Project Canterbury

George Arthur Jones

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.


THE subject of this brief memoir has every right to be included among the Heroes of the Catholic Revival, for he was one of its most devoted and successful pioneers in Wales, and had to endure much obloquy and opposition through his championship of the Faith once delivered to the saints. His ministry lasted for fifty-two years, the first twenty being spent in North Wales, and the remainder as incumbent of St. Mary's, Cardiff, and during the whole of that time he exerted a profound and lasting influence over both priests and layfolk.

Griffith Arthur Jones was born on July 16, 1827, in Ruabon, Denbighshire, of which parish his father was curate. In 1830 the family moved to Llangwm in Anglesey, and here the boy spent the whole of his childhood. His father was an Evangelical, but a devoted and hard-working parish-priest. In his diary, four days after his ordination, the son thus describes the services at Llangwm on Christmas Day, 1851: 'Service at 5 a.m. Read the lessons and preached. A good anthem. "Ae yn oed yn y wlad homno" (There were shepherds abiding in the fields). Several carols.' He goes on to say that he assisted at the celebration of the Holy Communion at n, and read the lessons and preached again in the evening. He adds: ' Large congregations all day, particularly at the early and late services.' He also describes the decorations, which included a large cross over the altar. It is interesting to note the devotion with which the Feast of Christmas was observed in a parish-church in Anglesey more than eighty years ago.

Griffith Arthur went up to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1846. It was a critical moment in the history of the Oxford Movement. The secession of Newman in the October of the previous year had left the Tractarians broken and discredited, and faced with a no-popery agitation which grew in strength and volume every day. The foes of the Movement exulted in the belief that it was over and done with; but what seemed at the moment to be a final defeat proved in the event to be only a temporary set-back. A new and more doughty champion arose to take the place of the lost leader. It was Dr. Pusey, who with the help of Keble, Charles Marriott, and James Bowling Mozley, headed the rally and stemmed the flight to Rome. In February, 1846, Pusey, who had been suspended for two years from preaching before the University on the alleged ground that his sermon on the Eucharist had taught doctrine contrary to the Church of England, preached the University sermon again. After summarizing the condemned sermon in a few well-chosen words which reasserted to the very full its doctrinal position, he dealt with the subject of Absolution, and showed by an appeal to her Formularies that the Church of England teaches the reality of priestly absolution as explicitly as it has ever been taught in any part of the Catholic Church. From that time forward until his death, in 1882, Dr. Pusey was the acknowledged leader of the Movement, and its adherents were called Puseyites by their opponents.

The young Welsh undergraduate quickly came under the influence of Dr. Pusey, and made his first confession to him. He took his degree in 1851, and went back to Wales determined to be a missionary of the Revival in the Principality. He was ordained deacon in Bangor Cathedral at the Christmas ordination of that year, and was licensed to the parish of Gwalchmai, of which the Rev. John Wynne Jones was rector, holding it in plurality with another small parish, Heneglwys. In little more than three months after his ordination he was offered the incumbency of Llangorwen. He was much puzzled as to what to do, for a good work had been begun at Llangorwen, the squire was a keen churchman, and there was a prospect of introducing a weekly communion; but he finally declined the charge on the grounds of youth and inexperience. He remained at Gwalchmai until 1857, when he became vicar of the ancient church of Llanegryn, where he worked for sixteen years, winning the hearts of the people in spite of occasional opposition.

The new vicar found church-life in Llanegryn in a very depressed condition. The congregation was small, and there were hardly any communicants. His first care was to improve the services. He had a deep conviction that the Welsh people could be won to the Catholic Faith, but that they had never had the opportunity. He used to say: ' I am a Welshman of the Welsh by language, blood, family associations, and feelings, and what I have myself learned to love, I can teach my fellow-countrymen to love too.' His great ambition was to make Llanegryn a centre of church-life for the whole surrounding neighbourhood. With this end in view he arranged frequent special services, to which the clergy and laity of other parishes were invited. He soon introduced a surpliced choir, a rare thing in those days in a Welsh country church, and later on, after spending several years in teaching, he adopted vestments and altar-lights, and established a plainsong Missa Cantata. He was the first priest in North Wales to reintroduce Euchar-istic vestments.

