Last Days and End
FATHER JONES felt his infirmities increasing, and thought it his duty to resign the living of S. Mary the Virgin, Cardiff, in the autumn of 1903.
When all things were arranged and the resignation had taken place, he took a small house in Long-cross Street, Roath, and named it, appropriately, Lluesty Mair. [S. Mary's Rest.] Here Father Noel, formerly of S. Barnabas, Oxford, joined him, to his great comfort and pleasure, in his declining years. Here his old friends visited him, and always got a cheery welcome from him. Many a little party of old and young met there, and enjoyed his society and hospitality, for he was always--though not a Bishop--"given to hospitality."
His welcome presence at the Rural Deanery meetings was continued as of old. It is not always the case that a Vicar who has resigned his charge, and continues to live in the neighbourhood, manages to preserve ideal relations with the new Vicar and the new regime; but the evening of Father Jones's life was, we think, in this and in other respects, quite ideal. It was charming to hear the old man speak of his successor, Rev. Gilbert Heaton, and to witness the kindly and affectionate intercourse between them at all times. Then also it was such a delight to the old man that he was able to exercise to the last his priestly office, and thereby be a real help to the new Vicar, for he sang the Mass at 11 a.m. at S. Mary's almost every Sunday from the time of his resignation till the end of life came, unless he were away from Cardiff or feeling rather poorly; and always, as we have said, went to the Altar fasting. He would drive down to church in a cab and drive back, and feel, quite justly, like the Village Blacksmith:
Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose.
It was a great cause of thankfulness to him that his work was being carried on by his successor on the old lines, though inevitably some details were other than he would have wished--e.g. rather less plainsong music--and the removing of the galleries from the church was always a sore point. Yet he never attempted to interfere, or thought of encouraging any discontent amongst his former flock. Cliques and factions were never dreamt of. He held decided views as to clerical celibacy; but when the new Vicar brought home his bride, none gave them a kindlier greeting than he, and it was quite affecting to see the old man's fatherly delight in exchanging visits with Mr. and Mrs. Heaton.
A word or two about the end. The beginning of the end came on Sunday, Sept. 9, 1906. When he returned from church at midday he could eat nothing, felt very ill, and had to send for the doctor. He never rallied, but gradually got worse. His niece, Mrs. Arthur Hickman, and one of her daughters, came in answer to a telegram, and stayed with him, and shared with a trained nurse the attending upon him till the end. Many were the callers and anxious inquiries that reached Lluesty Mair in those last days. He loved to know who called, and to receive the constant messages, and to see those few more intimate friends who were permitted to visit the sick-room He suffered more weakness and discomfort than actual sharp pain, and it was most edifying to sec him patiently turning his eyes to the little picture of our Blessed Lord crowned with thorns that hung beside his bed, as he murmured words of prayer. His devoted niece, Mrs. Hickman, speaks of his constantly repeating the words of "The Magnificat" in his sickness, which he himself always said was a great joy of his life, and its opening words were suitably inscribed on his memorial card. He sank for some time into an unconscious state, and at last the end came on Sept. 22, and he fell asleep in Christ.
Uncle Arthur [writes his niece, Mrs. Hickman] was taken ill on Sunday, Sept. 9, when he came back from celebrating at S. Mary's. At first his illness was not considered serious, and when I was written for and came down on Thursday with my eldest daughter he was quite conscious and very bright; and said so joyfully, when we carne into his room, "I knew you would come," and he was so full of regret that he was not downstairs to give us a proper welcome. Although in no actual pain, his illness was of a nature that for the first week caused him much distress and discomfort, besides the great weariness, and he was so unused to being ill in bed, but his patience was wonderful. He several times said, when I expressed sympathy, "It is God's will, I must not murmur," and his eyes so often turned to a little picture by his bedside of our Saviour with the crown of thorns. He was so thoughtful, too, for those who were nursing him, and so grateful for the kindness shown him by his many friends. "People are so very kind to me," he told me when I arrived. During those days before he became unconscious he often talked to me about my children, and my brother and his wife and child, all with much affection, and of friends, and he was so glad to see those allowed to see him, but the number had to be restricted owing to his weakness. He spoke to me with such pleasure of some boys whose mother brought them to see him at the beginning of his illness, saying how glad he was to see those "dear boys," Those of us who were with him during his last days will, I am sure, always look back, through the sadness and sorrow of parting with him, to that time as a peaceful, holy passing away. S. Mary's was much in his thoughts, and he was so very disappointed that he could not get well enough to celebrate as usual on the last Sunday