Thursday, March 31, 2016

Father Dolling - the Gospel and the Faith

Those of you who like Anglo-Catholic history will appreciate this post about one of our great heroes with a heart for God and his people. The post is rather long . . . but the story of Father Dolling needs to be told again and again, not least to Anglo-Catholics of our time. I must say, however, that there is nothing original in what follows. Mostly it is my conflation (without altering the literary style they have in common) of the following three essays: Robert Radcliffe Dolling in Saints and Heroes by H.F.B. Mackay (1928); The Reverend Robert Radclyffe Dolling - Defender and Champion of the Faith in Lead Kindly Light by Desmond Morse-Boycott (1933);  Robert William Radclyffe Dolling, a booklet published by The Catholic Literature Association (1933). In addition I have quoted from Dolling’s own Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum (1897) and Charles E. Osborne’s The Life of Father Dolling (1903). 

There were few better known priests at the end of the nineteenth century than Robert William Radclyffe Dolling. Born of wealthy evangelical parents at Magheralin in County Down, Ireland, in 1851, Dolling learned the essential principles of the Christian faith. 

It is said that she saturated her children’s minds and hearts with the Gospel of Jesus. His father also was a sincere and warm-hearted man whose kindness toward others he inherited.

The story is told that on his fourth birthday (in 1856) little Bob Dolling was ill and lay dying. He asked to see his birthday cake. They brought it to him, and his eyes dwelt on it with satisfaction. “Give everybody in the house a bit,” said the weak voice, “and don’t forget the people in the kitchen.” Having said this, the little boy took a turn for the better, and lived another forty-seven years, during which he was often said to be the “champion of all the people in the world who live below stairs.”

Six months after this incident he was sitting next to his mother, eating his dinner. A guest began to talk about theology with Bob’s father and mother and said that he had always found the doctrine of the Trinity a difficulty.

“On my plate,” said the four and a half year-old Bob suddenly, “there are three things, gravy, meat and ‘tatoes, but” (with a grin) “they are all one dinner. That’s like the Trinity.”

It is clear that Dolling grew up knowing the Lord. To the end of his days, he was never a subtle theologian. Rather, he was a practical man who seems always to have had a direct personal knowledge of God, and, like many mystics, he no more needed a theology to support his belief in God than we need a degree in astronomy to support our belief in the sun, moon and stars!

When Dolling was seven, he and his younger sister, Josephine, had the terrifying experience of being perched on a buggy being driven at nightfall through a dark and lonely wood. Josephine was panicking, and young Bob felt it was time to do something. “It’s all right, Joey,” he said to his sister, “I am going to pray, then nothing can hurt us. ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee, O Lord, and by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of Thine only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.’”


Dolling did not do well at school, either at Stevenage or at Harrow; but it is notable that at the former he left a reputation behind him for truthfulness and a hatred of cruelty, and that at the latter he was remembered for his conspicuously high standard of purity. 

He lasted only a year at Trinity College, Cambridge because his health - and especially his eyes - failed him. From a scholastic point of view he sustained an irreparable loss, but at this time he made some lasting friendships which nurtured his spiritual development, and as a result he came to know and love the Catholic Faith. Without ever losing his sense of God’s immediate presence in his life, he added to his evangelical experience a firm belief in the need for, and power of, sacramental grace.

On leaving Cambridge, Dolling took a brief health-trip abroad and then returned to Ireland, settling down to work with his father in his land-agency at Kilrea. It was here that he first showed himself to be a missionary, providing the young men on the estate with evening classes in secular as well as religious subjects. Games were organized, a library established, and big ‘diggings’ carried out in the Manor House Garden and elsewhere. 

In 1877 the family moved to Dublin, and Dolling found himself, between the ages of twenty-six and thirty, spending his time between the Irish capital and London. St. Alban’s, Holborn, that great centre of the Catholic Revival, became his spiritual home.

It was not only the worship, gospel proclamation and sacramental teaching that commanded his allegiance. A love of ordinary people, and a desire to see them won for Christ, drew Dolling into the boldly democratic social work which St. Alban’s, in common with so many other Anglo-Catholic churches, was doing. Father Stanton had founded a club there for postmen, known as St. Martin’s League with several centres throughout London, and Dolling was made Warden of the south-eastern district,. ‘Master Bob’ of Kilrea had become ‘Brother Bob’ of St. Martin’s League, and the pictures drawn of this stage in his work show a man radiating good-fellowship, understanding, and sympathy, while never losing hold on the realities of life, and never losing his ability to have fun.

