August 23 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

8-TAYLOR

The instrumental role of a Carfin priest to the story of St Thérèse

The current Guardian of Carfin Grotto looks at the life of the Grotto’s founder, his tireless advocacy for the sainthood cause of St Thérèse of Lisieux, and how the Little Flower answered prayers from Scotland

It would be no exaggeration to say that few persons, if any, did more to promote the sanctity and the heroic virtues of Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face than the Scottish priest Fr Thomas Taylor. His chance reading of her autobiography proved to be the catalyst that inspired him to spend more than 50 years of his priesthood encouraging others to implore the Saint of Lisieux, asking for one of her ‘roses’—her spiritual favours—which she had promised she would send from Heaven as she began to do her work upon earth after her death.

The story of Fr Taylor and the Little Flower which I will attempt to tell is gleaned from the extensive archive of diaries, letters and publications that are held at St Francis Xavier’s Parish, Carfin, where he was parish priest from 1915 until 1963.

A remarkable man

The lines that follow provide only a sketch of the energy and enthusiasm of this remarkable man, whose story deserves to be told in the Scottish Church of our own day.

Thomas Nimmo Taylor was born to his parents, James, headteacher at St Lawrence’s Primary School, and Rose-Anne, in Greenock on December 16, 1873, the same year that Thérèse was born to her parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, both of whom were raised to the altars in 2015 by Pope Francis.

He was the eldest of four boys, three of whom went on to become priests: as well as Thomas, there was Alexander (who died two years after his ordination at St Anthony’s, Govan in Glasgow Archdiocese) and James (who became a Vincentian in Ireland); while Henry became the father of priest, also known as Fr Thomas F Taylor, who died in 1956.

Backstory

Thomas began his studies for the priesthood at St Mary’s College, Blairs in 1889. From there he was sent in 1891 to Saint Sulpice Seminary in Paris. During his final year in the French capital he was a student at the Institut Catholique de Paris (the Catholic University of Paris), from where he gained a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1897.

Thomas was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal François-Marie Richard de la Vergne, Archbishop of Paris, on June 12, 1897, the same year that Sr Thérèse died.

Returning to Scotland the young Fr Taylor was sent as curate to St Patrick’s, Dumbarton. With four years’ pastoral experience, he was appointed professor of Scripture, Church History and, occasionally, French at St Peter’s College, Bearsden.

The Little Flower

In the summer of 1901, Fr Taylor was encouraged by a friend, Fr Bernard Lynch, to read a book titled The Little Flower during a retreat that he was planning to make at St Mary’s Monastery, Kinoull. Fr Lynch told Fr Taylor that he had read the book himself and that it had made a deep impression on him. The Little Flower was the English translation of the autobiography of Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, a young woman who had spent nine years of her life in the Carmelite Monastery at Lisieux in Normandy, France, before her untimely death at the age of 24.

The English translation of L’Histoire d’une Âme (The Story of a Soul) had been published in 1898 by a Polish Professor, Michael Dziewicki. Years later, in one of his many published articles, Fr Taylor described his own reading of the autobiography as ‘a soul-stirring revelation.’

Upon his return from Kinoull, Fr Taylor wrote to the Carmelite Monastery at Lisieux asking for a copy of the autobiography in its original French. An entry in his diary from around this time reveals that it was not long before additional copies of the book were being sent to fellow alumni of St Sulpice, who were scattered around the world.

Mother Agnes

In 1902 Fr Taylor received a small number of relics from Lisieux, which he distributed among his friends. An even greater gift, however, was yet to arrive. Mother Agnes of Jesus—one of Thérèse’s elder blood-sisters, whom she would adopt as her ‘little mother’ when Madame Martin, their mother, died—sent Fr Taylor a ‘prayer of self-offering,’ written by Sr Thérèse, and prayed by her each day.

What makes this memento particularly special is the fact that it is written in Thérèse’s own neat handwriting. For this reason it is among the most precious treasures of the saint displayed in the All Saints Reliquary Chapel at Carfin today.

On May 15 and 16 1903, as he made his way home from the national pilgrimage to Rome to mark the golden jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, Fr Taylor broke his journey at Lisieux. Accompanied by the local parish priest he went to the cemetery where Thérèse had been buried six years before. He found time to visit the Carmel, where he met the Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, and the three blood-sisters of Thérèse. Convinced of her holiness and of her heroic virtue, Fr Taylor stated that he believed the cause of Thérèse’s canonisation should be opened.

Spreading the word

Once back in Scotland, Fr Taylor set about making Sr Thérèse as widely known as possible. With the help of the Brothers of Charity and their Orphans Press in Rochdale, he began to distribute pictures of the Carmelite nun, as well as leaflets with a brief outline of her life.

He published too, a pamphlet which he called As Little Children, in which he told the story of Thérèse Martin. More than 100,000 copies were sold, the profits being set aside to fund a new English translation of L’Histoire d’une Âme which Fr Taylor would undertake personally. Thanks to the publication of As Little Children the cult of Sr Thérèse became widespread, and a fixed part of Roman Catholic devotional life, both at home and abroad.

The Cause of the Servant of God, Thérèse Martin, was opened in 1911 at Lisieux, and Fr Taylor was invited to come and present the testimony of the English-speaking peoples in favour of her reputation for holiness. The evidence from Scotland made a particularly deep impression on the tribunal.

