Sunday, July 2, 2023

A “Catholic Uncle” in the British Royal Family?

Not many people know that the world-famous man who will one day become King of England has an ancestor who is “on the path” to sainthood in the Catholic Church, who was declared “Venerable” in 2021.

The early 19th century conversion story of George Spencer (later known as Father Ignatius Spencer)—the youngest son of the 2nd Earl Spencer of the Althorp estate—is noteworthy for all people of England and the United Kingdom. Father Ignatius is the great-great-great-great uncle of William, current Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, a relation that passes through William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer. Althorp in Northamptonshire is one of the most historically and culturally significant “Great Houses” of England, and the Spencers remain among England’s highest aristocratic families. In the first decade of the 19th century, George Spencer grew up in the same house that would be—in the latter part of the 20th century—the home of then-“Lady Diana Spencer” and the scene of her difficult childhood in a broken family. After her tragic death, she was buried on the estate in 1997.

Stay tuned to my monthly article series in Magnificat magazine for the remarkable details of this journey to the fullness of Catholic faith by Prince William’s ancestral uncle (coming to Great Conversion Stories in February 2024).

In thus introducing George (Ignatius) Spencer, I am not seeking to draw him into the whirlwind of cheap journalism that surrounds the British royal family, nor do I desire merely to scrutinize the pedigree of today’s largely symbolic British aristocracy. The Venerable Ignatius Spencer was profoundly dedicated to promoting prayer for Christian unity in his native land, and surely he continues to intercede for this great grace even to this day from his place within the Communion of Saints that unites us through all the generations of history. This is the fundamental basis of his significance, and of the value of his “story.”

Nevertheless, I am not one to neglect an apparent “coincidence” when it appears in the history of our faith. As someone who hopes and prays ardently that Anglicans and their rich Christian heritage will be drawn into full communion with the Catholic Church, I value any connection I can find that links the pioneers of the ongoing “Catholic movement” that began in the early 19th century with current British persons who hold exemplary ceremonial public offices. It was, after all, a King who separated England from Rome 500 years ago. It might seem like a miracle would be needed for the full conversion, renewal, and ecclesial reunion of the remnants of Anglican Christianity in today’s England. 

But I believe in miracles. And it doesn’t hurt to pray for them.