So we see him at the age of thirty, rollicking, warm-hearted, full of good spirits, busy in Ireland with his land-agency, but giving every moment he could spare both in Dublin and London to what was the main passion of his life - bringing souls to Christ in and through his Church.


His father’s death in 1880 left him more free from the point of view of his real vocation, but more restricted financially. Irish land troubles further diminished his income, and in 1881 his brother took over the agency duties in succession to his father. 

Bob Dolling was now free to do what he had long been feeling he ought to do, and what Father Stanton of St. Alban’s had always advised - namely, to offer himself for ordination to the priesthood. Some course of study was essential and inevitable; but never, probably, has a seminary entertained a student who was less in his element within its walls than was Dolling at Salisbury Theological College. 

As we have seen, he had always loved God, and he had always sought to bring others to know and love God.  But by the age of thirty he was more anxious to get out among the people with the Gospel and the Faith than to study the nuances of theology. To that was added the natural difficulty experienced by a man of mature years in settling down afresh to a schooling process long outdistanced. He was a real problem to the college authorities, and had little in common with his fellow students. For Dolling - ever impulsive and consumed by a burning zeal for souls – college routine was irksome. (It is interesting that as he grew older he regretted his lost opportunities at college and tried to make up for them by reading theology for an hour every day!) 

He spent most of his time at Salisbury in club work among the rough teenage boys who lived in St. Martin’s parish. But the very real ministry he had already exercised, and the sympathetic understanding of the bishop of the diocese and the Principal of the College, carried the day in his favour against “official” objections. There could be no doubt about his vocation, and he was ordained deacon at Trinitytide, 1883, and licensed to the curacy of Corscombe, West Dorset.


By a most fortunate chain of circumstances, this curacy opened up to Dolling just such an opportunity as he craved, just such a sphere as suited his particular powers. With the agreement of his vicar, Archdeacon Sowter, and Bishop Walsham How, and as a means of linking town and country together, he was put in charge of a difficult mission district in the parish of Holy Trinity, Mile End Road, in the Stepney area of the East End of London. Corscombe provided his stipend, but his real work was done at Maidman Street Mission, Burdett Road; he went to Corscombe, indeed, less and less as time went on, as the work, which was just a development of his previous efforts, grew and prospered. 

Dolling was out to capture people who told him bluntly when he first went among them that “they did not care to have truck with parsons” down that way, and he succeeded to a marvellous degree. He secured a warehouse building, and converted it in a rough and ready fashion (to begin with) into the kind of mission which has since then often been reproduced in poor and populous districts: the lower floors were divided into small rooms for the missioner, visitors, and those in need of help, as well as larger club-rooms and class-rooms. The upper floor, was kept strictly as a chapel. 

It seemed that every prayer for help, every appeal was answered. Dolling’s three sisters, Elise, Geraldine, and Josephine, gave up their Dublin home and joined him in the work; money was successfully begged from West End friends, and priests regularly took turns in saying Mass in the Chapel, so that there might be no spiritual aid lacking because the missioner was but a deacon. After the first year, Magdalen College, Oxford, took the effort to some extent under its care, and largely supplemented the help still forthcoming from West Dorset.


Charles Osborne’s eyewitnesss account of a typical Sunday night gives us a glimpse of Father Dolling, the evangelical catholic, at work:

“We went by ferry and train by the dismal North Woolwich line, getting out at Burdett Road Station. After a few minutes’ walk we were in the Maidman Street Mission House. It was in Easter week. A special service was being held, and the chapel upstairs was full. The latter place was packed to the doors with a type of persons never (or except on the rarest occasions) seen within an Anglican, or perhaps any English, place of worship. The altar was first lighted up by a boy in scarlet cassock and cotta or alb. Presently began the solemn vespers. It was a sort of worship more elaborate than that at the oratory at Mount-joy Square.

