The death of the Right Rev. 13th Lord Petre, 1893

The reason for including some of the Petres is partly they are a great story, and also that at George Lynch, and Carmela Lescher’s wedding, the present from “the Hon. Mrs. Petre” was “a writing case”.  She can only be Julia, who becomes the 15th Lady Petre in June 1908, and the Dowager Lady Petre five months later.

We regret to record the death of the Right Rev. Lord Petre, which took place at his London residence, 21, Hyde Park Gardens, on Monday last. The deceased Peer and Prelate was a son of the 12th Baron, by a daughter of the Hon. C. T. Clifford, and succeeded to the title in 1884. He was a Domestic Prelate at the Court of the Vatican, and a Deputy-Lieutenant for the county of Essex. The title goes to the late Lord Petre’s brother, the Hon. Bernard Henry Philip, who was born in 1858. Lord Petre was educated at Stonyhurst, leaving which College he attempted, but unsuccessfully, to embrace the religious life with the Jesuits. Failing this he resolved to pursue the vocation of a secular priest, and resided for some time at Downside, where his great benefactions are remembered with gratitude. Meanwhile he had long been cherishing a number of plans and giving expression to many desires in connection with the education of youth, and a few years after his ordination he resolved to take practical steps in carrying out his determination.

It was in 1877 that Lord Petre, then the Hon. and Rev. Mr. Petre, founded his school at Woburn about which there was destined to arise so vigorous a controversy. He had long been maturing his views upon the method of education in vogue among Catholics, and those views he presently strove to vindicate in two vigorous pamphlets which produced in the English Catholic world an enormous sensation. The first he entitled Remarks on the Present Condition of Catholic Liberal Education and this was quickly followed by The Problem of Catholic Education. His ideal, as explained in these two pamphlets, is well known to all, and need not be brought up again here. His one desire in life was to be a trainer of youth. “A French poet,” he wrote “once declared that God for his sins made him a poet. I fear I myself lie under a similar judgment for being an educator. Certain it is that for years my prayers, studies, and aspirations have been directed to this one aim—to train the minds of youth. But for one of my vocation what opening is there ? Stonyhurst, Downside, Edgbaston, Beaumont, are all charmed circles, the properties of closed corporations, offering nothing to persons situated as I am except on condition of assuming the religious state—a vocation not granted to all. Ushaw, Oscott, St. Edmund’s are in a state of transition, being in part ecclesiastical seminaries and wholly diocesan property. In existing institutions, therefore, there is no place for the free exercise of a vocation that I will venture to call holy. Can I then be blamed if unwilling to throw aside the work of years, and contradict the tried impulse of my character, I venture to open a school of my own ? Nor can I see that by so doing I am fomenting disunion. Disunion arises where private aims are preferred to the public good. From the nature of the case my views can hardly be sordid or selfish ; and I propose, if God gives me health and strength, to lay all my opportunities and powers at the service of the Catholic cause. I have no wish to avoid a healthy criticism, and I will accuse no one of ‘ attack ‘ who may choose to publish his opinion on the growth of my work—be that opinion hostile or the reverse. With advance I shall hope for co-operation. Surely the imputation of disunion or disloyalty can find no footing here.”

In this spirit, then, Woburn was founded, and lasted steadily until 1884, when, shortly before succeeding to the title, he sold the property in deference to the wish of his father. After his father’s death he continued no less fervently in his desire to treat education, as he himself expressed it, “as something of a fine art.” But circumstances were too strong for him. He migrated with his boys to Northwood, in the Isle of Wight. But the new school lasted for a very short time, and when he decided to give up the idea of personal training he practically decided to retire into privacy.

Into the merits of the great controversy upon which Lord Petre so confidently embarked, there is no need to enter here. As to the spirit in which he accepted his task there can be only one opinion. He fought for it with a high spirit that seemed indomitable. In his first pamphlet, not having had much practical experience in pamphleteering, he committed himself—as he himself confessed—to some incautiously expressed propositions relative to the Protestant public schools of England. He spoke in praise of the individuality and the force of character which seems to be so often generated and fostered by their influence among English youth, wished to contend that schools formed somewhat on the model of public schools but informed with Catholic spirit and principle might realize much for English Catholics which heretofore had existed but in desire ; that Catholics, in short, might see their sons growing up in the expansion of mind, definiteness of aim and earnestness of purpose which is said to distinguish their Protestant fellows. At once he was severely taken to task. At once he felt that nothing but a bold front,—an attitude even of defiance—would save his reputation as a Catholic. Such an attitude he declared himself to have unwillingly assumed, and in doing so he lost for the time many valued friends.

The precise value of Lord Petre’s influence over the common scholastic ideal of the time cannot be easily adjudged ; but there cannot be the least doubt that, indirectly at least, he spurred up all the colleges of England to new efforts in the training of their subjects, particularly in the inculcation of a certain refinement which heretofore had been allowed to stand somewhat at a discount. But, as we have said, for nearly eight years he had taken no prominent part in any question of the day. Readers of these pages may, however, remember that when some years ago, a warm controversy arose upon the merits of corporal punishment, Lord Petre took an active part in it, and upon the side where one naturally expected to look for him. His illness was very brief. He had been ailing somewhat ; but on Sunday a serious attack of epileptic fits seized him, and later in the same day he received the Viaticum from Cardinal Vaughan in full consciousness. Later Mgr. Gilbert administered Extreme Unction. He died at 1.30 p.m. on Monday. The body lay in the house in a temporary chapel until Thursday, when it was removed to St. Mary of the Angels, Bayswater. On Friday Solemn Requiem Mass was sung, and to-day (Saturday) the coffin will be conveyed for interment to Thorndon. R. I. P.

The above text was found on p.28, 13th  May 1893 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .

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