Souvenir Booklet

The new Holy Trinity Church was opened on 11th September, 1938. To commemorate the opening, a Souvenir Booklet was produced, which is reproduced below:

[gview file=”” height=”800px”]

“Ridge View”
58, Beelearts Street

16 August, 1938

Dear Father O’Callaghan,

You must feel a very proud man to day as indeed you have every reason to be. Your parishioners must share this pride, for is it not their generosity and spirit of sacrifice which has made the completion of the New Church and Presbytery possible?

Holy Trinity Church, Braamfontein, will be synonymous with everything that is beautiful and dignified in ecclesiastical architecture on the Rand.

While we rejoice in to-day’s event, we shall not forget those who initiated the movement for a new church in Braamfontein. We shall breathe a prayer for the souls of those whom we feel to be very near us to-day.

The church is now an actual fact, so likewise is the debt. I feel, however, that your good Parishioners will rally about you and help to lighten the burden. They have been generous in the past and they will continue to be generous in the future, till, the debt liquidated, the honour of being the first Church in the Transvaal Vicariate to be consecrated will fall to Holy Trinity, Braamfontein.

Yours devotedly in J.C. and M.I.

+ D. O’Leary, O.M.I.

New Catholic Church, of the Holy Trinity, Braamfontein

A CATHOLIC CHURCH is built-as a description this is complete, we only go further in order to show that the visible is but the sign of the invisible and by the explanation of its symbolism we may understand and appreciate, and in every way recognise, the truth and beauty of the many messages contained in its structure. Romanesque in character, this style tells us of the fall of Pagan Rome, in it we see the birth of Christianity, and the prophecy of what is to come. The whole glorious history of the Catholic Church can be traced in its detail. While one or two touches of Renaissance tells us of the last great ecclesiastical style, introduced, as if to link the centuries of her history in a tale of triumph.

On looking at the facade we are struck by the beauty of its proportion, as a whole and in detail. The magnificent entrance doorway with its coffered arch and clustered columns, embracing deep set niches, is a striking example of Romanesque art. Over this portico a great tracery Rose window forms a striking design, and gives life and vigour to the imposing composition of masonry which forms this main facade. The aisles are most successfully annexed to the Nave, by means of a blind triforium spanning the whole front, and draped buttresses give a sense of rhythm and harmony that is readily felt.

On the length of either side, tracery clear storey and nave windows set in panels and between buttresses give a perfect balance of beauty and strength, assisted by rich mouldings and a pedamented belfry on the North East corner. The whole exterior is favoured by its choice in colour, executed in synthetic stone, the aggregate used being pink South African marble. This colourful exterior successfully harmonizes with the red tiled roof, and as a combination they seem to capture something of the sunshine and blue skies, leaving a vivid picture in one’s memory. Not to be forgotten is the great Cross over the main pedament, symbolising “Christ,” its enrrichment tells a story of His suffering and death, and His “Word” is depicted by symbolism of the Gospels.

Before describing the interior let us consider the Church as a plan. Like in medieval days it is set out and rendered in a language of symbolism so that we may learn the teachings of the pious and ingenious inventions of the ancient liturgists from the artistic incorporations of their spiritual conception in the new Church. The plan, like the Early Church or Bascilican has a central Nave supported by aisles on either side. Our Lord spoke of His body being a Temple, His divine head is symbolised by the Sanctuary, and the holes in His hands and feet the portals. The door of the church is the “Porta Coeli” and is the symbol of Our Lord. Christ is the corner stone of the Church, while the Apostles, doctors and Bishops are the pillars, the role of the small stones being played by the faithful. It is interesting ‘to note that there are twelve arches supported by pillars, over each, is a stained g1ass window portraying an Apostle. The number twelve being symbolical of the Apostles, the tribes of Judah and the months of the year.

The Church of the New Law and ‘the Synagogue of the old, is symbolised in a special way by the beautiful stained glass portraits of St. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles and St. Peter placed opposite each other. The floor of the Church, spurned under foot is symbolical of Sin, the poor and the needy and those who are heavily burdened, are also represented by the floor, because of the burden the floor has to bear. Emblematic of the Scriptures, are the windows, for they admit the light and warmth of the Pure Sun in the hearts of men. The ceilings are symbolic of the heavens, that of the Nave, firmament, and that of the Sanctuary the highest heaven. Whilst the Communion rail is symbolical of the Last Supper table of the Lord. The Baptistry is positioned on the North side of the Church and the beautiful pulpit is correctly directed towards the North where the unbaptised or adult approached, from the side of darkness and unbelief.