“On this night at St. Martin’s Mission, at the entry of the officiant, who was Dolling himself, vested in a richly embroidered cope, processional lights were carried by acolytes, and there was all the dignity of ceremonial which has ever attended the worship of the Catholic Church, manifest even in germ as she ministered in her strange underground life during the age of persecution. The people had the Vespers in little books provided for them, and easily followed the service, which consisted mainly of psalms, short lesson, Magnificat and hymns, including the office hymn.

“The psalms were sung lustily, being the fixed Vesper ones, and were known practically by heart. The Magnificat took its due place as the ritual centre of the service, the great hymn of the Incarnation. There was no stiffness, and there was no vulgarity. Though it was distinctly a ceremonial service, yet there was really nothing ritualistic about it, in a frivolous or artificial sense, from beginning to end. Not one person engaged in this service, except Dolling and a few of his helpers, knew of High Church or Low Church, or Roman or Sarum or Protestant modes of worship. They were simply men and women who had first been gathered in off the streets, or from the neighbouring houses, having never known what Church of England worship was like of any description. They came to worship God in the way their dear friend and God’s minister, the only friend besides God of many of them, had taught them to do.

“But the really remarkable thing was the sermon. The deacon-missioner, the cope being removed, sat down at the altar-step and talked to his people about Jesus during the forty days of His risen life, of the walk to Emmaus, and ‘the breaking of bread,’ of how the Lord appeared ‘in the midst’ in a homely upper room like that in which they were then sitting, of how He knew each one personally and made Himself known to each - to Peter, who had denied Him, to Thomas, who doubted about Him, to poor Mary Magdalene, whose soul He had cleansed. It was a talk which seemed as if it was of what the speaker himself actually saw. It was as if one were in some assembly of the Primitive Church, or among the first disciples, the lovers of Jesus, waiting for the manifestation of His presence, the power of His resurrection.

“As we have heard Dissenters say of Dolling, ‘I don’t care whether he’s a Ritualist or a Roman Catholic, he preaches Christ in a way I have never heard before, and hardly ever expect to hear again.’

“On other nights there would be a prayer-meeting, ‘one of our little Dissenting services,’ as Dolling would call it, with an amused twinkle in his eye, to some very High Church lady, a member of the congregation of some dignified Ritualistic church in the West End, who had come down all the way to Maidman Street in order that she might see ‘that remarkable man, Mr. Dolling, whom we have heard so much about.’” 


So things went on for two years, and in the summer of 1885 Dolling was ordained priest. This event heralded one of the two great disappointments and crises of his life. 

He had always been led to expect that when he became a priest his mission would be made a separate parish, and he regarded this as an essential condition for the development and stabilization of his particular work. He was probably right: the work was good, but to endure it had to be done as he was doing it, and he could see no guarantee of its permanence if he were to be subject to six months’ notice at any time, as a licensed curate of Holy Trinity. 

The Bishop of Bedford (Dr. Walsham How - who wrote the hymn, “For all the saints . . .”) in whose area the mission existed, and who held Fr Dolling in the highest regard, fought hard to get better terms from Bishop Temple, the Bishop of London, but the latter could not see that the particular conditions which existed at Maidman Street demanded special treatment, and in the face of his obduracy Dolling resigned. 

Some argued that he was impetuous, obstinate, or self-willed; that he ought to have submitted to authority and done the best he could. But these critics failed to recognize that he cared far more for the work than he did for his own position. Not for the last time, Dolling’s work and Dolling himself were sacrificed on the altar of red tape. To Temple and his diocesan officials Dolling was just an ordinary curate who was getting too big for his boots, not an extraordinary missioner who could reach those seldom touched by the Church of England.
On 1st July 1885 Fr Dolling left Maidman Street, broken for the time being both in health and in spirit. Within a short time the Mission dwindled and died. It says much, however, for his unconquerable faith and courage, that within three months he had accepted the charge of the Winchester College Mission in Portsmouth. 


The slums of Portsmouth wre among the worst in England. Here, in 1882, Winchester College had planted St. Agatha’s Mission with the Rev. Dr. Linklater in charge. On his removal to Holy Trinity, Stroud Green, the Headmaster of Winchester, Dr. Fearon, offered the charge of St. Agatha’s Mission to Dolling, who was then recuperating at St. Leonards; the offer had the approval of the Bishop of the Diocese, Dr. Harold Browne.

Dolling answered the call with eagerness, and began the greatest work of his life at Michaelmas, 1855. It was a work which from the first was entirely after his own heart, and called, moreover, for the exercise of every scrap of faith, hope, and energy that he possessed. 


Landport may have been squalid, like similar areas in other towns, but it could never be dull or apathetic, because of its constant touch with the sea and the dockyard. This “curious little island,” as Dolling himself called it, had very narrow and quaint streets named after admirals and sea-battles, with old-world, re-tiled roofs, and interiors like cabins. Dolling wrote:

“Many times I have stuck in a staircase, and could not go up or down till pulled from below...the far-off scent of the sea coming over the mud of the harbour, and every now and then the boom of a cannon, or the thrill shriek of the siren; sailors everywhere, sometimes fighting, sometimes courting, nearly always laughing and good humoured...I remember well how, the first night I made acquaintance with it, their uniforms and rolling gait redeemed from its squalor and commonplace this poor district, with its eleven hundred little houses and its fifty-two public-houses. Charlotte Street was, from end to end, an open fair; cheap-jacks screaming; laughing crowds round them; never seeming to buy; women, struggling under the weight of a baby, trying to get the Sunday dinner a little cheaper because things had begun to get stale; great louts of lads standing at the corners - you can guess from their faces the kind of stories they are telling; then some horse-play...slatternly women creeping out of some little public-house...I think if I had paid this visit before I accepted the Mission, I should never have accepted it. The shrill gaiety was a revelation to me of utter hopelessness, such as I had never imagined before.”

The children had been described as a “savage crew” and were, to Dolling’s  horror, old in knowledge. Prostitution was a normal feature of the drab existence of their elders in many cases, and rough louts came to jeer and swear into the church:

“On my first Sunday afternoon, as I was walking in Chance Street, I saw, for the first time, a Landport dance. Two girls, their only clothing a pair of sailors’ trousers each, and two sailor lads, their only clothing the girls’ petticoats, were dancing a kind of breakdown up and down the street; all the neighbours looking on amused but unastonished, until one couple, the worst for drink, toppled over. I stepped forward to help them up, but my endeavour was evidently looked upon from a hostile point of view, for the parish voice was translated into a shower of stones, until the unfallen sailor cried out, ‘Don’t touch the Holy Joe. He doesn’t look such a bad sort’. I could not stay to cement our friendship, for the bell was ringing for children’s service, and to my horror, I found that some of the children going to church had witnessed the whole of this scene. They evidently looked upon it as quite a legitimate Sunday afternoon’s entertainment. One little girl, of about eight, volunteered the name of the two dancing girls; she was a kind of little servant in the house, though she slept two or three doors off, and her only dread was that the return of the sailor, who had more rights in the house, might take place before the others had been got rid of.”

How did Father Dolling manage to turn this around? Simply by an expansion and development of the methods he had followed as a lay minister and then as a missioner at Mile End. His aim was quite simply expressed in the request he made to his new flock on his arrival, that they would pray and work with him for “bringing every man, woman, and child in the district to the knowledge of the love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


To this end he had to fight both poverty and sin, and therefore he must live with his people where the fight was thickest. Two streets in the parish provided temporary accommodation before the constantly repeated necessity for “more room” for a growing establishment brought the Missioner and his helpers to a wretched cottage in Clarence Street, next to the gymnasium. Damp walls and rotten floors induced bad health; and when finally one of the helpers put her leg through the floor into Father Dolling’s sitting-room below, the conviction was forced upon them that they would have to build. An “excellent parsonage” was obtained by utilizing the gallery of the gymnasium for bedrooms. It is interesting to note that when Dolling and his workers were saying prayers on taking possession of their new home, they could hear the harridan who kept the house of shame next door calling down curses on “old Dolling and his pack of Catholics.”

Father Dolling’s work falls quite naturally, as might be expected, under two distinct headings; and yet, distinct as his social work was from his specifically evangelistic and priestly ministry, they were really parts of one whole – they actually represented a Catholic priest doing his whole task. 

The social work presented several almost unique features. First came the “daily dinner”; his parsonage had to be heart and centre of his work, of the life of the Mission, so he started a daily communal meal. “Blessed beyond all cost,” Dolling called it, and, indeed, the enormous expense of money, energy, and tact that must have been needed to maintain a dinner table for all and sundry, to which (at any rate on Sundays) never less than forty or fifty sitting down, must have resulted in countless lessons and benefits. It was the parsonage dinner table, not a “charity treat,” or a casual ward: men and women regained their self-respect by being treated as guests; children laid the foundation of good health and good manners by the same means.

But Dolling kept “open house” in a wider sense. Some of his ‘visitors’ were Winchester boys who had leave to stay at the School Mission. For the rest, guests rubbed shoulders with Members of Parliament, clergy, and professional men who were friends of Dolling’s, with soldiers and sailors who had cubicles in the gymnasium gallery, with the unemployed, the suffering and the aged, the broken in health, mind and morals, or means - all of them known to the Father, and to him only; all of them owing their presence there, and all it might connote, to his large-hearted Christian generosity.

In addition, Father Dolling inaugurated and conducted with success unusual in so unpromising a neighbourhood, a gymnasium, a Mothers’ Club and Meeting, and a Girls’ Club. These are institutions which have since become a commonplace in most “well-organized” parishes: they were a bold experiment in Landport in the 1880s. In the early days hooliganism had to be stamped out before the gymnasium could really fulfil its work of making weak lads strong, teaching a sporting spirit, and weaning young men from the gambling dens and low dance halls. 

On one occasion, at least, Dolling and his sisters were glad to escape from identification as members of the Mothers’ Party returning from its first summer outing almost entirely intoxicated. But as time went on the difference the clubs made in the surrounding parish atmosphere was little short of miraculous, to say nothing of their training of individuals. 

Within four years of his arrival Dolling determined to build day schools. He called his people together and told them they must pray, as they had not much to give in the way of money. They decided to have a day of perpetual prayer once a month, from 5.30 a.m. to 10 at night. They did it, and in less than three months had collected a third of the required £3,000. Who would have foretold that faith could accomplish so much in four short years?

It has been necessary to treat somewhat fully of the social side of Father Dolling’s work, because it was always with him the avenue of approach in his mission work, just as it was the natural outcome of his faith and charity. The deadness of the poverty-stricken life, as he saw it, had to be exorcised before it was possible really to kindle “the divine spark,” the likeness of God, which is in us by right of our creation in his image. 


But the mission church was his power-house, personal and parochial; and however much energy and time he used in his social activities, or his educational efforts, the best he had to give was given in his preaching of the Gospel, his teaching of the Catholic Faith, and his celebration of the Sacraments. 

In fact, his main inspiration was drawn from, and his main battles fought over, the truth and power of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. The daily Mass was one of his first introductions; he felt, as every true Catholic priest feels, that this must be the first and strongest plank in the spiritual platform of both priest and people. 

Later came Vespers of the Blessed Sacrament and Stations of the Cross (on Fridays). Then, after a year’s preliminary training of children, adults, and servers, the Mass became the central Sunday act of worship. Solemn Evensong came later. 

But the picture of Sunday worship would not be complete without the “after” mission service, pre-eminently Dolling’s personal hour, with its congregational hymns, extempore prayers, and a straight heart-to-heart talk. The memory of those mission services endured for decades; a mighty harvest was reaped from the seed sown in them.


It must not be assumed that Father Dolling was not amenable to order and authority. He had the profoundest regard, as a true Catholic, for the authority of the Church and Creeds; but officialism of any kind, man-made officialism especially, and the all too prevalent bullying on the part of those bishops who were merely ecclesiastical bureaucrats, irked him sorely. 

It is a magnificent tribute to the real insight and understanding of the authorities at Winchester College, that they maintained with him throughout the happiest relations, giving him their generous trust and confidence, and defending him from the criticisms of Mission supporters, whose patience was tried by his unusual methods. The school was his mainstay during the whole of his ten years in Portsmouth.


There was bound to be opposition. The Bishop of Winchester, Dr. Harold Browne had originally expressed the hope that Dolling would “not do anything foolish”; some Portsmouth protestants petitioned him in 1887 to stop St. Agatha’s “Romanizing” tendencies, and the Bishop requested Father Dolling to confine his services to what he described as being “within the confessedly legal ritual of the Church of England.”

