PMGenesis: Chapter 5

Peter Milward's Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


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Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  











 St. Beuno's College

































  A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward









     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward










Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 









 Mystical Journey, the autobiography of William Johnston, S.J., author of Mystical Theology and many other works on mysticism








 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.








All About Francis Xavier (Articles on Japanese Catholic History and Jesuits) 















Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan













5. Pastoral Peace


From Wimbledon in wartime to the peace of what Gerard Manley Hopkins calls “a pastoral forehead in Wales” was quite a change, and at first a welcome one.  Six of us, including my friend from Wimbledon, occupied one compartment of a train from the LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway) terminal of Euston in London to the seaside station of Rhyl on the coast of North Wales.  From there we bundled into one taxi, which took us some ten miles inland up the Clwyd valley to St Beuno’s College, the Jesuit noviciate, where those of us who survived the rigorous course – barely half the number – would remain for the next three years.  The college was built on the slope of a hill named Maenefa, looking out over the wide Vale of Clwyd, and on a fine day in summer it was indeed a wonderful view, filling the spirit of a poet like opkins with inspiration.  Across the “landscape plotted and pieced” with what Hopkins calls “fold, fallow and plough”, we could see the hills on the far side, so long as it wasn’t raining.  Behind them were the higher mountains of Carnedd Llewelyn and the Snowdon Range, which looked like a giant lying on his back with one of his knees as the peak of Snowdon.  For me it was a first introduction to mountain scenery, since in the South I had never seen anything higher than Leith Hill, which was a mere 965 feet, 35 feet short of the required 1,000 for a mountain.  I was, of course, impressed, but all too often those mountains, as is the bad habit of mountains, were hidden behind a veil of cloud.


The day of our arrival was September 7, 1943, so timed to coincide with the eve of Vow Day for the outgoing novices on September 8, the feast of Our Lady’s Birthday.  It was a strange world we were entering, even for those of us who were comparatively accustomed to a Jesuit education at colleges in Wimbledon, Stamford Hill in North London, Leeds and Liverpool, the Mount and Stonyhurst, Sheffield and Glasgow.  At the very beginning I disgraced myself by fainting during the long Vow Mass, as one after another of the outgoing novices pronounced the vow formula, and I had to be carried bodily out of the chapel.  It might have been interpreted as an ill omen for my stay at St Beuno’s, but that outcome wasn’t to be for me, though it was for half of my new companions.  As I soon came to realize, such a proportion of “drop-outs” wasn’t so surprising, considering the arduous nature of our training.  Indeed, how I myself managed to survive has always remained something of a mystery to me.  It seemed to me that the most promising of the novices would leave, while the less promising like myself would stay on.  From the outset the situation seemed to be ideal, from the viewpoint of our natural surroundings, appealing as it did to the heart of a poet like Hopkins – of whom, I should add, I hadn’t yet even heard.  As it was autumn, with September declining into golden October, the tall beech trees surrounding the college looked really gorgeous in the afternoon sunshine.  But we hadn’t come here all the way from London and the bombs to compose poems or to paint pictures.  We had come to be tested in the metaphorical fire of the noviciate to see if we really had a Jesuit vocation.  Nor was it long before we began to feel the metaphorical force of that fire.


After having fainted at Mass that first morning, I went on to enjoy the dinner held in honour of the voventes, those who had just taken their vows and were passing on from the noviciate to the juniorate.  At that dinner for the first time in my life I was able to taste wine, delicious rhubarb wine, with all the other “postulants” – so-called because we weren’t yet fully fledged “novices”.  The following morning, however, we repaired to the novices’ hall for the first lecture from our novice-master, a stern-looking priest named Father Enright.  In our eyes he amply justified his looks by informing us that, though wine might be passed round at meals on special occasions, it wasn’t for novices.  That is all I remember from his lecture, but it was more than enough to give me a bad impression of the new life I was about to begin.  A week later we were all accepted as novices.  None of us had yet left, and we all donned our old Jesuit gowns.  That is to say, though they were new for us, they were old in themselves, gowns that reached down to our shins but cut short at our sleeves and neck, leaving our tie in view.  We weren’t yet to wear a Roman collar with a black suit.  That was the privilege of juniors, or junior scholastics.  Twice a week we would gather in the novices’ hall for more lectures on the Jesuit rules, which struck me as excessively serious.  There was nothing at all humorous about them, though a fellow novice from Glasgow proposed to write a thesis on the ironical humour hidden in them.  Anyhow, our novice-master made no attempt to comply with that proposal, which probably never came to his ears.  Before leaving Wimbledon for St Beuno’s, I had been warned by one of the Jesuit fathers there that what I most needed for survival as a Jesuit was a sense of humour, and I could well believe him.