of his life. Mr. Dobbin and Mr. Thatcher were often with him. On Sunday morning he was much pleased by a very early visit from Mr. Robert Hughes (then Lord Mayor), whom he had known as a boy, and who had only just returned home from North Wales, and they had a long talk in Welsh about his old parish Llanegryn. On this day a good deal of the physical distress passed away, leaving him very weak, and in the afternoon he asked for his books, and made a great effort to say Evensong, going through much of it from memory, but he failed to finish, and quietly gave me back the books, saying, "I can do no more to-day"; but that evening he asked a friend, Mrs. Fletcher, who was sitting with him while I was downstairs, to sing "Abide with me," and he joined in as she sang it. Constantly he seemed to be praying quietly, and repeated verses of the Psalms and the Magnificat, seeming to dwell with special joy on that, saying it over and over again. A pathetic incident of those last days was a visit from his faithful old friend and sacristan, Mr. Hodge, who in his very feeble state managed with difficulty to reach Llucsty Mair to see his old Vicar, whom he was to follow so soon. Although more free from discomfort after the Sunday, his weakness was so great that he could not rally, and each day he spoke less, and took less notice of us. Almost his last words to me were "Fight the good fight of faith." On the Friday the doctors reluctantly gave up all hope of saving his life. He was nursed with much skill and gentleness by Nurse Ovenden, and many kind friends sent us offers of help. Mrs. Fletcher and Mrs. Riches helped me during the day, and Mr. Thatcher spent all his spare time in the sick-room. All Uncle Arthur's old people were so dear to him. He often spoke to me before his illness of "what a strong tie religion was." Each day prayers were said in his room by the several priests who loved him so well, and gradually, almost imperceptibly, he sank into unconsciousness, and passed peacefully away on Saturday night, with a few loving relations and friends at his bedside, while Father Noel read the last prayers for the dying.
From The Church Times, Sept. 26, 1906.
"The tenderest heart and the strongest will ever found in man." In those few words a writer in The Western Mail sums up the character of Father Jones of Cardiff, whose death, at the ripe old age of 80 years, occurred after a fortnight's illness. His life, in many respects, was similar to that of Father Lowder of London Docks. "Children," we are told, "could do what they liked with him, but he often faced an infuriated mob without flinching, and the clamour and attacks of the crowd left him unmoved. He was gentler than a lamb with the little ones, and hard as a rock, and as immovable, in face of the attacks of the big ones. A strange combination, but a very beautiful one."
A few years ago he resigned S. Mary's, owing to infirmity and old age, but he continued in the parish, and took a fairly active part in the services, being present at the morning service on the occasion of the recent patronal festival. It was after this service that he was seized with illness, and at 8.30 on Saturday evening he passed away peacefully, while prayers were being said by his friend, the Rev. Montagu H. Noel (formerly of S. Barnabas, Oxford), who lived with him in Longcross-street, Cardiff.
The laying to rest of the late Vicar of S. Mary's took place amid every sign of genuine respect and mourning. The body, encased in a polished oak coffin, bearing a wooden cross the whole length of the lid, was taken to S. Mary's Church on Tuesday evening, when Vespers of the Dead was solemnly said by the Vicar, vested in cope, with his attendants. A vigil was kept throughout the night by relays of watchers, consisting of old friends and fellow workers of the departed. The scene in the church was exceedingly impressive. The coffin, around which stood six lighted tapers, was covered with a violet pall, and many floral tributes stood in full view in the chancel.
Early on Wednesday morning (6 o'clock), there was a Celebration, followed by two others at 7 and 8, a large number of sorrowing friends and parishioners attending on each occasion. At 10 o'clock a solemn Requiem Mass was said. The church was crowded. The celebrant was the Rev. H. A. Coe, Vicar of S. Dyfrig's, Cardiff, the Rev. J. W. Ward, Vicar of Llantarnam, Monmouthshire, acting as deacon, and the Vicar of S. Mary's (Rev. Gilbert Heaton), as sub-deacon. It may be added that Mr. Coe and Mr. Ward had served as curates with Father Jones for about twenty years. One striking feature of this service was the singing of the Dies Irae as the sequence before the Gospel, and the simple recital, instead of the singing, of the Creed and Gloria. The musical portions of the service were carefully arranged by Mr. G. H. Cole, organist of S. John's, Cardiff, formerly of S. Mary's, who played Chopin's "Dead March" at the opening, the Dead March in Saul and Beethoven's "Funeral March" at the close. Mr. T. Davies, Mus. Bac., organist of S. Mary's, also assisted at the organ. The hymn sung after the consecration was, "When our heads are bowed with woe," and after the blessing was pronounced the congregation sang again with great fervour "Jesus lives!" Prior to the removal of the body from the chancel, the celebrant performed the last ceremonies around the coffin. This was a solemn moment, there being hardly a dry eye in the church as the remains of the dear old Vicar were borne away from the church he loved so well.
Outside the church a procession was formed, preceded by cross-bearer and a large number of clergy in their robes. The hearse was covered by many floral tributes, and the cortege wended its way slowly through the precincts of the church. Hundreds of the children of the neighbourhood reverently bowed their heads, the little girls solemnly crossing themselves, and the lads uncovering as the hearse passed them. Their recollections of Father Jones are very dear to them, for he was tenderness personified.
The coffin was covered with beautiful wreaths and crosses, and sent amongst others by "The children of Longcross-street," and "Little children who loved him," and many others all testifying to the affection and respect in which he was held and to his far-reaching influence. In the cortege were a great number of carriages, their occupants consisting of the deceased relatives and closest friends, and many by the leading citizens of Cardiff, including the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, and Messrs. F. R. Kempson, S. J. Price, G. A. Davis, A. C. Kirk, Dr. Herbert Vachell, and Councillor Walter Thomas, representing the Committee of the English Church Union.
Large crowds witnessed the passage of the cortege through the city to the cemetery, a distance of some two miles. Everywhere the streets were thickly lined with respectful spectators, the reverence shown testifying to the deep hold which the deceased had upon the Cardiff people.
A large concourse awaited at the cemetery. The latter part of the burial service was read by the Vicar of S. Mary's (Rev. G. Heaton), and the hymn, "Now the labourer's task is o'er," was then sung. This was followed by the well-known Welsh hymn, "O Bryniau Caer Salem Ceir Gweled," which was a favourite of Father Jones. Prominent at the graveside was Mr. Samuel Hodge, the old sacristan of S. Mary's, who is seventy-eight years of age, and was a faithful servant of Father Jones for many years; his throwing a little earth on the coffin of his master and friend at the committal was a touching sight.
[The old sacristan did not long survive his old Vicar. He died three weeks later, almost in the church itself, as he was found there unconscious. The same Choral Requiem Mass was sung in S. Mary's in the presence of his body as had been celebrated so shortly before for the old Vicar.]
The Committee of the Cardiff branch of the E.C.U. passed the following resolution:--"That this meeting of the Committee of the Cardiff branch of the English Church Union desires to record the deep regret of the members on the death of the Rev. G. A. Jones, who had been a vice-chairman of the branch since its formation. He had always been a warm supporter of the work of the E.C.U. in Cardiff, and most diligent in his attendance at the meetings of the Branch and of the Committee. As Vicar of S. Mary's, he was one of the pioneers of the Catholic Revival in this part of the country; and although in the early years of his work he met with much opposition, it will always be a matter of thankfulness to record that this opposition completely died away, and that at the time of his death he was universally esteemed as a devoted priest of winning geniality and charm."
Father Jones's funeral was a sight which will not easily pass out of the memories of those who witnessed it. It was an impressive function, quite in keeping with the views which the man had held and practised during his life-time. Thirty-four years ago Mr. Jones was one of the most unpopular men in Cardiff and Wales generally; yesterday, however, not only his own people, but the city of Cardiff itself, honoured and respected his memory. His own people at S. Mary's held him in the strongest affection, but-the public generally honour his memory as a good and brave man, who lived a consistent life in accord with his convictions in the face of much opposition and hostility. The number of clergy and laity who followed his remains to the grave testified to the extent of his teaching and his influence. It may safely be said that no clergyman in the Diocese of Llandaff has influenced and brought so many clergymen to his way of thinking. His funeral, however, was attended by those who differed widely from him, but respected the man for his many virtues and his honesty of purpose.
Dear old Father Jones is gone from us. How we shall miss his gentle, kindly presence, his grey hair--a veritable crown of glory--his pleasant smile and cheery greeting! Yes, not only the little children, who used to announce to him: "Mr. Jones, we're just going to play on your doorstep," not only his old curates and fellow clergy of Cardiff and the Diocese of Llandaff generally, not only his own circle of intimate friends and his few surviving relations, but the inhabitants of Cardiff--ah, and a wider circle still, for Father Jones, or Father Arthur, as he was affectionately called, was known and loved up and down the land. The tall hat and the little cape are laid aside for ever--he complained to the writer when he lay on his sick-bed that those who were caring for him had so tidied up his room that "he couldn't find his little cape." We shall look for them up and down the street in vain henceforth. The increasingly slow gait has slackened down to a full stop. May the rest he has earned, and to which he has gone, be sweet and peaceful, God rest his soul, and perfect him in the quiet land, and "grant that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day," and add to him this joy, that when we meet again we may he found faithful to the light of Truth, which it was his constant desire and effort to set before us.
"Lord all pitying, Jesu blest,
Grant him Thine eternal rest."