Nothing further happened, however, and a similar protestant agitation in 1889 had no further results. A lecture by the Rev’d. Stewart Headlam on Christian Socialism raised a different kind of storm, and when the Bishop and the Warden of Winchester wrote in disapproval of his utterances, implying that unless Dolling dissociated himself from such socialistic teaching they could no longer support him, he offered to resign. The Warden explained that his criticism was only personal and not official; the Bishop retired from the contest, and a petition of over 2,000 of St. Agatha’s parishioners, praying that Dolling would remain, caused him to feel that his position was re-established, and he stayed on.

Dolling was on friendly terms with Browne’s successor, Dr. Thorold, a sincere evangelical, consumed with a zeal as great as Dolling’s own for the “lost sheep.” He did not approve of all that Dolling did, and occasionally he asked him to modify certain details of practice; but always he refused (even when badgered by the Protestant Alliance) to “throw Dolling to the lions,” and allowed him greater liberty than anyone in his diocese. Such small clouds as arose were therefore quickly dispelled.


Father Dolling’s last great accomplishment in Landport was the building of the new St. Agatha’s Church, at once the crown of and the final crisis in his labours. It was to be, and it is, great in its proportions, to represent Winchester, its founder, and the majesty of God amid the slums. 

The church, built to accommodate 900 people, impressed everyone who entered it. The altar could be seen by every worshipper.  The style of the building is (as being by Dolling’s conviction the best for mission purposes among the people) of the basilican type; not the Renaissance basilican of Palladio (sometimes called “pseudo-classical”), but the Romanesque variety of North Italy, and suggested by studies of the churches of Lombardy. 

The inside of the church had an effect of great dignity combined with warmth and homeliness - Dolling’s ideal for a house of worship. The material is in the main brick, but with granite, alabaster, and oak work, the combined effect of which was to give the impression of magnificence.  A semicircular apse forms the background of the high altar. Dolling’s original idea of a T-shaped building was further developed by the addition to the plan of a chapel in the south aisle with a smaller apse, and westward of this chapel a narrow aisle, finished at the west end by a tower in the base of which was the baptistery.

Dolling left a good deal to be done for the church as time went on, especially as to rich hangings, curtains, and fresco-painting. His dream was that of a great church in the centre of the thickly populated hive of Landport, which, like St. Mark’s, Venice, should be a sort of picture Bible for the people -’ Biblia Pauperum ‘ - the sacred story of redemption displayed along its walls.


Bishop Randall Davidson had succeeded Dr. Thorold, and, like Bishop Temple years before, had little tolerance of Catholic teaching and practice. He refused to sanction the opening of the new church, chiefly because of a “requiem altar” at which mass would be offered for the departed. Then, however, he permitted the arrangements to go forward while he considered the matter. He deemed a fresh licence necessary, and could not see his way to sanctioning the third altar in the church. 

Interviews and correspondence, mediation and discussions, occupied two months, and at the end of them Bishop Davidson adhered to his original decision, condemning the ‘practices’ (Requiems) which Dolling associated with the third altar, and also his saying Mass on occasion without the legal “three communicants,” and charging him with having dealt at his will with the Church’s rules.

Father Dolling resigned, but even at this stage efforts to mediate were made. Dolling himself and his people offered to remove the third altar (the old one from the Mission Church transferred) if the services could be held at another altar; but Dr. Davidson’s only reply was a request that Dolling would “bring his services into general harmony with the due order of the Church of England.” 

Sunday, January 5, 1896, was the last Sunday when Dolling was with his people of S. Agatha’s as their priest. At Evensong there was an immense attendance, some hundreds of people having to stand through the service. He preached from Isa. 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.” His theme was the invincible power of faith in God, and especially in regard to prayer. He made no allusion to the theological matters in dispute, but in regard to himself he said that ‘ten years ago, naked and empty, he came to that place, and he would leave it, naked and empty, on Friday.’ He urged the congregation to cultivate a spirit of faith.

On Thursday, the last day of his stay, a watch of prayer was held before the Blessed Sacrament. This had been generally the custom at St. Agatha’s on all great days of intercession for any special object in order to kindle a more earnest devotion. Then, at 7.30 p.m. Solemn Vespers, Father Dolling uttered his farewell to his own immediate people. Throughout the great congregation present on that night the emotion was natural and genuine. It was that saddest of all things to those who have hearts, ‘the parting of friends.’

