Very Rev. Vincent McNabb, O.P.
'Nobody who ever met or saw
or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him," wrote his
friend G. K. Chesterton. For fifty
years there was no Catholic movement in England to which he had
not allied himself. When he celebrated the golden jubilee of
his priesthood, in 1941, he declared that in this life there
is only time for fighting but there is an eternity for enjoying
one's friends. He wanted to celebrate his golden jubilee by walking
to Rome, but his provincial forbade it. He made the journey by
boat and train.
Father McNabb was born in 1868
in Portaferry, County Down, Ireland, within a few miles of the
rock that covers the bones of St. Patrick. "My father,"
wrote Father McNabb, "was a master 'Mariner' (to give him
his noble title) and my mother, a dressmaker." Vincent,
who was proud he was the seventh son and the tenth of eleven
children, spent his schooldays at the diocesan seminary of St.
Malachy's College, Belfast. When asked by the editor of The Catholic
Times to lend assistance to Ireland during one of the last crises,
Father McNabb wrote in his scalpel-like way that both peoples
alike, the people of England and the people of Ireland have been
martyred by the same imperious few. He said that he loved Ireland
like a mother and England like a wife.
Except for a period of study
at the University of Louvain, Father McNabb's Dominican life
had been identified with the English province for which he was
ordained in 1891. On November 10, 1885, he had joined the novitiate
of the English Dominicans at Woodchester in Gloucestershire.
He walked about London in habit and army boots. A born controversialist,
he often spoke in Hyde Park for the Catholic Evidence Guild.
He had a fine sense of humor and a soaring eloquence. A zealous
priest, he did a lot of work among the poor. In St. Pancras,
London slum, he actually lived the extreme poverty enjoined by
the gospel. An admirer wrote, while Father Vincent was still
alive: "It is wonderful to see that happy lace with its
look of smiling quizzical inquiry come from among a swirl of
anxious self-absorbed London faces, the habit billowing from
the lean, alert old figure like the drapes of winged victory.'
He practiced a rigid asceticism. While he had a chair and a bed
in his room he never used them. He either stood or knelt. There
were just about four books in his room, a Bible, a Breviary,
the Dominican constitutions, and the Summa of St. Thomas.
It was during his term as prior
of Holy Cross in Leicester that he visited the United States,
preaching and lecturing in New York in the spring of 1913. His
proficiency in the divine sciences was rewarded by the Master
of Sacred Theology degree in 1917. For his indefatigable work
in the interests of Belgium, he was made in 1919 a Chevalier
of the Order of the Crown of that country. During World War I,
while prior at Hawkesyard in Staffordshire, he brought spiritual
consolation in extremis to those two exquisite women poets, Katherine
Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper, whose nom de
plume was Michael Field.
Between 1929 and 1934 Father McNabb lectured on the Summa of
St. Thomas at the University of London Extension.
He is the author of about thirty
books. Among them are: Infallibility; The New Testament Witness
to St. Peter; Oxford Conferences on Prayer; Oxford Conferences
on Faith; Our Reasonable Service; Frontiers of Faith and Reason
(thirty scholarly papers on Scripture); The Catholic Church and
Philosophy; Thoughts Twice Dyed. Father McNabb's The Church and
Reunion, shows a long interest in the subject. On this topic
he wrote numerous articles between 1902 and 1936. An authority
on economics, he had long been an advocate of the "Back-to-the-Land"
movement and treats of it in his book, The Church and the Land.
The city, he said, is the graveyard of religion and the machine
age is the doom of mankind. His book Old Principles and the New
Order has for its main theme the principle that true economics
must rest on true faiths and morals. During the first World War,
he learned practical farming in his leisure, as a recreation.
He had been, also, a shining light in the Distributist Movement.
Father McNabb was, however,
not only a polemic writer, but an informal essayist of undeniable
charm, as shown particularly in: Francis Thompson and Other Essays;
The Wayside, and the lovely Path of Prayer. Many people not of
the Catholic faith read Blackfriars, the Dominican literary monthly
published in Oxford, for which he was a regular contributor.
His words are racy of the soil. Writing with his capuche on,
he used the back of old letters and envelopes for his manuscript.
His motto was, "produce as much as you can, consume as little
as you need." He urged the scrapping of all machinery and
wanted people living as members of family-owned subsistence farms.
The reader is never permitted to forget that here is a son of
St. Dominic, a follower of St. Thomas. His vocabulary smacked
of pre-Norman times, even in such a title as The Craft of Prayer.
More recent books have been in the field of hagiography-on St.
John Fisher or on St. Elizabeth of Portugal, the patroness of
peace, who rode upon her little mule between embattled armies.
In A Life of Jesus Christ Our Lord, hitherto shadowed places
in the divine chronicle are illumined by a penetrating flash.
In 1942 Sir. James Gunn, a
non-Catholic, painted a portrait of Father Vincent McNabb. He
proclaimed Father Vincent a wonderful sitter-''-''Actually, however,
he refused to sit down at all, but remained standing for periods
of an hour and a half after having walked all the way from Highgate
to the studio in Pembroke Walk-to the great concern of the artist."
Despite an ailment, a disease
of the throat, Father McNabb continued to live his active life
until his death June 17, 1943. When he was told his end was in
sight, he remarked: "I don't see why I should make a tragedy
of this it'a what I have been preparing for all my life.
I am in the hands of my doctors or better, in the hands
of my God."
In the true spirit of poverty,
Father Vincent McNabb handed over to his superior before his
death what he most prized, the decoraton given him in 1919 by
Albert, the king of the Belgians, for his efforts during the
last war for Belgian Relief, and his ring of a Master of Sacred
published by St. Mary's Abbey in Catholic Authors 1947.
Written by Matthew Hohen.
For more info
on Fr. McNabb, visit: http://www.vincentmcnabb.org