Dominican Sisters of St Joseph, Sway, England

The letter was direct and to the point. I was given the sack and would have to vacate the property by the first of January 1981. Although I was made the Director of what was then the only Retreat and Conference centre in London by Bishop Casey twelve years before, the property did not belong to the diocese. I had lost my job, my position and my home, and without any warning. At least I had the deep inner satisfaction of knowing that I had been sacked for doing what was right, but this was of little practical help  in the strange limbo land in which I suddenly found myself.

Back to first beginnings

But there was no time for self-pity, because seven other people had also lost everything, and I had a responsibility to support them. They were the Dominican sisters who had all, in one way or another, helped to run Walsingham House, as the centre was called. Influenced by the theological and spiritual courses run at the centre, and a year’s long renewal course run by their Dominican brothers in Rome, they understandably wanted to return to live out more deeply  the Dominican Tradition founded by St Dominic. So, when a new mother general began to force everyone to adopt the latest fashionable socio-psychological techniques in order to renew their congregation, her first action was to sack me for encouraging and supporting those who resisted her plan for renewal. The seven sisters left en bloc and with the help of a Jesuit canon lawyer, Fr Lachy Hughes, successfully appealed to Rome.

Who changes whom?

I mention this little interlude in my life, because for the first time I encountered two trends or movements  which still influence the Church today. The first trend turns to tradition to change the world, the second turns to the world to change tradition. The first is theocentric, the second is anthropocentric. The God-given spirituality introduced into the early Church by Christ that is the subject of  the articles that I am about to write for you came a poor second to the man-made ‘spiritualities’ that were cherry-picked and implemented by amateurs from the latest psychosociological sciences. On some they were no more than a passing fad but for others they had a devastating effect.

Even worse than Henry VIII

At the time I had no idea how the anti-contemplative ethos and invective that inspired these reformers would spread like fungus underground. Nor did I have any idea that it would eventually mushroom in an unprecedented manner, not just  with the encouragement of, but with the active support of some of the highest authorities in the Church. It would seem that they  are bent on doing to death what Pope  St John Paul II said  is the very soul of the Church. Although Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries, he did not, nor could he, destroy their mystical life, for so many of the monks, friars and religious women   fled to the continent to continue their contemplative life there. But it seems that many  in authority in the Church today are trying to extinguish, at source, the heart and soul of contemplative prayer which is, as it always has been, the life blood of those who are united in the mystical body of Christ.

The Wisdom of Man or God?

I was blissfully happy in my position as the director of a retreat and conference centre  and could not conceive where I would go next, or whether or not I would have a home, or even a job to go to. But after a few weeks the telephone rang to offer me a new post as the Dean of Studies at the National Catholic Radio and Television Centre in London. I accepted once I  was sure that the future of the Dominican Sisters was secured. They would eventually become the nucleus of a new congregation at their own Priory in Sway,  in the middle of the New Forest in Southern England.  Their story highlights the way forward for others who are prepared to put their trust, not in the wisdom of man, but in the wisdom of God. For those who tried to destroy them with a particularly virulent form of ‘Modernism’ have completely disappeared off the religious map while they are thriving.

The trustees at the Catholic Radio and Television Centre were presided over by Cardinal Basil Hume and included the six other Archbishops of England, Scotland and Wales. Apart from a few talks that I had given on what is still called ‘thought for the day’  in the middle of the BBC prime time news and current affairs programme, and a few interviews for the BBC World Service, I had no experience of the media at all. The training that I received  not only helped me to help others, but to help me as a travelling speaker, and much later when I became a full-time writer.

Inspired by St John Henry Newman

 In order to fix the mind from the beginning and keep it on course, the  students would have to write down in exactly seventeen words, what they had to say.  So, let me begin by telling you, and reminding myself of precisely what I wish to say in the articles that I will write for you in the weeks ahead in just seventeen words. They have been inspired by the work of St John Henry Newman. Like him, I will go back to the sources of our faith at the very beginning of Christianity. However, I could not possibly do what he did, and on such a vast scale. I will do  something far more modest, but hopefully something that is inspiring and helpful, although I could not hope to rival the incomparable use of one of the greatest exponents of the English language. This  then is what I intend to do  in no more than seventeen words and they are: ‘Successful renewal depends on returning to the God-given spirituality introduced into the early Church by Christ himself’. I do hope you will find them helpful.

In order to develop the sort of prayer that can continually help us to raise our hearts and minds to God as we practise the asceticism of the heart please visit my web-site and follow the Podcast on prayer entitled The Hermit – Wisdom from the Western Isles

David Torkington’s blogs, books, lectures and podcasts can be found at




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