The pulpit, symbolises the place from which our Lord taught the people, and represents the Old and New Testament, on the coping of which the words “DOCETE OMNES GENTES” are introduced, under which raised monograms of the Evangelists placed on a book, representing the Gospels. The earth is represented by a form of a square, from the four corners of which are preached the Gospels. Christ himself being shown by a circle into which a Cross, the sign of Christianity is placed, and between the arms of the Cross can be seen representations of the four rivers of Paradise (Phison, Gehon, Tigris and Euphrates) which send their cleansing waters to all parts of the world, these rivers being used as a symbolism of the Apostles.

The Sanctuary holds a wealth of symbolism, as is appropriate for such a hallowed place. The dedication of the Church to ‘the Holy Trinity is made alive in realism by its three beautiful stained glass windows, and in symbolism by the three vaulted bays in a single Apse. Scenes from the Old Testament form a base for the story of the three major events in the life of our Saviour.

As beautiful and rich in symbolism as all these things are, they are but made so by the altar on which stands the Tabernacle of repose, for without Our Lord’s abiding presence, the whole would have no meaning, no purpose.

The Altar in its structure is all symbolical, in its detail it praises the Lord of Hosts. By the introduction of the Vine, Our Lord and the Church are symbolised. The Daisy tells us of the perfect innocence of the Divine child, the Rose of Our Blessed Lady in Martyrdom, the flowers of purity, constancy and love, while all around and about birds and colours symbolise the immortality of the human soul, the virtues of faith, loyalty spotlessness, heavenly contemplation, and here and ‘there we recognise representations of the mystical rose of Mary, of Her as Queen of Angels, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Virgins, Help of Christians, familiar titles ever joyful to hear like snatches of well loved tunes. Of these things is your church built, lovingly familiar to all Catholics, who by the contemplation of their visible teachings may offer sincere appreciation for such a glorious faith that can find such sublime expression.

Entering the Church through the magnificent arched portico, which is symbolical of the “Gate of Heaven,” the Narthex is passed through and the Church itself met. It is indeed hard to believe that the beautiful interior was not created, rather than built from unwrought material in its present form and colour. Graceful arches and moulded shafts embrace jewel-like windows which give “sight” to stone and marble, made more alive and real by the familiar tales of our Holy religion, which are in them depicted. Rising from the ground their graceful shafts pass from one height to another, spread out and entwine with one another as if to tell us of the glorious achievements of the Catholic Church. At their greatest height they blossom into great richness, as their branches crush their flowers into a glorious canopy, that will ever crown the faithful, who kneel in adoration below. And below-the Altar-to house which, this great “shelter” is built. Strikingly beautiful with its colourful mosiac panels set against a magnificent figured and carved marble riddle and monstrance niche, is made “alive” by a tabernacle beautiful, from which Our Saviour ever casts that mantle of sanctity over His Church.

As the Church is left in genuflexion the interior of the great tracery Rose window is seen. Placed high above the gallery like some heavenly body this beautiful stained glass window, a perfect harmony of colour, depicts Our Lady in the title of “Queen of Angels,” regal in scale and adornment it reflects the glory of the Sanctuary and gives the appearance of Our Lady as ever watching Her Son, in the Tabernacle of the altar below.

The completion of this Church marks a new era of Catholic building. It shows that the many sacrifices necessary for its erection were not in vain, and that the spirit which emanates from the glorious monuments of Christian Architecture is still alive, and that we are not satisfied with the tawdry and the mean, for what would Christ have thought of the poor widow if she had offered a gilded penny. It is further appreciated that the living messages that ring through the centuries are still heard, and that a wonderful Catholic tradition is being perpetuated by laying this beautiful offering at the Altar of all that is truth and beauty.

