Just last month, on February 20th, Pope Francis declared that the nineteenth-century Passionist priest, Fr. Ignatius Spencer, would be known as Venerable Ignatius Spencer.
In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Fr. Gerard Skinner, author of the biography “Father Ignatius Spencer,” states: “Upon closer study, I began to see the contrasting characters of these two eminent Victorians [i.e. Spencer and Newman]. Spencer himself noted this when he wrote to Newman after the publication of ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua,’ Newman’s autobiography and defense of the Catholic priesthood. Spencer wrote, self-deprecatorily, of the ‘striking differences’ between Newman and himself: ‘you withdrawing yourself so constantly from public view, till drawn into it against your will, but to the joy of others, and I pushing myself so constantly into it, except when held back by salutary authority, to the joy of no one.’” Fr. Gerard Skinner continues: “The contemplative and the man of relentless activity both, it turned out, had something of the other in themselves. I feel that both St. John Henry Newman and the Venerable Ignatius Spencer offer priests of today fine role models, [complementary] models indeed, for ministry, and in these two holy men all Christians have vibrant witnesses to the beauty and joy of life in the truth and love of Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Ignatius Spencer often encouraged Anglicans, such as Newman (in 1840), to join in the prayer campaign, seeking unity in the truth of Christ.
There are thirteen letters from Fr. Ignatius Spencer to St. John Henry Newman and two letters from Newman to Spencer present in the NINS Digital Collections. The letters range from February 1840 to August 1864 and encompass an array of topics. They span a critical juncture of Newman’s life, from before his conversion to the attempt nearly twenty years later to account for his journey and heal divides. Chronologically, the letters housed in the NINS Digital Collections between Spencer and Newman are:
* February 9, 1840: Newman wrote to Spencer about various theological discussions.
* August 17, 1841: Spencer wrote to Newman concerning Tract 90.
* February 8, 1843: Spencer wrote to Newman concerning a letter from the Abbe Haffringue.
* May 26, 1845: Spencer wrote to Newman about Newman’s Lives of the Saints.
* May 31, 1845: Newman wrote to Spencer about Miss Holmes’s religion.
* September 9, 1845: Spencer wrote to Newman about his recent visit to Oxford.
* October 15, 1845: Spencer wrote to Newman that Wiseman had taken a house at the Convent of Mercy in Handsworth.
* October 17, 1845: Spencer wrote to Newman about a letter he had received from Miss Holmes, who was under Newman’s spiritual direction.
* October 25, 1845: Spencer wrote to Newman concerning a letter Spencer had received from Husenbeth.
* December 18, 1848: Spencer wrote to Newman concerning various letters he had received.
* July 3, 1852: Spencer wrote a long letter to Newman about his enquires in Ireland, among other things.
* May 29, 1853: Spencer wrote to Newman about a new temporary Passionist House.
*August 9, 1860: Spencer wrote to Newman about a letter he received from a priest who was considering joining the Oratory under Newman.
* July 7, 1864: Spencer wrote to Newman concerning Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua.
* August 16, 1864: Spencer wrote to Newman about his plans to visit Egbaston.
Elizabeth Huddleston is Head of Research and Publications at the National Institute for Newman Studies and is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Catholic Studies at Duquesne University.