading aloud the psalms of the day, a few verses from the Revelation, a chapter of his favourite novel; the arrival of the post; The Times with its news of the test-match, which he looked for eagerly up to the last; the long refreshing sleeps--he was grateful for everything.

During his long illness the bishop was much cheered by receiving a telegram from Queen Mary, inquiring after him. And after his death the King and Queen sent a telegram of condolence to his wife, in which they referred to their long friendship with the bishop.

The Queen was graciously pleased to accept a copy of the bishop's last book, Old Age.

On the last day he dictated two letters, one to Canon Stacy Waddy, and a Christmas letter to his youngest son, Brian, in Nairobi, his Benjamin as he called him, bidding him at the end uphold the highest traditions of the Montgomery family. This letter he signed--with his feeble fingers--his last signature. On this same day his son, Colin, was inducted into his first Living at St. John's, Egremont. At 7.30, the hour of the service, the bishop asked that it might be read aloud to him. A few hours after there was a sudden heart failure, and he passed peacefully to his long rest.

The next day his body, dressed in his scarlet robes, was carried into the little chapel where he lay for three days, with the chaplet of rosemary from the S.P.G. Staff on his breast, visited by all who loved him in Moville and the neighbourhood. His face was wonderful, such a look as could only be seen on the features of a man inspired.

A Memorial Service was held at S.P.G. House at the same hour as the service in Moville. This was very largely attended by friends and relatives, and a most beautiful address was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Printed in the Home Workers' Gazette, January, 1933.]

The grounds surrounding the beautiful little Church of St. Columb, built almost entirely by the Montgomery family, had been consecrated for burial a few months before. A fortnight before his death these grounds were cleared by voluntary labour, and the bishop was the first to be laid to rest there. A little stream divides the cemetery from the grounds of New Park. The bishop's grave is just beyond the stream and there he lies, looked down on by the hills of Donegal, facing his old home overlooking Lough Foyle.

"An Irishman who had travelled all over the world coming home to rest on Irish soil."

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