“A House of Gold” is built, consecrated to His worship and sanctified by His presence and ever brought back to us at daily Mass by the words, “Lord I have loved the Beauty of Thy House and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”


The value of Holy Mass

At the hour of death the Masses you have heard will be your greatest consolation.
Every Mass will go with you to judgment and plead for pardon.
At every Mass you can diminish the temporal punishment due to your sins, more or less, according to your fervour.
Assisting devoutly at Mass, you render to the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, the greatest homage.
He supplies for many of our negligences and omissions.
He forgives you all the venial sins which you are determined to avoid.
He forgives you all your unknown sins which you never confessed.
The power of Satan over you is diminshed.
You afford the souls in purgatory the greatest possible relief.
One Mass heard during your life will be of more benefit to you than many heard for you after your death.
You are preserved from any dangers and misfortunes which would otherwise have befallen you.
You shorten your purgatory by every Mass.
Every Mass wins for you a higher degree of glory in heaven.
You receive the priest’s blessing, which our Lord ratifies in heaven.
You kneel amidst a multitude of holy angels, who are present at the adorable sacrifice, with reverential awe.
You are blessed in your temporal goods and affairs.
When we hear Mass, and offer the Holy Sacrifice in honour of any particular saint or angel, thanking God for the favour He bestowed on him, we afford Him a new degree of honour, joy and happiness, and draw His special love and protection on us.
Every time we assist at Mass, we should, besides other intentions, offer it in honour of the saint of the day.
After Mass do not leave till the Priest does so.
(1) Because the last gospel and prayers ‘ take only two minutes to say.
(2) Two minutes earlier home can make little difference, but two minutes loss of God’s worship is a serious loss.
It is to be noticed that whether the Mass is long or short, the same people go out at the same time and some are to be found talking outside afterwards. The real problem, however, is that of the tardy comers. Where exact figures are taken it is found that often half of those present are late.


Marguerite Gilbert

Three years on earth I taught,
Unloved, save by a few —
Three mortal hours I hung,
Suffering what no man knew.

Three days another’s grave
My home was, lone and cold —
Now on altars I remain
Till the starry skies grow old.

Not hours, nor days, nor years,
My depth of love could tell —
In Tabernacle shrines
Forevermore I dwell.

To teach the world again,
To prove My love is true —
On your altar I remain
Forevermore! For you!

– The Anthonian

A word or two about those who built the Church

ALL who had the privilege of sharing in the honour of building the New Church are to be congratulated upon the very excellent manner in which the work was carried out, for each in turn contributed his own share to complete an edifice of which we may all be proud. Working in collaboration with each other, architect, builder and• craftsmen have brought into being a lasting tribute to their own capability and a sanctuary to inspire the admiration and devotion of men.

There are three notabilities, whose names will assuredly be associated frequently with the beautiful New Church at Braamfontein. These are Mr. Brendan J. Clinch, the Architect; Mr. George Beckett, the Builder; and Mr. R. L. Geeringh, responsible for the beautiful and intricate plaster-work of the New Church.

We were indeed fortunate in securing the services of so able an architect as Mr. Brendan Clinch, who needs no introduction to the public of the Witwatersrand, and especially to the Catholic Community thereof. Mr. Clinch has given ample proof of his capability not alone in the sphere of ecclesiastical architecture but also in commercial work on the Rand. He is famous for the many beautiful churches that have been erected and remodelled in and around Johannesburg, and for some of the handsome entertainment halls attached to our Convents.

Lasting testimonies of the versatility of his particular talent are the following: The Sacred Heart Church, Pretoria; St. Francis’ Church, Yeoville; the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rosebank; the Church at Boksburg; whilst the churches in Randfontein, Mayfair, Benoni and the Maronite Church Johannesburg, were all remodelled to his designs. He has also designed the chapels and schools attached to many a native mission station in the Transvaal, and is responsible for the beautiful design of the new Cathedral to be built in the Golden City.

Mr. Clinch is Irish by birth, Dublin being his native city. He was educated at the Christian Brothers School, and at Belvedere College, Dublin. He studied architecture at the A.A. School, and under Mr. Geo. L. O’Connor, F.R.I.A.I., of Dublin. Later he became a student of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, of which body he subsequently became a member. He came to South Africa in September, 1928, where it _was not long before he was admitted as a member of the South African Institute of Architects. In 1932 he came to Johannesburg’ to practice.

It is to Mr. Clinch that we owe the beautiful design of our new Church and we wish to place on record our appreciation of the efficient and painstaking manner in which, at all times, he supervised the erection of the building.

