Fr Charles Dominic Plater SJ
An article by Dr Bob Purdie, based on a talk given at Evensong in Jesus College Chapel, Oxford, on Sunday 6th May 2007:
Fr Charles Dominic Plater SJ was a great Oxford Christian, a social visionary, an inspiring leader, a tireless organiser and a caring pastor. He is best remembered for his work of educating working people through the Catholic Social Guild (CSG) and his scheme for a Catholic Workers College (later named Plater College, it closed, sadly, in 2005). He was born in London in 1875, educated at Stoneyhurst, and was a Jesuit novice in Oxford between 1900 and 1904. He returned in 1916, as Rector of what became Campion Hall. In Oxford he developed his mission to soldiers, but refused to become a chaplain because an officer’s uniform was a barrier. He spoke out against the rivalries that had led to war. He developed retreats to give working people rest and spirituality away from work and poverty. And he collaborated with the great Anglican churchmen, Charles Gore and William Temple.
His work should be seen against the background of the challenge of the socialist movement. The radical American priest Fr T. J. Hagerty, said the effect on the church was like a colt seeing its first steam train. For Catholics, socialism was incompatible with the natural right to property, it offered entirely secular solutions and many socialists were atheists. But workers did have rights and the state had a duty to ensure that employers did not veto them. In the London Mansion House in 1919, Plater addressed a gathering of eminent people discussing industrial relations. He asked whether they really meant to bring Christianity into their endeavours, “You have to pay for it by doing a very curious thing which is rather out of the line of ordinary business – you have to pay for it by carrying a cross.”
The CSG was part of the popular educational movement of the early 20th century, with the Workers’ Educational Association, university extra-mural departments and Ruskin College, which was his model for the Catholic Workers College, He understood that all education must be pastoral but adult education must also be democratic. It requires, to use a Catholic word, “solidarity”, brimming with love for Christ which spilled out into the lives of his students. If he had been born twenty years later I can imagine him making friends with George MacLeod on Iona in the 1930s and I can hear him singing John Bell hymns in the Abbey, on retreat with his Catholic workers from Liverpool or Birmingham. I thank God for his life and I pray for the fulfilment of his vision.
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