Thursday, 27 April 2006

A Ghost Story from the Westminster Archives

This post would really be more appropriate for a winter's evening, but I couldn't resist!

One of my jobs is Archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster - a wonderful privilege since it is one of the most important English Catholic archives (lots of stuff from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). It's amazing what you find - such as the following letter from 1898 describing the encounter of a Southwark priest, Fr Thomas Smith, in the presbytery of West Croydon with the ghosts of two priest friends: Fr Moore and Fr Murray:

St Ignatius College, St Julian’s Bay, Malta

23rd November 1898

Dear Fr Provincial,

I will tell you the story again just as I told you then, for it impressed me so much at the time when I first heard it that the particulars are still fresh in my mind. The story was told me by a certain priest named Fr Thomas Smith of the Westminster [sic] diocese whom I met some 15 months ago at West Croydon whilst I was giving a retreat to the Sisters of Mercy there. He told me that in May of the year ’94 an old friend of his died named Fr Moore, and that in September of the same year Fr Murray, another old friend of his died. On the 15th of November of the same year he (Fr Smith) went to bed at about half past twelve. He was sitting up in his bed reading with his candle burning at his side when the door opened without any knock and in walked Fr Moore and Fr Murray.

Here I began to laugh and suggested that he must have gone off to sleep and dreamed it. But he affirmed that he was ready to swear on the Bible that he was wide awake and also that the story as he narrated it was absolutely true.. he proceeded to give me a description of his room at the time; - that his bed was placed in the middle of one of the walls of the room with the foot out towards the middle of the room, that the door was on his right hand and his fireplace on his left; that when the door opened Fr Moore came in first and that the two walked one behind the other round the foot of his bed and took up their position side by side in front of the fireplace as if warming themselves. Here I asked Fr Smith if the fire was lit at the time. He said that it was not, that it had been lit during the day being cold November weather, but that he had let it out before going to bed. I asked him whether he did not feel very frightened at this strange apparition. He answered that he felt nervous now sometimes when he recalled the scene, but that at the time he felt perfectly at ease for his two dead friends in all their looks and actions seemed as natural and easy as when he knew them in life.

Then, he said, we entered into conversation. Fr Murray was quite silent and Fr Moore did all the talking for both. Fr Moore began in this way: “You’re a nice sort of fellow to call yourself a special pal of ours and yet you have only said one Mass for the repose of our souls. You were obliged to say that, being a member of the Deceased Clergy Association.” To which Fr Smith answered, ‘Well, I know that a great many Masses were being said for you as the Society is a large one and so I thought my one Mass would be sufficient.”

Fr Smith then questioned his visitors and said to them, “Are you happy?” Fr Moore answered – “Yes, we’re perfectly happy, but we’ll be much happier when you’ve said another Mass for us.” After this his visitors departed. They did not, he said, go out by the door but they simply suddenly ceased to be standing at his fireplace and he became aware that he was alone again in his room with his candle still burning at his side.

The next November 16th was the Feast of St Edmund and he (Fr Smith) was one of the guests invited to St Edmund’s College for the Feast. In the evening when returning home he found himself rather late for his train and had to run to catch it. He arrived at the Station just as the train was steaming out and jumped into the last carriage. He found himself opposite to Fr Whittlehurst…After a little conversation with his companion, Fr Smith, whose mind was still running on his apparition of the previous night, said to him – “Why you remember this day last year, the Feast of St Edmund, we had Moore and Murray with us.” “Good heavens!” said Fr Whittlehurst, “what makes you mention their names? They came to me last night and scolded me for saying only one Mass for the repose of their souls.”

A day or two after Fr Smith had narrated this story to me, I asked old Fr McKenna of West Croydon at whose presbytery we were both living at the time, whether he believed the story. He told me that he felt compelled to believe it, for he had taken the trouble to see Fr Whittlehurst concerning his own apparition and found that his story quite tallied with that of Fr Smith.

Yours in Xt,

A.L.Giubara, S.J.

Of course, the Church has no official teaching on ghosts, but they do form part of Catholic tradition - it's amazing how many lives of the saints include ghost stories (e.g. St Gregory the Great's Dialogues)! Catholic ghosts are not the stuff of Hollywood movies, but concern our belief in Purgatory and the importance of praying for the dead - and especially offering Mass for them. If ghosts are real then they are not meant to scare us but rather remind us of the Communion that exists between all those who are 'with Christ,' both living and dead - and this is the message we can draw out from the story of Fr Smith.


Blogger Lawrence Lew OP said...

Not to mention that the apostles upon seeing the Lord walk across the water and indeed after His Resurrection, think him to be a ghost...

12:20 am  
Blogger Mary Anne said...

Interesting! I had a very strange dream, years ago, about someone who had died. I wrote about it in one of my blogs. (It might be in the recent archives of my blog now.)

4:25 pm  

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