Monday, July 21, 2014

For our friend Stratford Caldecott, a man of soft voice, great books, belles lettres, and fierce intellect.

Man rises to fall: he tends to dissolution from the moment he begins to be; he lives on, indeed, in his children, he lives on in his name, he lives not on in his own person. He is, as regards the manifestations of his nature here below, as a bubble that breaks, and as water poured out upon the earth. He was young, he is old, he is never young again. This is the lament over him, poured forth in verse and in prose, by Christians and by heathen. The greatest work of God's hands under the sun, he, in all the manifestations of his complex being, is born only to die.
His bodily frame first begins to feel the power of this constraining law, though it is the last to succumb to it. We look at the bloom of youth with interest, yet with pity; and the more graceful and sweet it is, with pity so much the more; for, whatever be its excellence and its glory, soon it begins to be deformed and dishonoured by the very force of its living on. It grows into exhaustion and collapse, till at length it crumbles into that dust out of which it was originally taken.
I met Stratford about 25 years ago, when he encouraged me to pursue my work in church architecture. I had recently finished my master's work at Bath, and was living in London working as an architect. We met through the encouragement of our mutual friends, Richard and Carol Downer and John Saward, and had occasional lunches in the city talking about the faith, Newman and the Second Spring, Chesterton, art and architecture.

Strat took great interest in my recently completed thesis which critiqued modern Catholic architecture and sought to propose a new direction for the recovery of the deep, sacramental traditions of church design. Stratford understood what I was trying to say, he advocated for me without reserve, and he helped me find my voice.  He tried (unsuccessfully) to get the book ‘Architecture in Communion’ published through Harper Collins, but when I returned to the States we kept in touch and he asked me to write an essay for his journal Second Spring, which was then published through Catholic World Report.

From that article, priests started asking me to design churches, Ignatius Press determined to pick up the book, I was then invited to pursue the doctorate at the Graduate Theological Union, specializing in liturgy and architecture, and I now work primarily in Catholic church architecture. Looking back over the decades, I can see how Strat was instrumental in God's providence for my life as my career finally became my vocation.

We kept in touch over the years, and Strat asked me continue writing, encouraging me to write booklets on church architecture for Catholic Truth Society. Through fits and starts, missed deadlines, and grappling with how to take such a broad topic down to the level of a booklet, he regularly cajoled me to keep on task. For that is what Strat himself did: in 2011 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Throughout his sickness and treatment he continued to soldier on, doing what he was called to do, neither losing heart nor changing course because of the illness. He kept advocating me to his publisher, kept encouraging me to finish the manuscripts, and he shepherded them to completion. The first, Catholic Architecture, was published in May 2013 and the second, Understanding a Church, was published in May this year.

I dedicate both of those books to you, dear friend.

By May 2014, it was clear that his prognosis was fatal, and he told me that the doctors anticipated he would not make it through the summer. At the time I wrote to him, grateful that I could let him know in part the impact he had on my life:

‘You have been such a blessing to me — and I can honestly say that I am now working full time serving the Church in architecture mostly because you have advocated me and my ideas. That is a strange and wondrous bit of providence — probably not too significant in the grand scheme of things, and you have done so very much for so many in to help light their path in service to Christ — but for me it has been determinative. You have very much been part of the way our Lord has shaped the trajectory of my life. I simply want you to know that, and to let you know how grateful I am to you for your friendship and support.’
Stratford died this past week, leaving behind his loving wife Leonie with his beloved daughters and a profound legacy of friendships, writings, and scholarly initiatives. He was a reader of the great books and a writer of belles-lettres, he spoke quietly, in soft tones, always measured in his thought and words. Yet that gentle manner hid a fierce intellect and a leonine spirit (how apt that his beloved life's companion was so named), intent on serving the Lord and his Church.

The funeral mass will be held at the Oxford Oratory on July 31, at 10 a.m., and he will be laid to rest in the Wolvercote Cemetery, near the grave of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Please lift an Ave for the repose of the soul of our dear friend, and for the consolation of his family.

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