For me the greatest difficulty about the noviciate wasn’t the seriousness of the rules or the glum face of our novice-master, but the condition on which we had received exemption from military service, namely work in the fields.  Not that I minded occasional work outdoors, so long as the weather was reasonably warm, with a view over the valley.  But as golden October declined into cloudy, rainy November, it was no longer warm outside but bitterly cold, and still we had to work in the kitchen garden, mostly unskilled labour in pulling weeds out of excessively hard or muddy soil.  That is almost my principal memory of those noviciate years, weeding and more weeding on cold, rainy days.  All the time I was supposed to be thinking how important it was for me to weed out the vices and bad habits from my sinful soul.  Other novices who showed more talent might be promoted to the nobler task of digging – as it were in succession to the first gentleman, Adam.  But those on my lower level had nothing higher to hope for than the menial task of weeding.  In my mind’s eye I still see the prospect of a vast plot of land overgrown with weeds, and with my mind’s ear I still hear the order to pull out all the weeds.  It seemed a never-ending task, but it was fraught with all kinds of spiritual lessons, if only I had eyes to see and ears to hear them.


Another typical noviciate task, especially during those long winter months, I found particularly troublesome.  This was to make the fire for the older fathers every morning before they came back to their rooms after breakfast.  Needless to say, there was no central heating in the college in those early days, and the only heat took the form of coal fires in individual rooms.  This is what we had to do for the many senior fathers, who returned in their old age to the noviciate as an old folks’ home, where they could be looked after by the young novices.  Not that I grudged them my labour on their behalf.  I was only too willing to make their fires every morning before they came back.  Only, the problem facing me was, Could I make their fires in time?  First, I had to cover the grate with dry pages of an old newspaper, then spread dry chips over the pages, then cover the chips with an appropriate amount of coal, then put a match to the pages, and then cover the chimney with a flat piece of iron, so that the wind might blow up the chimney and set the fire going.  Such was the method I had been shown, since I had never before had any need to make a fire.  But the method never seemed to prosper under my hands.  Again and again I tried it, and again and again the fire went out.  Either the chips were too large or too wet, or I put on too much coal, or I didn’t wait long enough with the iron shield.  Then invariably, while I was still at work on the fire, the elderly occupant of the room would return after his breakfast, only to find no fire and to put the blame on me.


As for ourselves, we weren’t considered to be in need of a fire till the late afternoon.  We were supposed to be engaged in some form of work away from our rooms, whether indoors or outdoors.  Even then, I was no better at making my own fire than making one for the older fathers.  I was hopeless!  In my case, practice didn’t make perfect.  It only served to confirm me in my bad habits.  So I never learnt the secret of making a fire.  All the same, what with the cold of a long winter, and the long hours of pulling out weeds in the cold and the rain, and my lack of skill in the making of a fire, it wasn’t long before I had chilblains that remained with me throughout the winter.  Then I had to wear mittens, even or especially when I was weeding in the kitchen garden.  So the use of mittens for chilblains I have come to associate uniquely with those two painful years of noviciate formation.


While I had been at school in Wimbledon, I had looked forward to the noviciate as an ideal time for peace and prayer.  Even in my teens I had taken much delight in prayer, both private and liturgical.  When I came to St Beuno’s, however, I found to my disappointment that the Jesuit noviciate was anything but a school for prayer.  It was rather a school for self-denial and mortification.  True, we were allotted an hour for meditation every morning, and another hour in the evening, as well as two quarter-of-an-hour periods at midday and night for examination of conscience.  But during those hours for prayer I felt so tired, I had to spend most of the time fighting off feelings of sleepiness.  In the evening meditations we would gather in the chapel, and our time was divided between sitting, standing and kneeling together.  It was considered a sign of charity, if you noticed your neighbour asleep, to pull the wing of his gown to wake him up.  On one such occasion the novice who had his wing thus pulled must have been sound asleep, as he cried out, “Deo gratias!” – “Thanks be to God!” – which was the required response in the morning when we were woken up by the novice in charge.  It was so funny, it set us off laughing.  It doesn’t take much to provoke excessively ticklish novices to laughter!


