Teresa Helena Higginson
SERVANT OF GOD
"THE SPOUSE OF THE CRUCIFIED"
BY CECIL KERR
Nihil Obstat: Georgius H. Joyce, S.J., Censor deputatus.
Imprimatur: Edm: Can: Surmont, Vic. gen.
Westmonasterii, die 2 Septembris 1926.
THE following pages relate the history of a simple English-woman — a humble teacher in our elementary schools who, not long ago, passed unnoticed and unknown among the crowds of our busy streets and along our lonely country lanes. It is but twenty years since she was laid to rest in the little village churchyard at Neston. Her sisters and one friend only were present at the funeral: she shared her mother's grave: her name was not even added to the tombstone. And yet today this name is on many lips, and a memorial bearing numerous and influential signatures has been addressed to the Archbishop of Liverpool, praying him to institute a preliminary canonical enquiry into her virtues, with a view to her ultimate exaltation to the altars of the Church. The evidence must be duly weighed and sifted, and until the Church has spoken none may venture to pass judgment; but some record, however inadequate, of her life will doubtless be acceptable to those who are interested in her cause. The account here given has been taken entirely from her own writings, from the statements of her confessors, and the lips of those who knew her, many of whom are still alive. It is given without commentary or attempted explanation. Much of it is very wonderful: some of it is startling — to many minds it may be even distasteful — much will no doubt be criticised and controverted. But, in the words of her own Bishop: "If this is the work of God, it will prosper in spite of opposition." And while the Process is being carried on, her friends are asked to pray that, if it be indeed the work of God, He will speedily exalt His humble servant, so that, ere long, through the voice of Holy Church, all nations may call her blessed. Should such prove to be His Will, we, in these Isles, shall surely be glad and rejoice that after the lapse of so many centuries yet another English name is invoked among the saints of God. For with what confidence might we not turn to one who so lately trod our great cities, spoke our own tongue and shared our life and customs, begging her by her prayers to hasten the day when her dear native land may once more find shelter in the one true Fold.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 1926.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
1. — Teresa's own letters to her directors, Fr. Powell and Canon Snow.1 These were all carefully collected by Canon Snow and left by him to Fr. O'Sullivan, OSB, who entrusted them to the author with a view to the compilation of the Life.
The following are Canon Snow's instructions to his executors with regard to these papers:
To my Executors,
The whole contents of this drawer are the letters and writings of the Servant of God, Teresa Higginson, copies of them, and various writings concerning her and the Devotion to the Sacred Head of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. None of these papers must be destroyed but carefully preserved together, and God in His own time and His own way will bring them to light and cause them to be used to His own honour and glory and the good of souls.
It is right for me to leave it on record that I was her director from September 1883, till her death on the fifteenth of February, 1905. During that period she lived in various places (eleven years at St. Catherine's Convent, Edinburgh) and went to confession to the local priest, but she was in constant communication with me and always regarded me as her director to whom she was under her vow of obedience.
Since Benedict XIV in his essay on canonization says that great weight ought to be given to the opinion of the director of the Servant of God, I feel I should do wrong if I died without leaving behind me a declaration, which I now make, that it is my strong conviction that Teresa Higginson was from her very childhood called to a very high degree of sanctity, that she was led by extraordinary ways; that she went through, one after another, the various degrees of prayer and union up to and including the Mystical Marriage. (This last she beautifully described in a letter to Fr. Powell and in one to me.) This conviction was formed by my intimate knowledge of her, her interior, her way of life, her heroic virtues, her sufferings and trials, her writings, the analogy between her life and the lives of the saints, all combined with my knowledge of mystical theology of which I made constant and close study.
2. — "Observations on the life of the Servant of God, Teresa Higginson, Spouse of the Crucified", by Canon Snow.
3. — Notes on her life till she went to Bootle in 1879, by Canon Snow.
4. — A diary kept by Canon Snow from 1883 to 1885.
5. — Letters from Canon Snow to Fr. O'Sullivan, OSB.
6. — Letters from her earlier directors, Fr. Wells and Fr. Powell.
7. — The statements of her fellow lodgers with regard to the attacks of the Devil.
8. — Notes taken by Miss Ryland and Miss Woodward of Teresa's condition and conduct when participating in the Passion during her ecstasies at Wigan.
9. — Letters of Bishop Knight, Fr. Wilberforce, OP, Mons. Weld, Fr. Hall, OSB, and others who were asked to investigate her case.
10. — Written and verbal statements of her sister, her friends and those who lived with her, many of whom are still alive, not a few having since entered religion.
1. Father Edward Powell, the rector of St. Alexander's, Bootle, was Teresa's director from 1879-83. He afterwards went to Lydiate but remained in close touch with her until his death in 1901. Father Alfred Snow, of St. Mary's Aughton, succeeded Father Powell as her director and remained so till the end of her life. He was made a Canon in 1901, and later Chancellor of the archdiocese. He died in 1922.
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