Fr. Gabriel Maria Polo, RIP

Over the past week the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate having been in mourning the loss of Fr. Gabriel Maria Polo, who passed away following a heart attack in Cebu, Philippines.  He was forty-three years old, nineteen years in religious vows and twelve years a priest of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Gabriel for a time was a missionary in Anapolis, Brazil and latter was assigned to Stoke On Trent, England.  More recently he was the master of postulants and the superior of the formation house in Naga, Philippines.

I came to know Fr. Gabriel while I was assigned to the friary in Cornwall, England.  He was a fine friar and priest, kind and joyful, and he was particularly good to me.  I am honored to have called him a brother and a friend.

As I understand, he was interred yesterday is Cebu.

Please pray for the repose of his soul and for the consolation of his family.

I include here a video tribute to him, prepared by Fra Didacus as well as some photos from when he was assigned to England provided by Fr. Agnellus.

Now Fr. Gabriel has both hands free.

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Rest in Peace, Margaret

Margaret Vander Heiden was the pillar of Lanherne. She had worked with both the Carmelite Sisters for many years and then after their departure with the contemplative community of Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate who took of up the flame of Catholic religious life in this center of the Faith in Cornwall.

I have received news that she passed from this life to eternity on All Hallows Eve.  May she rest in peace.  With the Saints, let us intercede on her behalf and that of the Holy Souls. Continue reading

Fare Thee Well England

Much has changed over the last six weeks for me.  I travelled to Rome and then back to London and am now in New Bedford, Massachusetts for the remainder of the year.  I spent fifteen glorious months in England and was just settling in.  I had finally gotten it straight that in Cornwall the jam goes on the scone before the clotted cream. (It’s the opposite in Devon).

I am very grateful for all the support from the friars and sisters and lay supporters, especially to the friars of England:  Fr. Agnellus, Fr. George, Fra Leonard, Fr Solanus and Fra Paschal.  I will miss the people and village of St. Mawgan and Newquay, especially the Sunday Mass crowd that educated me in all things English, Irish, and most of all, Cornish, and the parishioners from Holy Trinity. Cornwall, the Land of Saints, and Lanherne, the perpetual flame of the Catholic faith in England are graven in my heart.  Thanks to all I have come in contact with who showed me so much English hospitality (and ethnic, especially from the Irish and Filipinos).

I am scheduled to be transferred to Rome to study ecclesiology in the new year.  Please pray for me and our Institute.  

May the Immaculate Virgin, bless her dowry and return the Angles, whom St. Gregory called angels back to the true faith.  May the Roman Church in England be blessed in this effort.  Many thanks from this Yank. 

Below I submit a chronicle of one of our pilgrimages, which the friars from Stoke-on-Trent took on the Feast of St. Modwen, July 5.  Fra Solanus was so good as to write it up for me, and I must apologize for the delay.

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Perranporth, Cornwall

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These pictures where taken during a pilgrimage we made, the day Pope Francis was elected, to a nearby relic of the beginnings of Christianity in Cornwall, namely, the ruins of St. Piran’s Oratory in Perranporth. The area is characterized by rough sand dunes covered with thin grass, brambles and brush. The Oratory is now no longer visible but is marked by a stone memorial. When St. Piran escaped martyrdom and managed to reach Cornwall from Ireland, even though he had been thrown in the ocean chained to a millstone, he built the oratory in thanksgiving for his deliverance and in order to preach the gospel to the people of Cornwall. Continue reading

Meanderings Here in England

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I have been meaning to get some pictures up for a while.  The friars both in Lanherne and Stoke-On-Trent have been good enough to get me out on some pilgrimages.  I have not included pictures from each place.  I wish … Continue reading

Cornwall: Land of Saints

I write this post from my where I am now assigned as chaplain to our contemplative sisters in Lanherne, St. Mawgan in the County of Corwall in England.  I am taking the place of Fr. George Mary Roth, who has faithfully served the sisters and the local people of Cornwall for nine years.  His departure is deeply felt by all and he will be sorely missed.  May God reward him for all the good he has done here. May Our Lady keep him under his mantle along the path on which She guides him.