The Missa Cantata was a characteristic innovation, for Father Jones had a great love for music, and a passion for plainsong. Plainsong was his special hobby throughout his life; he knew a good deal about it, and was associated with the Rev. J. W. Doran in preparing and publishing a Welsh Psalter on the well-known system of marking by Doran and Nottingham. In later years he also published a small book called The Grail, which contained a cycle of Introits and Graduals with their proper melodies, and these he introduced at St. Mary's, Cardiff, in spite of a good deal of opposition. When he attended an elaborate service at some other church where the music was of a florid kind he would say, 'There was no music to do a fellow good; no plainsong.' The use of plainchant was not only a personal preference: he felt it to be a matter of principle, as most solemn and suitable to its purpose, and therefore to be continued and upheld even though it was not appreciated. 'It won't be given up while I am vicar,' he would say.

While vicar of Llanegryn, Father Jones made his first retreat under Father Benson of Cowley. Henceforward he was always most anxious to persuade priests to attend retreats, and it was very largely through his efforts and influence that retreats began to be held in Wales. While at Llanegryn, too, he made the acquaintance of Father Lowder, who used to pay frequent visits to a friend of his, the Squire of Peniarth, and the two priests formed a life-long friendship. Through the influence of Father Lowder, who was one of its founders, he became a member of the Society of the Holy Cross, a society in which he took the keenest interest throughout his life.


In 1872 Father Jones left Llanegryn to begin his great work as vicar of St. Mary's, Cardiff, a large parish in the immediate neighbourhood of the docks, with a population of more than twenty thousand. Under the previous vicar St. Mary's had been a stronghold of Protestantism, and the new incumbent was at once brought face to face with strenuous and determined opposition. He was in no hurry to introduce Catholic ceremonial. For some years he continued to use the black gown in the pulpit, and to celebrate the Eucharist in surplice and black stole; and though candles were lighted at Mass, they were removed immediately afterwards. At the same time, he introduced a daily Mass almost as soon as he came to the parish. This surely was to begin in the right way. As Dr. Pusey once said in a telling phrase: ' To begin with outward things seems like gathering flowers, and putting them in the earth to grow.' These words express the common conviction of the early leaders, a conviction which largely accounts for the solidity with which the Movement has withstood attack. Its strength is its doctrinal foundation; as has been acutely said: 'It could scarcely have survived so well if it had been built on piles above a lake of holy water.' Father Jones was sure that if he could succeed in teaching the Catholic Faith to his people, Catholic practice would surely follow.

But while willing to be patient about ceremonial, the new vicar was convinced that the arrangement of the church must be altered before the congregation could learn to regard it as a place of worship and not as a preaching house. The principal object that met the eye of the worshipper was an enormous pulpit of a kind now nearly extinct, which was known as a ' three-decker.' On the bottom deck was to be found the clerk, on the middle deck the reader, while the top deck was occupied by the preacher, who wore a black gown and lavender gloves, was followed up the steps by the clerk, and bolted in, not to be released until the sermon was finished. This monstrous erection towered up in the middle of the chancel arch, completely obscuring from view the small table covered with a red cloth which did duty for an altar. Father Jones applied for a faculty for lowering the pulpit and moving it to one side, while, somewhat later, plans were prepared by Mr. J. D. Sedding for an entire rearrangement of the east end of the church. These proposals aroused bitter opposition, and a fierce battle ensued at the Consistory Court at Llandaff over the application for the faculty. Eventually it was granted, and by 1884 main features of Mr. Sedding's design had been carried out.

Meanwhile, the introduction of daily services, the observance of holy days, and the adoption of the eastward position, together with the proposals for the rearrangement of the church, had caused much friction and conflict in the parish. The observance of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady as the Patronal Festival added fuel to the flames, and led to charges of ' Mariolatry at'St. Mary's.' In consequence, two of the priests who had promised to preach at the Festival--Father Stanton and Father Ives, at that time priest-in-charge of the Church of the Holy Nativity, Knowle, Bristol--were inhibited by the Bishop of Llandaff. The following comment in the Parish Magazine on the Bishop's action is characteristic of the way in which Father Jones turned even set-backs to good account in teaching the Faith to his people: ' It is unnecessary to dwell upon the sad disappointment we experienced at being prevented from hearing two of those who were to have preached. Silence speaks sometimes, and perhaps their silence may remind us of this, that God's House is a house of prayer rather than of preaching; and God, whose hand directed in this as in all other cases, may mean to show us that he does not expect his faithful ones always to look for the edification of self when they would offer their special praises and supplications to him.'

The early years at St. Mary's were a time of exceptional difficulty and strain. Most of the old congregation left the church, and it was some time before the new vicar had gathered round him a new body of worshippers on whose devotion and enthusiasm he could rely. Happily there was no rioting in the church such as, had taken place at St. Barnabas, Pimlico, St. George's in the East, St. Alban's, Birmingham, and other Catholic centres, but the clergy were jeered at as they went about the streets, inflammatory articles constantly appeared in the local press, and for a long time the objectors caused great annoyance and obstruction at the vestry meetings.

To quote the words of a priest, the Rev. W. H. Kirby, who was with Father Jones almost from his earliest days at St. Mary's: 'It was very uphill and discouraging work, and the difficulties at times seemed well-nigh overwhelming; but our great stay and support was the daily Eucharist which the vicar established as soon as possible, whilst the Guild of the Good Shepherd for men enabled him gradually to gather together a band of faithful adherents who loyally tried to strengthen his hands, and gave him assistance and encouragement in various ways. . . . The vicar was not one to lose heart easily, but he could scarcely fail to feel the strain of the uphill fight, and the frequent opposition must have told upon him. In course of time his genial disposition, and the cheery way in which he always met his opponents, gained respect for him and extended his influence; and in the meantime, if he was losing many of the old congregation, he was attaching to the church the younger people, and rapidly winning the affection of the children, to whom his guileless, childlike disposition was naturally akin. From first to last, till the very day he was laid to rest, he was the children's friend; we used sometimes to think that he spoiled them, but at any rate one thing is certain, that he won their confidence at a time when almost everyone else distrusted him and was ready to believe evil of him, and they never failed him.'


The cosmopolitan and shifting character of the population resulting from the proximity of St. Mary's to Cardiff Docks made mission work both exceptionally necessary and exceptionally difficult. To use Father Jones's own words: 'Hindrances at every turn; bad homes, drinking, loose ways, rampant immorality, dancing saloons, temptations all around. It is really hard, uphill work.' He was fortunate in securing the services of the Sisters of the Community of St. Margaret's, East Grinstead, who began work in the parish in 1873. At first there were only three Sisters, but this number was gradually increased until in 1888 there were six at work. The work done by these Sisters was simply invaluable. In addition to visiting the sick and poor, helping to prepare candidates for Confirmation and First Communion, and seeking out the unbaptized--in one year over six hundred were brought to the font--they undertook day-school work, established a House of Mercy and a Guild House for girls. At St. Mary's, as in so many other places, the Sisters have been largely instrumental in building up a great Catholic stronghold.

Though having no sympathy with anything that savoured of a 'Wales for the Welsh ' party cry, Father Jones felt that it was a scandal that there were no Welsh church services in Cardiff, and he was in the forefront of the movement to restore them. During a ten days' mission held in 1888, mission services in Welsh were held at one of the National Schools, and shortly afterwards in the adjoining parish of All Saints', a church dedicated to St. David, or, as it is called, Eglwys Dewi Sant, was built for Welsh services only, for the use of Welsh people living in all parts of Cardiff. An extract from a paper read by Father Jones at the Llandaff Diocesan Conference shows how keenly he felt on this matter, and, incidentally, how fearless and outspoken he was:

'In a parish which I visited last year, the church cleaner told me they had morning services for the English, and a Welsh morning service dovetailed in for the Welsh, but they had no time for Holy Communion in the morning for the Welsh, so they had the Welsh celebration in the evening. How could the poor Welshman learn reverence and devotion with such treatment? He was compelled either to go without Communion or to receive it at the tail end of the day, not to mention the utterly unchurch hour when it was offered him. If I spoke my own mind, I should call it sacrilege. This was a very prominent parish, the vicar a man of some note, and for the English there appeared to be some reverent attention, if I may judge from the appearance of the altar; for my part I wished his altar candles, cross, and furniture thrown into Cardigan Bay till he had learnt the first rudiments of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

'Let proper care and attention be paid to the Welsh services, and an honest teaching of the doctrines of the Church of Christ, and let the Welsh services be rendered with reverent care and earnestness, and I have no fear for the Church in Wales. Up to the present we have been going on wrong lines; we have been giving our people services as like what they get in chapel as we can, and the result has been disappointing. Catholic teaching and practice as yet have not been tried amongst the Welsh. My belief is that we need something of the spirit of Father Benson and Father Lowder amongst us. An outspoken teaching of the sacramental system alone can meet the needs of fallen man, be he Welshman or of any other nationality. . . . We want to make the people intelligent, Godfearing churchpeople.'

