Thomas Alder Pope

From the Oratory Parish Magazine for August 1904.

Fr. Thomas Pope was born on January 8th, 1819, was a Fellow-Commoner of Jesus College, Cambridge, and after taking his degree was Curate of Trumpington, and then held the important living of St. Matthias, Stoke Newington. He was received into the Church by the Archbishop of Rouen, and joined the Oratory soon after.

His life as a holy Priest is known to all who knew him, and there are many who hold recollections of his kindly ministrations. Who will forget, who knew them, the precisions that he insisted upon – the vigour with which he pounced upon a slip-shod sentence or a false accent – the natty turns of his written English – the neatness of his translations – the unaffected kindness which sprang up at the call of genuine grief? or his stories and reminiscences, with just that dash of vinegar which makes a tasteless vegetable into a clever salad?

Latterly, his failing health prevented him from taking any public part in the services of the Church, and to a younger generation he had already become a magni nominis umbra – a great recollection. But his excellent translation of Capecellatro’s Life of St. Philip – his short History of the Church, which is well worth a reprint – his translation of the Devotions of St. Gertrude – have all made a lasting mark amongst English Catholics.

A further reminiscence by Fr Denis Sheil is taken from the Oratory Parish Magazine for February 1961.

Father Thomas Pope belonged to a family distinguished for its knowlege of Eastern languages. He went to Cambridge and there came under the influence of the Tractarians and against the traditions of his family became an extreme High Churchman.

His High Churchmanship received a nasty blow when after his ordination as an Anglican clergyman, believing himself to have the fulness of the priestly powers, he was told by the ordaining bishop in the clearest terms that not only had the bishop no intention of bestowing a sacrificial priesthood but had deliberately and formally excluded any intention of the sort. He sought avice and proceeded to a very good living in the outskirts of London and got married. The whole High Church programme was set going in his parish and at the height of the anti-Catholic feeling in 1850 his parishioners burnt their vicar in effigy – but as he used to relate – he was in good company, Our Lady and the Pope being burnt with him.

At length his convictions led him to resign his valuable living and to become a Catholic. He gladly accepted Newman’s offer to be a master at the newly founded Oratory School, for he was now without means of any kind. His son became a boy of the school and his daughter went to Roehampton. They both died early and Thomas Pope felt himself free to join the Oratory.

Father Thomas was of slight stature but a formidable personage. Stalwart penitents declared they were made as nervous as twenty cats, but he was often kindly as well as often snappy. His sermons drew large congregations in the evening but towards the end they did not please so much, because he took to expounding the Old Testament. His style was brisk and animated and his sermons were excellent prose.

Towards the end of his life he was taken ill and put in charge of a male nurse who made it his business not to allow anyone to worry Father Thomas. One of the younger Fathers, however, persuaded Father Thomas to allow himself to be anointed. He protested violently and kept complaining about the way the young Father had forced the Sacrament upon him. But his illness took a fatal turn and he realised who was right.