The work of carrying out the architect’s design was in the hands of Mr. George Beckett. this year’s President of the Master Builders’ Association. He hails from one of those good old Catholic families that has always associated itself with the activities of the Church in South Africa. He received his early education (as elsewhere noted) at the Mercy Convent in Fordsburg and completed his studies at St. Aidan’s, Grahamstown. He then joined his father in the building trade and later set up on his own. Throughout the erection of the Church, Mr. Beckett was deeply appreciative of the honour that was his, an honour that has fallen to him on more than one occasion. He has been responsible for the erection of the new churches at Yeoville and Rosebank and many Convents, halls and missions throughout the vicariate. We thank him for the excellent manner in which he and his staff carried out the work entrusted to them.

If Mr. Beckett’s task in carrying out the intricate design submitted to him by the architect was a formidable one, the success he attained in the final result was, without doubt, in no small measure due to the extremely accurate manufacture of the pre-cast concrete blocks of which the Church is built. Mr. R. L. Geeringh, the Managing Director of Plastering Industries (Pty.) Ltd., personally supervised the work throughout. He was born in Cape Town, and educated at the S.A. Training College, Cape Town. He later took up a course of special art studies, firstly at the Cape Town Art School, and subsequently at the Witwatersrand Technical College. His interest lay, in particular, in the plastering “arts” and industries, so that for many years he has specialised in pre-cast concrete and reconstructed stone.

Last year, when Mr. Geeringh was absent on an extended visit overseas, he took the opportunity to make a close study of the latest modern methods of artificial stone manufacture adopted by the different European cities, paying especial attention to the methods adopted in church construction.

It reflects no little credit on Mr. Greenigh’ s intense interest in and study of this particular branch of building design and construction that the plaster-work in the new Church at Braamfontein is as significantly interesting as it is-the exquisite execution of the ceiling alone being one of the outstanding features of the Church.

In Memoriam

Rev. Father P. J. Ryan, O.M.I.

WITH the opening of the new church in Braamfontein, many a vivid memory will no doubt be recalled of the first Priest in charge of this Parish, the late beloved and so widely esteemed Father P. J. Ryan, popularly alluded to as “Father Pat.”

He did not live to witness the fulfilment of this – one of his dearest wishes; but we hope and pray that he is witness to it in spirit. To his memory, the beautiful high altar in the new church has been erected. It will readily be conceded that scarcely a more fitting memorial could be raised to a priest, one of God’s chosen creatures, if also one of his most human; but especially must this be conceded in the case of Father Pat, who combined the qualities of the true parish priest with those of the man of culture, and of deep insight into and understanding of human nature.

There must be many people throughout the length and breadth of South Africa, and certainly there are many further afield, who can recall some pleasing incident in their lives that is linked with the memory of Father Pat. Especially did he convey the impression that he was genuinely interested in you, that he was your friend, that you could trust him; no one enjoyed a chat with you more than he did, and the feeling soon became reciprocal. And so, how many countless numbers of us gave him our confidence-students and scholars, the rich and the poor, the imprisoned, the condemned, the sick, the dying, the bereaved. If we had not the occasion to give him our confidence, at least we felt that we could and at any time. Furthermore, there was never a person who met him, but on departing from him, carried away the soothing memory of some pleasing thought.

Considering his life, and its many and varied interests, in conjunction, of course, with his own inimitable personality, it is not to be wondered at that Father Pat was so universally appreciated and beloved. He was born in County Derry, in 1878; one of a wide family circle that numbers many of its members amongst some of the finest religious in the Church. Prior to Father Pat’s entrance into Belmont for his noviciate, he was at St. Columb’s College. On leaving Belmont he spent six years in Rome, where he was ordained in April 1903. For a year he was Chaplain to the Visitation Nuns in that city. The following year he landed in South Africa, accompanied by a brother priest, equally beloved to the memory of many of us, the late Father J. O’Brien, O.M.I. Father Pat was at first stationed at Kerk Street, and it is perhaps not generally remembered that through his zealous efforts the La Rochelle Parish was commenced. In 1906, Father Pat came to Braamfontein, where in addition to the ordinary duties of a parish priest he combined those of Priest in charge of the General Hospital, and Prison Chaplain. All funerals were also conducted by him, and I do not think I am overstating it when I say that this beloved priest surpassed himself when it came to an expression of condolence with the bereaved.