Such were the more serious aspects of life in the noviciate, but there were also less serious, more humorous aspects, which naturally remain longer in my memory.  They were what saved us and preserved our endangered sanity.  It was indeed in the more serious settings, such as times of Mass and prayer, that we were most likely to be reduced even by the most trivial occasion to a state of helpless laughter.  Once we had a priest from America, who had been invited to say Mass for us one morning, but we found his Latin pronunciation so exaggeratedly American, even Yankee, that we couldn’t help laughing at him.  Not that we wanted to laugh.  Rather, we wanted desperately not to laugh, since the chapel was a holy place and we were supposed to respect the priest.  But for those very reasons it was practically impossible for us to repress the urge to laugh.  Again, one evening we were lined up in front of the novice-master’s room for the sacrament of confession, when one little novice, who had permission to go to bed early, opened the door of his nearby room, looked nervously in either direction, then darted across the gallery to read the notice-board for the notice about penances and darted back again.  It was so funny, we all burst out laughing, but this was particularly embarrassing for the novice – it was me – who was next in line for confession.  After all, it isn’t appropriate to confess one’s sins while laughing, or even trying not to laugh.


Another place of frequent laughter was the dining-room, or what we called the refectory, as well as the kitchen behind.  At least half the novices would be employed during the meal either in serving in the refectory or in washing up in the kitchen.  Once I remember a little novice, the one who had come out of his room while we were lined up for confession, handling two heavy soup tureens to be carried and laid at the top tables.  In his nervousness and fear, instead of walking with them, he ran in order to reach those tables in time.  Only, while he was running with them, some of their contents spilt onto the floor in front of him, he trod on the soup and slipped backwards on the floor, and so left the contents of both tureens flooding the floor.  There was an immediate rush for the door of the refectory to escape from the flood, while the servers had to clean the floor with a “squeegee” as soon as possible, so as to allow the meal to proceed.  On another occasion, towards the end of the meal, the hatch between the refectory and the kitchen had become clogged with used plates.  So the novice in charge of the hatch gave a push at the piles of plates to make more room for those on his side, when from the other side there came the sharp sound of a crash, as one pile of plates had been pushed too far and landed on the stone floor of the kitchen.  I could see the face of the novice-master, sitting at the top table and looking on all that was happening, showing all the emotions of helpless frustration.  It was a sight to be enjoyed!


The same novice-master was himself the victim of another such accident, not in the refectory but in the outhouses beyond the kitchen.  One day as three novices were returning from an afternoon walk and passing by the outhouses, they noticed someone bending over a sack of potatoes.  One of the novices was from Glasgow, noted for his habit of doing the wrong thing, if with the best of intentions.  This time he did the wrong thing, with a vengeance!  Foolishly he supposed the bending person was another novice, so without more ado he went up and gave him a sharp slap on the rear end.  That person rose up in just anger and turned out to be no novice but the novice-master!  Needless to say, the novice had to do a penance for his pains, a penance that consisted in confessing his fault in the refectory – though without stating the precise nature of his fault, which would have brought the roof down!  The same novice put his foot into it again, on the occasion of what was called a “chapter of faults”, when one novice had to kneel before the others, who would then accuse him of his various faults.  On this occasion, the penitent happened to be an almost perfect novice, and few of us could think of any faults to lay at his charge.  But the novice from Glasgow wasn’t to be put off.  He announced, “The brother pays too much attention to unimportant rules.”  Naturally, the novice-master wanted to know which rules.  Then the novice replied, “For example, the rules of modesty.”  The master fairly rose to his feet in righteous indignation!


From all this it might be concluded that I failed to get much out of those two years of noviciate, when all I remember are the many hardships I endured and some occasional amusing episodes.  These are, however, merely the few things I remember.  The more important things I have forgotten.  That is, I think, as it should be.  After all, isn’t education defined as what you remember when you have forgotten everything else?  Or rather, I would say that education is what you have forgotten when you remember everything else, being but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.