Throughout his ministry Father Jones was a devoted mission-priest. It has been noted above that he made his first confession to Dr. Pusey while an undergraduate at Oxford. He continued this practice throughout his life, and always did his utmost to influence others to follow his example. He was particularly impressed with the importance of persuading the clergy to submit to this discipline; he thought it indispensable both for the sanctification of their own lives and the spiritual effectiveness of their ministry. At one period he arranged for an experienced confessor, the Rev. Arthur Ward of Bristol, to come to Cardiff before the great festivals, and many priests were led by this means to make their first confession, or to renew and continue the practice.

In this as in other matters Father Jones was completely fearless, and that at a time when confession was everywhere spoken against and made the subject of disgraceful calumnies. He used to say, 'We call a spade a spade at St. Mary's, and mean what we say. We don't call it "seeing a clergyman," but "making your confession," and that for the benefit of absolution.'

Here, too, was exemplified his clear grasp of Catholic principle. It was absolution in which he believed, and confession only as a means to it, and he did not in the least mind whether his people chose to make their confessions to him, or to another member of his staff, or to any other priest. Similarly, though he would, of course, give counsel and advice when required, it was absolution that he emphasized in the confessional rather than direction, so that his penitents were led to regard the Sacrament of Penance as a normal means of grace, not dependent on the ministry of any particular priest.


In the autumn of 1903, owing to age and increasing infirmities, Father Jones resigned St. Mary's, and retired to a small house not far from the church which he named appropriately Lluesty Mair--St. Mary's Rest. Here he was joined by another doughty champion of the Faith, Father Montagu Noel, formerly vicar of St. Barnabas, Oxford. Almost every Sunday from the time of his resignation till his death, Father Jones said the Sunday Mass at St. Mary's, and it was after doing so on Sunday, September 9,1906, that he was stricken with his last illness, to pass away a fortnight later while Father Noel read the last prayers for the dying. A writer in the Western Mail thus described the funeral:

'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 St. 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 clergyman to his way of thinking. His funeral, however, was attended also by those who differed widely from him, but respected the man for his many virtues and his honesty of purpose.'

To this may be added an extract from the obituary notice in the Church Times of September 26, 1906:

'His life in many respects was similar to that of Father Lowder of London Docks. Children 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. . . . 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.'

The fearlessness to which reference is made in both these extracts was perhaps his most predominant characteristic. In the words of one of his own assistant-priests: 'He never trimmed, didn't know the meaning of the hateful word "compromise" (the life and breath of many amongst us), always bore witness to the Catholic Faith, always upheld and strove to advance Catholic practice, preached the Catholic Faith, talked of it, lived it as he went in and out amongst his own people; and so, not by giving in to anybody, but by staunch and constant advocacy and transparent consistency and conviction, he advanced the cause so dear to his heart, and incidentally won not only the respect but the love of everyone.'

Some words of a famous contemporary and friend, Canon George Body, may fitly close this memoir. They are contained in a Life of Father Jones written by two of his former curates, to which the present writer is greatly indebted. 'He was a strong man, says Canon Body, 'a man whose inner nature was in harmony with his physical frame. He was strong in his convictions, strong in loyalty to them in utterance and conduct, strong in his splendid courage (I do not think that he knew what the fear of man was), strong in his invincible determination of purpose, strong in his love of righteousness, strong in his devotion to Christ and his Church--and all this because he was "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." But he was also a man of love--a tender-hearted man who felt deeply, though he acted strongly. Those who knew him best knew the tenderness of his nature. In him strength was tempered with love, and especially with one of its most winsome forms, pastoral love--that love which flows into the true pastor out of the heart of the Good Shepherd, a love as beautiful as it is unique. How he loved his people! How he loved them, and bore with them, and sympathized with them in the specially difficult and dangerous moral conditions of his parish! How he loved the children, above all! What signs of this were visible to those who went about his parish with him!

He knew his people, and they knew him. He called them by name; he gave his life to them. And they knew it and gave him love for love.

'His character and life were Christ-centred. In the true sense of the word he was an Evangelical Catholic who loved, confessed, and taught the truth as it is in Jesus. In him was manifested the power of the Holy Ghost, and in him the grace of God was magnified. I trust that his life may provoke many of us to give up ourselves more than ever in wholehearted self-consecration to God, and to a stronger belief in that gift of the Holy Ghost which is in us through the laying on of hands.'

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