Vincent Nichols is delighted by an insightful biography of his predecessor, Bishop Ullathorne
William Bernard Ullathorne: A Different Kind of Monk by Judith Champ, Gracewing £15
It was Bishop Joseph Cleary who first was
to Dr Judith Champ that it was time for a new biography of Bishop Ullathorne. Bishop Cleary died in 1991. Dr Champ has worked lovingly on this book for a long time. We are the beneficiaries of all her hard work.
Bishop Ullathorne was a prodigious worker and writer. Thousands of his letters and documents have been tracked down by Champ and patiently read and pondered by her. The consequence is a biography which is not only extensively researched and documented but also revealing of the inner personality of its subject.
Much of the earlier life of Bishop Ullathorne is well-known through his autobiography, From Cabin Boy to Archbishop. That period is well presented in this new biography. But of even greater interest is all that Bishop Ullathorne did in the years after 1850, alongside the other great figures of that time: Wiseman, Newman and Manning. Here we have a fresh perspective on the early days and struggles of the newly formed hierarchy of England and Wales. It makes for fascinating reading.
There is, of course, very special interest in the book for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and gratitude must be expressed to the Chapter of St Chad's Cathedral for their sponsorship of this work. Ullathorne laid down the structure and character of this archdiocese, especially in the life of the presbyterate and of the religious orders of women. So this biography is a veritable treasuretrove for anyone interested in how a diocese grows and prospers.
One of the most telling dimensions of the life of Ullathorne which Champ brings to the fore is the bishop's work with women. He was, in her phrase, "a remarkable advocate and enabler of the real and active ministry of women in the English Catholic Church". This started with the Sisters of Charity, who accompanied him in his work in New South Wales, and with whom he kept in contact for the rest of their lives.
When he was parish priest in Coventry he worked closely with a lay woman, Margaret Hallaban. She set about teaching, nursing and organising the parish.
She later became the foundress of the Congregation of the English Dominican Sisters and he, a Benedictine, their first novice master! His friendship with the Dominican sisters, and with Mother Margaret, also lasted throughout their lives. In fact, Bishop Ullathorne chose not to be buried in his cathedral but in the Dominican church in Stone, Staffordshire, where both Mother Margaret and his own mother, Hannah, had already been buried.
In this book Judith Champ really does bring us so much closer to understanding the character and spirit of Bishop Ullathorne. She understands the inner man. She tells us of his struggles to sustain the effort required for all the demands of his ministry. After 10 years he was exhausted not only by the responsibilities of the diocese, but also by the many public campaigns in which he was involved and by the conflicts taking place between the bishops.
He travelled often to Rome, a short trip in comparison to the journeys he had made to Australia. But on one of those trips, in 1862, he was at the end of his tether. He begged Pope Pius IX to be allowed to step down and return to monastic life. The account of what happened next is alone worth the purchase price of the book.
Champ gives us great insight into Ullathorne's spiritual struggles and how he gathered support in prayer and friendship, not least from his friends among the religious sisters.
We learn about retreats he made; about how he found great encouragement in the writings of Augustine Baker, not least in the simple phrase: "Consider your call; it is all in all."
The book follows, in detail, his complex relationship with John Henry Newman, right through to their intimate walks together, arm in arm, along the corridors of Oscott College in the months before his death.
Personally. I have found great encouragement in this book. There are many resonances with today, issues of ecumenism, of the relationship of Church and Government, of realism versus optimism. It's a goldmine of information and inspiration; and such a good read.
But most of all, the spiritual quality of Bishop Ullathorne shines through in the end: his humanity, his closeness to those • around him no matter their status, and his trust in the Lord.
My favourite quotation comes from a letter written to Mother Genevieve Dupuis, the foundress of the Sister of St Paul at Selly Park, just three months before he died. He wrote: "We all have our shortcomings more or less: God knows them and allows for them, for we are what we are, the poor frail mortals in whom God works in the main His will and way. It is this contrast between what we are and what God does in us that fills us with hope and trust in His goodness."
Amen to that.