Whilst the altar, in its beautiful setting, is symbolical. materially speaking, of all that any of us who knew Father Pat can attribute to his particular temperment and personality, it is, at the same time, spiritually symbolical. For even when those of us who have survived him will have departed this life ourselves, and can therefore no longer remember him even fleetingly in our prayers, he will be remembered by Him Who reposes on that altar, either as Prisoner in the tabernacle, or as Victim offered during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Yesterday and To-day

WITH the opening of the new church to-day a dream of twenty-one years becomes a reality, and there are many, especially among the older parishioners, whom the occasion will cause to look back over the years of waiting. There are, in fact, some who can remember when there was no church at all in Braamfontein, and by comparison this event has for them a special significance.

In those far-off days Mass had to be attended either at Kerk Street or Fordsburg, and the priests attached to the former church, Fathers De Lacy and Hamer, did their best to visit the scattered parishioners. Later, because so many Hollanders and Poles worked on the Railways at Braamfontein, the Trappist Fathers were invited ‘to start a parish, and in 1897 Father Hyacinth, O.C.K., came with a fellow priest. In 1899 the first church and presbytery were officially opened by Father De Lacy, at that time Administrator of the Transvaal Vicariate. Parishioners had given to a monthly collection just as at the present time, but collecting then, because of the lack of trams, entailed miles of hard and dusty walking. It is a curious fact that no foundation stone could be noticed in the church, even though a careful watch was kept when it was being pulled down.

Under the Trappist Fathers the new parish flourished, the first Choir was formed, largely of Hollanders, and because of the preponderance of this nationality sermons were delivered on alternate Sundays in English and Hollands.

With the outbreak of the Boer War the Fathers had to leave, and they were succeeded in due course by Father John Stuart, D.D., who is remembered as being an extremely energetic man. The first Choir having been dispersed owing to the War, Father Stuart formed a Male Voice Choir, and he also inaugurated the first St. Vincent de Paul Society Conference in Johannesburg. The Letter of Aggregation, dated 13th August, 1906, its paper yellowed with age, is an interesting memento of that event. Many people were of the opinion that the Corpus Christi Procession of 1937 was the first to be held through Johannesburg streets, but Father Stuart had already organised an impressive one through Milner Park and Braamfontein in 1903.

Social life in the parish in those days was also well organised. On the corner now occupied by the Convent at Station and Stiemens Streets was the tennis court used by the Catholic Young Men’s Club. Functions were also regularly held, and everyone gave in cash or kind, so that there was little or no expense, and the combined proceeds soon warranted the purchase of a small organ. The venue of the socials had been built by the men parishioners, who worked a few hours each evening on the hall which, so many years later, has served such a useful purpose as temporary church while the new one was being built. It now reverts back to Convent use. At the stage door stood two fine acacia trees, the boughs of which became so heavily snow-laden in 1909 that the trunks were split longitudinally.

When Father Stuart left he was succeeded by the the late Father J. F. O’Brien, O.M.I., but after a short while this priest, who was loved by all, was also transferred.

Then came the late Father Patrick J. Ryan in 1906, a young priest whose strenuous work included the conducting of funerals-the cemetery being in his parish-and visiting the Johannesburg Gaol and the General Hospital, all on a hard-worked bicycle. Father Ryan started the Children of Mary Sodality in 1914. In 1927 he had the church enlarged by moving back the Sanctuary. Ten years previously, in 1917, because the parish had grown until it included Melville, Parkview, Parktown, Rosebank and part of Wanderers View, and because the little church was often taxed beyond its capacity, Father Ryan had set aside donations amounting to £3 with the remark, “I am going to put this towards a fund for a new church.” This priest spent twenty-five years in Braamfontein, and he is surely present in spirit to see the coming-of-age, as it were, of his Building Fund to-day, twenty-one years after he started it in 1917.

On two occasions when Father Ryan was overseas, Father R. Boernke, O.M.I., and Father E. Varrie, respectively, ably filled his place. Before his death Father G. O’Callaghan was sent to assist him, and thereafter was appointed parish priest.

Intimately associated with the history of the parish have been the different Orders of Sisters who have taught there. First there came the Sisters of the Holy Family, whose school was at the corner of Station and Stiemens Streets, while they lived a few doors away. At the outbreak of the Boer War many of the parishioners had to flee, but although the Sisters gave medals for a safe journey, they themselves stayed to nurse. These Sisters were succeeded by members of the Ursuline Order, whom fever and disease had driven from the depopulated De Kaap Goldfields at Barberton. The priest’s house was loaned to them and they conducted a school until September, 1907, when the Sisters of Mercy took over from them. These Sisters also opened a school in Fordsburg (where, incidentally, Mr. George Beckett, the builder of our new church, began his education), but the place of residence was Braamfontein, and then, because the presbytery could not house them all, the Sisters were forced to sleep in the gloomy basement under the church, with its iron-barred windows and low-raftered ceiling, quite unsuited to the tall of stature-“the Catacombs,” they cheerfully called it. In 1912 the Convent was built. In that year the Chief Scout, Lord Baden Powell, called to renew acquaintance with Sisters who had nursed in the Mafeking Siege.

Viewing from the church site the orderly and well laid-out surroundings of to-day, with storied buildings in the immediate vicinity, and clustered “skyscrapers” to the south, it is interesting to visualise the different and very dusty surroundings amid which the old church rose. The site of the Witwatersrand University was a kopje so rough that to reach the top required a strenuous climb, and the place was so deserted that the Sisters spent pleasant holiday hours amid the then small trees. From the farmhouse situate on the site of the present Botany Block the veld stretched away to Auckland Park, and here the enthusiastic botanist, Dr. Kolbe, with the Sisters, collected many plant specimens in 1911. The site now occupied by the University Filling Station was an open space much used by travelling amusement companies, and there are vivid recollections of noisy nights full of the sound of barrel-organs and merry-go-round crowds. On one occasion, when the proprietor had departed for a period, he returned to find his machinery safely locked up, and he approached the amazed Convent Superioress with the request, “Holy Mother, give me back my boats.” The key was handed over, and the “boats” departed for an unknown destination. In these years the priest’s temporary residence was located variously in De Korte, Jorissen and Stiemens Streets.

During the Strike of 1922 the church was in the centre of the strife area. One large gun and also several riflemen were hidden in the University grounds, and as Father Ryan was finishing second Mass on a Sunday the firing began. At his request the congregation united in prayers for those in danger of death, and afterwards it was exceedingly difficult to reach home. Aeroplanes soared overhead vehicles passed bearing the wounded, and then a procession of prisoners bound for the Fort.

After Father O’Callaghan’s coming the Building Fund was maintained and increased, making it possible, with the co-operation of His Lordship Bishop O’Leary, and with much wise consideration of the site and plans, to start on the building of the new church. Parishioners felt, however, that the building of church and presbytery should also coincide in this instance, and, after they had organised a very successful bazaar, permission was given to proceed with the house. For several months only half of the old presbytery was standing, and finally, when the builders threatened to take the roof from over his head, Father O’Callaghan was compelled to go on holiday, and then to accept the hospitality of Father McCarthy at Mayfair• until the new presbytery was completed.

Bishop O’Leary honoured the parish by celebrating the last Holy Mass in the old church on April 18, 1937, and exactly three months later he laid the foundation stone of the new one, while to-day, September 11, 1938, he performs the opening ceremony.

So, having wandered from yesterday to to-day, thought goes on to to-morrow, with its hopes of great activity among the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Legion of Mary, the Children of Mary Sodality, the Catholic Men’s Society and the Choir, so that Catholic Action in the parish may be complete; with its hopes also of seeing, at a not too distant date, the debt raised from the church, and its solemn consecration; and with a prayer that Father O’Callaghan, to whom we owe so much in connection with to-day’s fulfilment of our ideal, may be spared to guide us for many years to come.


WHO BUILT THE CHURCH? The Bishop: “I think I will build a church at X.” The Parish Priest (to congregation): “I am going to build a church.” The Architect (in his club): “What am I doing? Well, I’m building a church down in X.” The Builder (to fellow builder): “I’vs got the new church at X to build.” Builder’s Foreman: “Want to see a bit of my work? Go and look at that new church at X.’ Bricklayer: “If you want to see a nice little bit of brickwork, go and see that new church at X. All my work.” T.U. Official: “Yes, we have several jobs in the district. We’re building a church at X.” Congregation (to visiting relatives): “We’ve just built a fine new church.” There’s nothing like personal interest for getting things done.

The Church, Mother of True Culture


CULTURE, like charity, covers a multitude of sins-and a multitude of shams; for both are sometimes abused beyond endurance. Perhaps charity is chiefly abused by those who claim that they need it, and culture chiefly by those who claim that they dispense it. But the reason for the abuse in both instances is, of course, the same: there is a false charity and a false culture.

If we are to write on culture, therefore, we need a definition. Yet the dictionary, so far from helping, might easily confuse us. It calls culture merely “the refinement of the mind, morals or taste”; not discriminating between that refinement of mind, morals and taste which may be the most horrible curse that could arise from the pit, and that which may be the most wondrous blessing that could descend from the skies. For we can judge any refinement only by its results. If we remember the original, or metallurgical sense of the word, there can be a false refinement, in which the precious ore is drained off and thrown away, and the base residue is allowed to remain and harden, later to be presented as the concentration of treasure. Or there can be a correct refinement, in which the dross is drained off and discarded and the precious metal retained.

To test refinement of mind, morals and taste by its effects on thought and conduct, therefore, is our only course. And we find that false refinement removes from the mind and soul of the boy or girl all that is really worthwhile, and leaves• only waste and clinkers. This is sometimes called modern education. The natural yearning for a true knowledge of God; the native respect for genuine religious truths; the instinctive urge to give heart and soul to the service of an ideal-all those rich ores that reside in the human amalgam, a false education can smelt out and throw on the slag heap. Such is the smelter of the bottomless pit. Such is Godless education. It retains the rock and discards the radium. It holds the husks and throws away the kernel. It trains scoffers and warps scholars. Its results are pessimism, suicide and decay of the mind. It calls itself refinement, and so it is; it is a process of disembodying, of isolating, of finding an ultimate desired core. Only what it has found is the death-head, not the seraph-head, the symbol of death not the symbol of endless life; what it has found is that grinning skull from which all flesh and beauty have been torn, not that glorious, radiant, bodiless thing which is Wisdom on the wings of Love lifting itself toward realms of light.

Previously I have tried to show that the Church produces saints according to a plan, that is, that saints are the natural and logical result of the Church’s teachings and supernatural aid. In the same manner in this article I wish to stress the fact that the Church, and the Church alone, can produce and maintain an enduring culture-and that as a logical sequence to her nature and mission.

It would be relatively easy to show that the various cultures which preceded Christianity failed and decayed because of the germ of mortality that was in their very birth. They were essentially of man-with all his aspirations for immortality, it is true, but also with all his mortal shortcomings. A bookish essay might point out the course of the river of thought and language that rose in the Asiatic Plateau and, divided at its source, flowed east and west; or discuss the religions that sprang up in the valleys of the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Indus, the Ganges, the Hoang-Ho and the Yang-tse-Kiang. We have not the space here to generalise on the cultures of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. But we note that throughout all the vast accumulation of thought and of hallucination which flowed amorphic in the minds of men, the symbol which I have mentioned, the death-head, was ever appearing. Asiatic philosophy looks unblinking into the empty skull. Egypt’s mightiest works are tombs. Greece’s greatest thinker cannot discern the immortal part of man; and Greece’s greatest sculpture is eyeless, for the soul is missing. Death, mysterious, fathomless death, seems to have a morbid fascination even for such men as Homer and Virgil. And there can be no enduring culture which has not glimpsed eternal life through the portals of death. A culture which cannot lift itself cannot lift its worshipers. A culture which cannot burst the tomb cannot see the Resurrection.

And the Resurrection of Christ is the centre of all true culture; for it is the foundation-stone of all thought and hope. He Himself made it so. He made His Resurrection the test of His Divinity, and the divine character of His teaching. Saint Paul with awful truth says: “If Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain.” In the light of Christ’s Resurrection man read backward and learned the marvellous beauty of His life and the divine stamp of His teachings.

We know by faith that Christ is the Son of God, as truly the Son of God at the moment of His birth as at the moment of His Resurrection. But the pearl of faith that our infant hand found so easily in the waters of Baptism, earlier generations found only at the bottom of a dark sea of tears. We who are born into a Church of dogma and definition, of nineteen hundred years of development and crystallisation, can easily make the mistake of taking for granted that the men and women of the next generation after Christ’s had the advantages that we possess. Of course the development of the Church was on preordained lines, toward the goal which was the full realisation of the ideal existing in the mind of its divine Founder. But it was the successive generations of men and women working toward the full development of the• body of doctrine which Christ taught His apostles that reared the colossal and beautiful structure we call Christian culture. And it was because Christ remained with His Church that that Church and His culture have endured.

And what is this Christian culture? It is true, genuine refinement of mind, morals and taste. It forms a man or woman from within, from conviction-and therein lies its strength and immortality. Non-Christian culture works from without, has appearances for its motive-and therein lies its weakness and its transitory nature.