The picture above is the front yard of the friary which is at the left (click on the photo for a larger file).  Actually the front of the building as you see it is the extern quarters to the convent of our contemplative sisters who occupy the much larger part of the building.

The property of the convent lies in a valley through which formerly ran a river.  It is a approximately a mile and a half from the sea at St. Mawgan Porth, which can be reached from a footpath nearby.

Christianity arrived in Cornwall in the 5th century, at places like Lanherne, at what became various monastic centers situated around the area.  That was at the time of the legendary Arthur Pendragon, who is said to have been born in Tintagel, which is about a half hour north of here on the coast, where the friars play tennis once a week with a local priest and friend, Fr. Brian Storey. Glastonbury, or the legendary Avalon is about one hundred miles to the north.

Celtic monks founded a monastery at Lanherne in the 6th century the site of the present convent, which later came into the possession of the bishops and still later of the great English noble family of Arundell.  The present building is the medieval Manor House of the Arundells, which is the center of Catholicism in the area. The estate provided work for many people and the family built the Medieval Church of St. Mawgan which you can see in the background of the picture above.  The parish church is now in the possession of the Church of England and the convent is separated from the church property by an ancient wall.

The Arundells remained a faithful Catholic family that suffered terribly throughout the period of the English Reformation. They used the manor house to hide Catholic priests, who were in threat of certain death if captured.  Not least of these courageous priests was St. Cuthbert Mayne, who was eventually captured nearby at and hung drawn and quartered at Launceston, his quarters being sent to the four corners of the realm, his head being placed on a pike.  The top of his scull is in the possession of the convent and is venerated here every Sunday after Mass.  One can clearly see the hole in the top of the cranium from where his head was placed on the pike.

Local historians know more or less where the hiding places for priests (priest holes) were built into the manor house walls.  One of them is believed to be in the present chapel of the friars, though modern paneling currently prevents its definitive discovery.

The Manor House was also a way station along the route of the Welsh pilgrims to St. James of Compostella.  The scallop shell of St. James is engraved in stone above the front door.

In 1794 the Manor House was offered by the Arundell family to a group of English Carmelite nuns who were fleeing France because of the persecution of the French Revolution.  From that time until fifteen or so years ago the Manor house has been a carmelite monastery.  The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate took it over and it remains the place of their enclosure as contemplatives consecrated unlimitedly to the Immaculate.

Land of Saints

If one considers the whole length of history of Lanherne from the earliest Christian times when monasticism was developing and becoming the means of spreading the faith, to the period of the Middle ages in which a great Catholic family provided the means for the local people to live a life of faith in peace, to the time of the persecution of the Church, when the same family made sure that priests were protected and the Sacraments continued to be made available to the people, to the time of restoration in which contemplative nuns rekindled the fire in a place hollowed by holy men and women who suffered and bled for Christ, then one can come to appreciate what an important place Lanherne is to the Catholic Church in England.  Indeed, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been celebrated here continuously since the foundations of Christianity in England, even during the penal times.  It is perhaps the only place in England where Jesus in the Eucharist has had such a continuous and enduring presence.

Cornwall is known as the Land of Saints because of the numerous places throughout the county that are named after saints, most of them very ancient local saints.  England, like so many other places in the Western World has had a lapse in its Christian memory.  But England in particular, as Our Lady’s Dowry, is particularly haunted by the ghost of Catholicsm.  It is everywhere present, but often stands almost unnoticed as though it was invisible.  However, the fire kindled by the saints remains alive.  An ancient building may merely be a monument to past ages, or it may be a meeting place of multiple generations of men and women who pass on the flame.  To think I pray each morning in a room that one day long ago may have been searched by the enemies of the faith, and behind a hidden panel in the wall a saint, and soon to be martyr, held his breath lest he be discovered!  May we never forget!  May we never allow ourselves the pitiable luxury of forgetting the true cost and value of Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament.