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Canon Colin Stephenson

March 12, 2009

colin_stephensonI have recently written prefaces for a new paperback edition of Colin Stephenson’s books, “Merrily on High” and “Walsingham Way”. Both were long out of print, and they were being sold for high prices on e-bay; so Canterbury Press and I (as Colin’s executor) decided to republish. And they have been selling like hot cakes. As they should: John Betjeman told Colinthat he was nearly thrown off a train when he first read “Merrily on High” –  he alarmed his fellow passengers by falling around laughing!

Both books are  fascinating glimpses into the growth of Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England, but not in a dry, dusty way. They are full of fun, and describe some of the wonderfully colourful characters of that Movement. Of Fr Hope Patten, the Restorer of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, he writes: “he felt that he was not really upholding the faith unless he was engaged in a conflict with the bishop of the diocese”.

You can see what set Betjeman off when you read paragraphs like: “When I was priested, the headmistress of the Infant School said to the children, “You can now call Father ‘Father’ and mean it because he really is a Father now. They looked at me with innocent eyes, but some of them were more sophisticated than she thought and one little cherub came up to me afterwards and said, Who had the baby?”

Colin died in 1973 and had absorbed a lot of the wilder reforms of Vatican II, but I think he would have loved St Clement’s and our old-style High Mass. I think he would also have been horrified at the banality of much of modern Catholic worship. In fact, I suspect that he and Fr Hope Patten had an intercessory hand in getting Pope Benedict XVI elected!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ron permalink
    March 14, 2009 7:15 pm

    Canon Stephenson describes Bishop Shedden as unable to modulate his booming voice, so he made audible asides at inopportune times, like once, in the middle of reciting the Angelus, in exactly the same tone, he was heard to say “I shall want lavatory accommodation after this.”

  2. Francis Elborne permalink
    May 26, 2009 2:44 am

    Dear Father,
    I was the organist in the shrine and lived in the College at Walsingham when Canon Colin Stephenson was Administrator/Master in the late 1960s. For some reason or another I never bought a copy of “Merrily on High” and always regretted that I did not. Thank you for encouraging the publishers to republish this memoir. My daughter has just given me a copy, and I read it eagerly and enthusiastically. It brings back so many memories and is typical Colin.
    Incidentally, Fr. Peter Laister was also on the staff of the shrine at that time, and I know that he is fondly remembered at St. Clement’s church.

    Thank you once again

    Francis Elborne

    • May 26, 2009 3:36 am

      Good to hear from you. It is amazing how one can hear Colin’s voice and see the twinkle in his eyes when one reads Merrily on High.
      I hadn’t realized that Fr Laister was on the Shrine staff. He is remembered at St Clement’s with great affection and admiration.

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