Thursday, September 25, 2014


I was just recalling, on this 10th anniversary of his death, my first meeting with Michael Davies, champion of the Ancient Rite of the Catholic mass and indeed champion of everything Catholic.  It was n 1976.  I was visiting some friends in London and had heard about a Saturday "old Mass" being said at Westminster Cathedral which, when hearing that news, I knew I had to attend.

The Mass was not mobbed that day but was well attended.  After the Mass I was milling around outside in front of the Cathedral getting ready to take a few snaps when I was approached by a youngish gentleman in a black suit.  He had I well remember a very friendly grin on his face and insisted on introducing himself and in learning what a young American was doing there at the Latin Mass in the first place.  I had already vaguely heard about Michael at the time but was not I confess overly familiar with his work.  He soon put me right.  I began to ask him all sorts of Catholic questions but his interest at that moment was in finding the nearest pub. We did fine one to his liking after strolling around a bit and once inside had a lunch and a pint or two (the brand of which I left to his judgment).  I seem to remember him spending the better part of the afternoon talking with me in that warm and enthused manner of his.  There was nothing very important for me to do that day so I sat there and listened to his brilliant observations about a myriad of subjects and was entranced by his love of being a Catholic. Our shared love of Belloc and Chesterton was much in evidence.  It was a great day. We parted after exchanging addresses.

I visited London at least a dozen or more times after that and it was almost a certainty that I would always run into him, usually at the Brompton Oratory which had and still has a regular Ancient Rite Mass.  He was always ready with a quip, and I wish I could remember the extremely sardonic one he offered when I was there in 2000 during the presidential election.  For the life of me I cannot recall it but I do recall it had me laughing for weeks.  A few years earlier I had stopped in London on my way to Germany where I was to begin making a documentary film and found out about an obscure little church I think in the south of London which had the old Mass.  Would I again find Michael there when I attended.  Yes, I did.  And he was as jovial and sarcastically funny as ever.

We corresponded from time to time and shared a few telephone calls and it always amazed me how willing he was to talk with anyone who showed an interest in the things of the Faith that interested him.  As his fame grew I bothered him less and less, thinking he was probably overwhelmed by correspondence.  I regret that now but perhaps it was for the best; surely even he was deserving of some quiet time.

I did once have a disagreement with him on a certain point and wrote him a letter about it but it was something that I really should not have undertaken.  He was far more well-versed in such Church matters than I was.  He was slightly miffed, I think, but never seemed to show it when we would invariably bump into each other in England.

Or in Chicago, as it would happen.  Michael had been invited to a Catholic conference in that city to give a talk and to receive an award of appreciation for his work in defense of the Faith.  Michael's very charming wife was also with him there. I attended the conference not only to hear his talk but also to be present at another award of appreciation which was to be given to the late Brother Francis, MICM, one of the founders of the famous Saint Benedict Center and a collaborator with the very well-known priest Father Leonard Feeney.  I was interested in seeing both these indefatigable Catholic gentlemen together on the same podium because it was known that Michael was not altogether comfortable, like many, with the dogma Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, which was the dogma that Saint Benedict Center had been defending since the 1940s, the defense of which put them square into the sights of the liberal/Americanist wing of Catholicism, at that time headed by the strange Richard Cardinal Cushing.  Since Brother Francis was the philosopher at the Center and an outstanding theologian in his own right I was frankly excited to see these two gentlemen meet and, hopefully, discuss this vital topic.  After all the Center had suffered all the torments that would later be applied to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre even before that venerable Archbishop had even been heard of, and since Michael was a valiant defender of Lefebvre it seemed fortuitous that these two fine minds and solid Catholics were to be on the same platform in Chicago.

I well remember the stunning introduction to the presentation of Brother Francis' award given by Father Charles Poirer in which he detailed some of the little-known facts about the unspeakable persecutions the Center, and Brother Francis and Father Feeney in particular, were subjected to. The audience sat spellbound at these revelations, even while Brother Francis sat quietly and serenely, making no effort to call attention to his presence.  As we listened to this amazing story I would occasionally glance at Michael, for I felt certain he had never heard these stories, much like the rest of us, and that it would help him to have a clearer understanding of the doctrinal issues for which the men at the Center suffered so terribly.  I could see that Michael was at first uncomfortable, then deeply moved, by the introduction.

It was with great joy that I later saw these two men sitting together, at long last, quietly discussing what must have been issues that went very deep.  I was not privy to the conversation, obviously, but I cannot but believe that good came from it.

I believe my last meeting with Michael Davies occurred in 2002 on another trip to London, and another visit to the Brompton Oratory.  I saw no indication of the illness which would eventually claim his life and take away from us one of the most erudite spokesmen for Catholicism that it has ever been my privilege to meet.

He had no use for banality which is why he would travel miles to attend the only Mass he knew that would allow him quiet contemplation before God.  And even now the body of work he has left us, in books, articles and pamphlets, not to mention recorded talks, is still able to guide us on a surer course, especially when it comes to that Thing he fought for so bravely, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its purest and most ancient form.

We need to thank him for that.

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