News today that my friend Stratford Caldecott has died from cancer. Kathy Schiffer has a great tribute to him here. Which I can’t really top. She covers all his accomplishments and Mark Shea relates an anecdote which captures Strat’s gentle, wry, intellectual personality perfectly. Go here.
“Strat” Caldecott, the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, was a giant in the Catholic world. Among his many credits, he served on the editorial board of the International Theological JournalCommunio, as well as the Catholic Truth Society. He was co-editor forMagnificat UK, and he published his own literary journal Second Spring. Caldecott was involved with T&T Clark publications and the Catholic Truth Society. He received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C.
I first got to know Strat soon after I converted to the Catholic Church in 1995. We shared an interest in Chesterton and the Inklings and on regular visits to Oxford where my employer St Barnabas Society was headquartered, I would often wander down to Strat’s office in Jericho where he was surrounded by books, books, books and more books. He also cherished some of the Chesterton memorabilia. The toy theater Chesterton would play with to entertain children, Chesterton’s walking stick and books.
We visited his elderly mother in Bath once when he visited our home and he was kind enough to contribute a chapter in my first book The Path to Rome: Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church. He told his conversion story from a boyhood in an agnostic, intellectual home through to his time at Oxford, an early awakening of the religious sense, his exploration of Eastern spirituality and New Age philosophy, and finally a conversion to Christianity and Catholicism. Mutual friend and colleague Cyprian Blamires has kindly sent me the electronic version of Strat’s conversion story which you can read in full here.Strat held a sure, constant and quiet faith, defending and explaining the faith through his writing and publishing.In many ways, he was marginalized by both the intellectual establishment and the Catholic establishment in England. I don’t think it is too unfair to observe that the English establishment do not like Catholics and the Catholic establishment do not like intellectuals. Strat, being a Catholic intellectual, remained an outsider. He was also an outsider in England because he was, like me, a foreigner. He didn’t really fit in. He also didn’t really fit in in English Catholic circles because he actually did something. He didn’t wait to be asked and didn’t wait to be thanked. He organized international conferences. He started publishing houses, intellectual journals and worked tirelessly editing, writing, encouraging writers and quietly building up an impressive and powerful body of work.
I last met up with Strat the summer of 2013 when I traveled back to England to visit my sister, who was suffering from a horrible cancer. On the way back to the airport from Worcester my older brother and I stopped in Oxford for two days so I could show him my old stomping grounds. While Don lounged by the river Thames I hiked across Folly Bridge and found my way to Strat and Leonie’s home. As usual there was a humble warm welcome, a cup of tea and a quiet chat about the books we were working on, the plans we had for the future and Strat’s battle with cancer.
I was delighted earlier this year when Strat was honored by the surprise Marvel comics tribute. The story of how his daughter Sophie got a gang of movie stars to encourage her father is here. When it went viral across the globe I thought how strange and wonderful providence is that Strat should find himself in the limelight, and that in that light he was able to continue to bear witness to that greater light that illuminated his soul with such clarity, simplicity and quiet strength.
After the children from Narnia pass through the stable door they meet their friends and run with great joy into the real Narnia. As they run together they cry “further up and further in!” Strat is a fine example of a Christian gentleman and scholar, a humble man of letters and of great accomplishment. Now he has run his race and finished the course.
Further up and Further in Strat!