Culture cannot be divorced from belief, from faith. It was the light which broke from the Wounds of the risen Christ that penetrated the ultimate darkness and doubt of the apostles’ minds, and made even Saint Thomas say, “My Lord and my God.” It was the light that came from the Tongues of Flame that showed to Saint Luke the lowliness of Christ’s Humanity in the arms of Mary, and to Saint John the height of His Divinity in the bosom of His Heavenly Father. If refinement of mind, morals and taste means anything, it means the practical application of the eight Beatitudes; that is, to suffer reverses of spirit and body without peevish murmurings, to be kind and merciful and just and pure and noble and unselfish.

Culture, we have said, is judged from its results. And what have been the results of the culture that is the handmaid of the teaching of Christ? The greatest gift within the power of life to bestow is the communication of that life to another; and the greatest gift that a fine mind can give is to help others to rise to its own magnificent level. Now within the Church we have had precisely those two communications-namely, of faith, which is life of the spirit, and of truth, which is life of the mind.

That faith and that truth are the roots from which all real culture springs, and they have been planted in every land on earth by those who believed in Christ’s Divinity-and planted simply because of that belief. And minds once starved and primitive, from those to whom Thomas preached in Parthia to those whose wounds Damien dressed on Molokai, have yielded from those roots forbearance and abstinence and mercy and kindness and charity. The fair tree of Christian culture which is fed thus by the faith of Christ flowered alike in the chivalry of a Catholic Ireland, that sent missionaries to every land under the sun, and in the great centres of learning in England and France and Italy and Germany and Austria.

If culture is refinement of the mind, instead of the modern notion of standardisation of the mind, to find its best expression we must go to God’s saints-and not only to His great philosophical or oratorical saints. Is there a more beautiful, heroic figure in all the world than Saint Agnes standing in the midst of the flames? Is there a sweeter character in the calendar of humanity than Saint Francis of Assisi teaching manners to the wolf? Can the world show greater humility than Saint Thomas of Aquinas, that colossal intellect of mankind, displays when he carries a bag of bread behind the Dominican lay brother who has just begged it from door to door for the community dinner?

But let us suppose for a moment that the Church did wish to boast of her members who refined and distilled the world’s thought; could she place any on display? From amongst a thronging multitude she could select Raphael, who was the world’s greatest painter, Bramante, ‘the world’s greatest architect Copernicus, the world’s greatest astronomer. She could point to Mendel who established the laws of heredity; to Schwann, discoverer of the cell theory; to Vesalius, father of anatomy; to Lavoisier, father of modern chemistry; to Volta and Pasteur and Jenner and Stensen and Galvani and Morgagni and Rontgen; to Dante, who wrote the world’s greatest poem; to Pope Gregory XIII, who set the clock of the earth striking in unison with the clock of the universe.

These are but a handful of the thousands whose names are in the litany of the world’s immortals, did the Church but care to prove that she has fostered the arts and sciences. Yet though she proclaimed these names to the end of time, she would still leave us unconvinced that culture is her natural fruit, as grapes are the fruit of the vine, could she not point to something more wonderful still in her nature and mission and attainments to the great silent multitude of Christian fathers, and mothers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, who through the years have shown the lofty culture of true spiritual refinement: in a word, to her nameless saints. It is to the masses we must go for the final test of any system that claims to have a universal doctrine of uplift. Genuine refinement of soul is seen in our conduct toward others – toward the stranger, the outcast, the downtrodden. Many a man might have the trained intelligence to build a beautiful cathedral, yet not the native delicacy of mind to be considerate of his fellow-men.

There is a refinement of culture in what we call hospitality that brings out exactly what we mean. Saint Francis had it in its highest form, because he stands at the very centre of all true modern refinement and aspiration. There is something peculiarly Christlike in making strangers your royal guests. And those people on earth who are still Christian, in the sense that they are like Christ in the very fibres of their being, have this sensitive courtesy and chivalry to a marked degree. Culture is the veritable perfume of their religion, and it comes to them directly, and by the legitimacy of logic, from their religion. Every stranger to them is Joseph or Mary or Jesus coming to ask shelter; and as such are all strangers received. This tradition of their belief, this refinement of their mind and taste comes directly from the cave of Bethlehem’ around which the seraphs wing. It is read clearly in the swath of light which the Resurrection cuts across Calvary, touching the empty skull with the promise of future life.