Anyhow, somehow in spite of everything I managed to survive the hardships of the noviciate over a period of two years, and so I was admitted to my first, simple vows on September 8 1945.  That date reminds me of something important I had forgotten.  All this time the war was going on, with various new bombs flying over London and the South of England and terrifying all who came within their radius.  But when it came to an end in Europe, it still went on in the Pacific region, till the month of August 1945 and the dropping of the atomic bomb first on Hiroshima, then on Nagasaki.  Yet of all this I was hardly aware, as the novices never got to read the daily papers and never listened to the radio.  Only on the morning of August 15, as I went into the cup-room to help prepare the refectory for breakfast, the brother in charge simply informed me (in his inimitable Lancashire accent), “Brother, the war’s ended!”  That was all I knew, but it was enough.  Later on I heard fuller details about the atomic bomb from the old father who directed our singing, and who had been a leading astronomer in his time.  He was so excited about the discovery of atomic power and the practical use to which it had been put in bringing the war to an end.  He seemed to have no qualms about the morality of the bomb.  For him it was enough that it had brought the war to an end.  The doubts began to assail me a little later, when I read a remarkable book by Ronald Knox, entitled God and the Atom.  Then I came to realize how atomic power had not only ended the war but also brought in a new age under the fearful shadow of “the bomb”.


In practice, however, I now felt myself liberated not so much from the war, which had by now come to assume an appearance of unreality, as from the hardships of the noviciate, especially from that of pulling up weeds in the kitchen garden.  Now I was a junior with two years ahead of me, in which I could return to my favourite studies –chiefly the Classics with History and French, as well as some attention to English literature and even the plays of Shakespeare.  The first year was spent at St Beuno’s, but for the second we were able to move to the original noviciate at Manresa, in the village of Roehampton to the South-West of London.  Of those two years and places it was the first year at St Beuno’s I chiefly enjoyed, now that I had grown accustomed to the genius of the place without having to endure its hardships.  Now I could appreciate, as Hopkins had appreciated, the changing moods of nature, the animals and the birds, the trees and the flowers, from one season to the next, and even the winter, when the snow came and transformed the view from our college windows.  Now I could explore the surrounding countryside, not as before in groups of three, chosen for us not by us, as indicated on the notice-board, but in groups of two whose choice was left to ourselves.  Now I took a special interest in the history of Europe – at school it had been limited to English history – with special emphasis on the Christian centuries.  What I studied then has remained at the back of my mind till now.  My love of Shakespeare hadn’t yet been awakened, though we studied two of his plays, King John and King Lear, but I was more interested in the writings of John Henry Newman.  Not that I necessarily agreed with him.  I even disputed with him over the idea he proposed in his lectures on university education that “Knowledge is an end in itself.”  In fact, I still disagree with him.  Knowledge isn’t an end in itself!  Anyhow, my disagreement with him and my development of my reasons for doing so was a kind of awakening of my mind after the long fallow period of the noviciate, when we had no intellectual stimulus of any kind.


 In my second year of juniorate the few of us remaining after the noviciate were transferred from St Beuno’s College to Manresa House.  The novices before us had returned to Manresa the year before, and during the two years after the war their number was considerably augmented by demobilized (“demobbed”) servicemen from the army, the navy and the air force.  By contrast, we were a small community of juniors left to ourselves in that strange building.  Then I got to realize that I am never really happy in a place till I have been there for several years.  At first, I had found life at St Beuno’s very difficult, and it took much endurance and determination to survive the two years of noviciate.  Only when I emerged from them into the comparative freedom of the juniorate did I feel myself a new man – thanks in part, if punningly, to Newman.  Now, however, though still in the juniorate and continuing the same studies as before, I didn’t feel myself so happy in this new house, close though it was to my old home in Wimbledon, just an hour’s walk across Wimbledon Common.  The only thing I really remember having enjoyed that year was the game of cricket, which we were now able to play on a level expanse of ground overlooking Richmond Park.  There were only a few of us left as juniors of the English province, but we were joined by two Irish juniors, who both did their best to learn the complicated game from us – and they managed very well.  Nor did I do so badly either.  It was perhaps a preparation for my future enjoyment of the next three years of philosophy in the wilds of Oxfordshire, on the edge of the Cotswold Hills, at Heythrop College.

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