AN ANCESTOR of Churchill and Princess Diana who is buried at a church in St Helens has moved a step closer towards Sainthood.

Father Ignatius Spencer has moved a step closer towards being made a Saint by the Catholic Church as he was named a 'Venerable' person.

Fr Spencer is the second person who is buried at St Anne's Church in Sutton to have reached the milestone this year after nun Mother Elizabeth Prout was also moved a step closer to Sainthood in January.

Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree advancing the cause for the canonisation of Fr Spencer.

The Congregation, responsible for handling all causes leading to Beatification and Canonisation, examined both the historical and theological context of Fr Ignatius Spencer.

They have declared that there are no objections to the cause of Fr. Ignatius being progressed, furthermore the decree states that he lived a life of 'heroic virtue'.

Consequently, from now on Fr Ignatius will be referred to as the “the Venerable Fr Ignatius Spencer.” In order for him to be declared Blessed (the next stage in the process) a physical miracle is now required.

Despite his aristocratic background his possible canonisation will be due to the life he lived rather than because of whom he was related to. Both Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of whom Ignatius was a great uncle, and Lady Diana Spencer were members of the same family.

St Helens Star:
Winston Churchill 

Fr Ignatius Spencer was born in 1799 into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in England.

He was the youngest son of the second Earl of Spencer, who became first an Anglican clergyman, then a Catholic and a priest in Birmingham Diocese, and eventually a Passionist, being professed by Blessed Dominic at the first Passionist Monastery in England at Aston Hall near Stone in Staffordshire.

Educated at Eton and Trinity Cambridge, he was ordained an Anglican priest, with the strong probability that eventually he would be made a Bishop in the Church of England.

However, close examination of the early history of the Church led him to decide to enter the Roman Catholic Church in 1830, with the loss of an annual income of £3,000. His journey of faith was very similar to that of his contemporary St John Henry Newman.

After a course of studies in Rome he was ordained in 1832, and returned to work in England, initially in the Black Country. Any spare time he had after his parish work, was spent working for Christian unity, in particular begging for prayers to fulfil the prayer of Jesus: “That they may be one.”

In 1847 he entered the Passionist Religious Order, and for a time lived with Blessed Dominic Barberi (1792 – 1849). For the next 17 years Ignatius spent his life giving missions in England and Ireland, and spent several months at a time traversing Europe begging for prayers for Christian unity. Central to his preaching was the need for each individual to be personally converted before they could look to converting others.

Fr Ignatius died at Carstairs Junction, Lanarkshire, on October 1, 1864.

READ > Elizabeth Prout named 'Venerable' by Pope Francis in step towards Sainthood

He is buried at the Sutton shrine at St Anne's, beside his co-workers Blessed Dominic Barberi and Venerable Elizabeth Prout (1820 – 1864).

St Helens Star:

St Anne's in Sutton

Ignatius had played a big part in bringing the Passionists to England and had known Blessed Dominic for many years in Italy. After Dominic’s death he succeeded him as the Superior of the Order in this country and died in 1864 while Rector of Sutton Monastery.

It therefore remains possible that St Anne's could have the highly rare distinction of having three people buried in its grounds who have been made Saints.

St Helens Star:

Elizabeth Prout

Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon said: "It was with great happiness that I heard the news that Fr Ignatius Spencer CP was declared by the catholic Church as having lived a life of heroic virtue and may now be called ‘venerable’.

"To get this news so soon after the very recent declaration of Sr Elizabeth Prout CP as ‘venerable’ is a remarkable grace to the Passionist Order and to the archdiocese.

"These two Victorian Catholics are as relevant to the mission of the church today as they were in their lifetimes. They show us how to reach out beyond ourselves and respond to suffering due to poverty and deprivation."

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He added: "My prayer is that the shrine at St Anne’s, Sutton which harbours the mortal remains of three great Passionists, Blessed Dominic Barberi, Venerable Elizabeth Prout and the now Venerable Ignatius Spencer, will increase as a centre of devotion and prayer in the archdiocese. All three of these great disciples loved the poor and worked tirelessly for their bodily and spiritual wellbeing.

"Venerable Ignatius, who had left behind a life of privilege, devoted himself tirelessly to visiting the poor, giving food and all his personal possessions to those in need. His preaching and writings showed him to be a true disciple of Jesus and in his daily life he lived out the passion of our Lord in heroic fashion.

"His life of service is a true example to his living relatives, Prince William and Prince Harry, and is to be emulated by us all."