Virginia Barton

Bloody Mary’s Benedictines

Catholic Herald, 16 February 1990               


Review: The Return of the Benedictines to London by Rene Kollar (Burns and Oates, £15)


This remarkably detailed book presents the history of Ealing Abbey from 1896 to just after the Second World War, when it became an independent priory. The author, Father Kollar, is a Benedictine himself, from St Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania. He has already published a book on Westminster Cathedral.

Maria_Tudor1This new work traces the vicissitudes of creating a new community both at the political and  practical level: “If a common thread runs through the story of these monks, it is the Benedictine’s struggle to reconcile the precepts of traditional English monasticism to the demands and challenges of an unfamiliar, urban setting.”

This meant an involvement with the local community and parish, centred on the school the Benedictines opened in 1902. There are lessons here for us today: the purpose and future of Catholic education, the question of religious authority, the shortages of manpower and funds.

“Bloody” Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter, had brought monks back to London but Elizabeth soon dismissed them and it was not until the end of the 19th century that the Benedictines of Downside accepted Cardinal Vaughan’s invitation to settle in Ealing.

They were supposed to provide monastic voices to sing at the new cathedral in Westminster but suspicion and jealous rivalries resulted in these duties being given instead to the secular clergy. Fortunately the foundation at Ealing survived despite numerous obstacles.

A formidable amount of scholarly research has gone into this book which every friend and pupil of the Benedictines will read with interest and satisfaction.




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