Soeur Thérèse

Fr Taylor returned home to begin work on his own translation of L’Histoire d’une Âme, which he would title Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux. By the end of 1912 around 10,000 copies of Soeur Thérèse had been sold. It was given a tremendous reception by English-speaking readers, as was its successor, A Little White Flower, which sold well over 100,000 copies, with one reprint following the other.

The profits from the sale of the book were passed to the Carmel at Lisieux to help defray the costs of the beatification process. This, according to Fr Taylor, was one of the reasons the book sold so well.

In 1915 Fr Taylor was appointed parish priest of St Francis Xavier’s, Carfin. Amid the new responsibilities he found time to continue his work of promoting Sr Thérèse, and collating the correspondence about favours received through her intercession.

Beatification

He took it upon himself to have these favours recorded at Lisieux, where a central office had been established to oversee the process for her beatification.

Contained in Fr Taylor’s archive are a series of invitations to events at Lisieux—a sign of how highly regarded he was there. Perhaps two were among his most treasured: one to attend her beatification ceremony April 19, 1923; the second to be part of the official Lisieux delegation which would travel to the Eternal City for her canonisation ceremony on May 17 the following year.

Fr Taylor in A Little White Flower gives a fascinating insight into the canonisation Mass when he writes: “After the Gospel of the Mass, Pope Pius preached on her whom he had already called a miracle of virtues and a prodigy of miracles… Scarcely had he finished when in the presence of the vast audience there descended a token of gratitude.

“Three of the roses which decorated a pillar in one of the apses detached themselves in some unknown way, then fell at the pontiff’s feet. A thrill passed through the vast assemblage. The Rose Queen was rendering her thanks.”


Carfin grotto

Encouraged by a group of parishioners he planned and built a Lourdes Grotto at Carfin in the early 1920s with the assistance of many local men at a time of strikes and mass unemployment. The Grotto was formally opened on October 1, 1922.

In 1923, when Fr Taylor first proposed the idea of placing a statue of St Thérèse in the Grotto, there were those who questioned, and even criticised, his proposal. He consulted her Carmelite sisters at Lisieux in July that same year. The prioress of the community, Mother Agnes, replied: “The child who has loved Mary so passionately would certainly not rob Our Lady of her glory.” She then added the striking promise which has meant so much to Carfin in the decades since then: “Keep her statue in the Grotto! We will ask Thérèse to draw souls to Carfin and so prove how she loves Our Lady.”

Fr Taylor commissioned a life-size statue of St Thérèse, in Cararra marble, the design of which was approved by Mother Agnes.

The cost of the new sculpture was met by the generosity of pilgrims to the Grotto. Within three months of the statue being placed in the Grotto, thousands of pilgrims were visiting Carfin, as Mother Agnes had promised.

Processions

Processions were, and still are, a staple part of the devotional life at Grotto. At the conclusion of each procession Fr Taylor would invite the pilgrims to turn to the Shrine of St Thérèse, and to recite the prayer which he had composed in her honour.

Then the Blessing of Roses—the rose so synonymous with St Thérèse—would then take place.

The processions usually ended with a general blessing with the Relic of St Thérèse. Those who wished to receive an individual blessing went afterwards to the lower part of the Grotto, where Fr Taylor would give them his undivided attention. He carried a relic of St Thérèse at all times: the number of blessings he gave with it, and the favours bestowed through the saint’s intercession, are beyond counting.

In the years following her canonisation, Fr Taylor was invited to speak in numerous parishes around the country as new statues of St Thérèse were installed and blessed. At Carfin he established a Wednesday evening as the time in the week for honouring the Little Flower, with devotions and intercessory prayers, a homily on an aspect of her life, and an opportunity to venerate her relic. Sometimes the crowds were so big that he had to have two separate evening services.

America

In 1926 he would attend the international Eucharistic Congress in Chicago. He used his visit to the United States to speak about St Thérèse in numerous churches, colleges, convents and seminaries. He even had the privilege of addressing a gathering at the prestigious Catholic University of America in Washington DC.

This article has only touched the surface of Fr Taylor’s apostolate to spread devotion to a Religious whose personal story of joys and sorrows in the service of her Lord would have gone unknown and undiscovered to the outside world, had she not, under obedience, written them down.

The name of Fr Taylor still lives on in the minds and hearts of uncountable numbers of people —the senior parishioners of St Francis Xavier’s and the other surrounding parishes, as well as visitors to the Grotto during his long tenure as its Guardian, over whom perhaps he prayed or whom he blessed with the Relic of the saint.

None of them would deny the fact that Fr Taylor taught them through his example and preaching to serve God more generously, to love his Blessed Mother more deeply, and to invoke the holy men and women of all times and places, the saints, but none more so than St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, the Little Flower of Lisieux, whom he honoured as his ‘Little Queen.’


A source of joy

It is humbling when one pauses to think of how many prayers she has answered over the past century. This is something that only God can quantify, and that we can only guess. What we do know, what we can say for certain, is that St Thérèse of Lisieux has become known and loved in the hearts and minds of people in Scotland, and in the wider world, thanks to the fervour and dedication of Fr Thomas Nimmo Taylor.

We can imagine that the visit of the Relics of St Thérèse to Carfin are for her, and for him, a source of great rejoicing.

The relics of St Thérèse will be in Scotland from August 30 – September 19. For a full schedule, see: www.littleflowerinscotland.co.uk

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