“I am the Mother of God, and this is Himself, and He is the boy you will all be wanting at the last.”.
This quotation was taken from GK Chesterton’s “Christendom in Dublin” and quoted by Canon John Udris at a special Mass on 30th July 2022 to mark the Centenary of the author’s reception into the Roman Catholic Church at St Teresa’s, Beaconsfield.
GK Chesterton, probably most fondly remembered for his “Father Brown” tales, was devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it was her influence that led to his conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In the absence of a local Catholic church, he was received into the Roman Catholic faith on 30 July 1922, when the Irish landlady of the Railway Hotel, Beaconsfield, now the site of Waitrose, allowed the ballroom to be converted into a makeshift chapel. It was there, beneath a corrugated-iron roof and surrounded by bare wooden walls, the 48-year-old writer entered into full communion with the Church.
A century later, Monsignor Sean Healy, Parish Priest of St Teresa’s in Beaconsfield, presided at a Pastoral Area Mass to honour this great British author and acknowledge his ardent faith.
Canon Udris, Parish Priest of St. Peter’s in Marlow, previously of St. Teresa’s in Beaconsfield, and a Chesterton scholar, recounted Chesterton’s devotion to the Virgin Mary. From as early as age 19, Chesterton could scarcely recall a time when the image of Our Lady did not stand out in his mind. He claimed to be drawn to her simply because she was herself. It was this same devotion that led Chesterton on a mission to source what he considered to be an accurate image of the mother of Jesus.
Chesterton wrote: “I was looking for an image of Our Lady which I wished to give to the new church in our neighbourhood, and I was shown a variety of very beautiful and often costly examples in one of the most famous and fashionable Catholic shops in London. I followed the proprietor to an upper floor, which was full of packages and things partially unpacked, and it seemed suddenly that she was standing there, amid planks and shavings and sawdust, as she stood in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. The proprietor said: ‘Oh, that’s only just been unpacked; I’ve hardly looked at it. It’s from Ireland!’. She was a peasant and she was a queen. She was barefoot like any colleen on the hills; yet there was nothing merely local about her simplicity”.
This statue was donated by Chesterton to St Teresa’s Church once it was built in 1927 and it continues to look over parishioners and visitors today, with the infant Jesus, embraced in the arms of His mother.
Canon John pointed out that GK Chesterton regularly sat approximately four rows back on the left-hand side of the church, facing the altar, so doubtless there will be a clamour to sit there now we know!
Our Lady, Mary, accompanied Chesterton on his journey through life and this brought him great comfort as he quoted the poet, Swinburne, thus: “I have lived long enough, having seen one thing, that love hath an end; Goddess and maiden and queen, be near me now and befriend”.
On the centenary of his reception into the Roman Catholic faith, Chesterton’s family from his “home” church of St Teresa’s and surrounding churches most definitely befriended their famous and humble parishioner.