Very quietly, and comparatively unperceived, Father Dolling and his sisters left Portsmouth the following morning, Friday, January 10, 1896.

Dolling had left London over a dispute with Bishop Temple. He left Landport over a dispute with Archbishop Davidson. Some have thought that with a little diplomacy he could have got his way, but Dolling felt a principle was at stake. 


It is said that the sunshine went out of his life then, and he became a sadder man.

For a while he was “unemployed”; at least two bishops refused him permission to preach in their dioceses. He gave much time, out of health as he was, to begging for the Mission, but eventually he sailed for the United States in response to an invitation and in search of renewed health. It was a happy and successful visit, and the encouragement he gained from his reception did much to put him on his feet again. 

The Bishop of Chicago offered him the Deanery of the Cathedral, and, fascinated by the problems of that great city, he would probably have accepted had he not undertaken the charge of St. Saviour’s, Poplar, in the east End of London, some twelve hours earlier. Here he was instituted in 1898, and for three years did his utmost, with the support of those in authority, to carry on the same kind of work as he had done at Maidman Street and Landport. 

However, this closing phase of Fr Dolling’s ministry was a tragedy. He found Poplar dull and apathetic, without any of the attractions of the work at Portsmouth which had become his home. In addition, he was physically worn out, and emotionally he was a broken man. 

Rest and travel were prescribed and taken. He made a point of raising money for his Mission by preaching to the  fashionable West End Anglo-Catholic parishes. But as far as Poplar was concerned, Fr Dolling felt that he was a failure, apart from his ministry with the children. 


He preached his last sermon at St. Saviour’s on Easter Sunday, 1902, pleaded the cause of his parish at Berkeley Chapel a fortnight later, and within a month he passed to his rest. He was only 50 years of age.

His body lies near Father Mackonochie’s at Brookwood, among the pines of Surrey.

Father Dolling stands out in the history of the English Church as a pioneer of, and in a real sense a martyr to, the saving Gospel and the Catholic Faith to which so many have witnessed in different ways, down through the centuries. “As God the Father wills to be known in the Incarnation, so God the Son wills to reveal himself in the Breaking of Bread,” was his own fitting summary of his Catholicism and its application. 

The connection between his “social work” and his theology was most clearly expressed when he said, “I speak out and fight about the drains because I believe in the Incarnation.” 

By that belief he stood; for it he was prepared, if need be, to sacrifice himself. Of no true Catholic can it ever be otherwise: Christ in his Sacrament, and all that that implies, is, for the Catholic, Christ in the world, and as we do our small share for that truth today, we tread in the steps of those who have stood for it in the past. Father Dolling suffered for it, even to the eclipse of his greatest earthly hopes; and in suffering has shown to subsequent generations the path of the only true peace and ultimate victory.


Father T. Tremenheere, from the staff of the Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell, succeeded Father Dolling as Vicar of St Agatha’s. Under him there was not only a continuation of Dolling’s work; there was also complete continuity of Catholic teaching and worship. The beautification of St. Agatha’s continued, notably the large and striking mural of the nave by Heywood Sumner.

In 1940 Hitler’s air raids destroyed all the homes of the parish, including the vicarage. The third Vicar, Father Charles Coles, then took up residence in the tower of the church, where he remained until his death. A contemporaneous bishop tried to move against him too, but, thanks to “parson’s freehold,” Father Coles could not be driven out. Older men still remember how as boys they’d serve the Vicar’s daily Mass in the Lady Chapel, with snow coming down through holes in the roof, and the old priest celebrating from memory because now he was blind.

The Church of England closed the church in 1954 and sold it to the Royal Navy for a warehouse. In the 1960s and 70s there was a real chance that the church would be demolished to make way for roadworks, but in 1983 a revised road plan removed the demolition threat.

Today, it has been re-opened for worship and restored to its former beauty thanks to the remarkable efforts of Father John Maunder, of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Father Dolling was one of Father Maunder’s boyhood heroes. The church is cared for by a Board of Trustees, and since 1994 has been open to the public. When the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established by Pope Benedict XVI, the congregation and clergy joined, and worship in the classical Anglo-Catholic tradition, in full communion with the Holy See, is offered regularly at St. Agatha’s.


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