Pope Francis has put a 19th century English Catholic priest who was a distant relative of Britain’s Prince William on the path to sainthood.
The Vatican said on Saturday that the pope had approved a decree recognising the “heroic virtues” of George Spencer, a priest of the Passionist religious order who lived from 1799 to 1864.
Spencer, who left the Anglican Church, took the name “Ignatius of St. Paul” after he became a Catholic priest.
Prince William and his brother Prince Harry are related to Spencer through their mother Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales, who died in 1997.
Spencer was Diana’s great-great-great-uncle, and also a great-uncle of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, according to the website of the Roman Catholic diocese of Shrewsbury.
He grew up on the Spencer ancestral estate in Althorp where Diana is buried.
After his ordination in Rome, he returned to England and ministered to poor Irish migrants in the West Midlands.
The Passionist religious order in Britain has been working on his sainthood cause for decades, investigating his life and writings.
More about him, from EWTN, via a Passionist website:
Fr. Spencer converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 31, scandalizing some in the Victorian society.
The Spencer family, mostly members of the Church of England, were the fifth wealthiest family in the country at the time.
Early on in his priesthood, Fr. Spencer was attracted to the active contemplative community of the Passionists. He became known for his ecumenical efforts in pursuit of “unity in truth,” the same quest for truth that led him to the Catholic faith.
According to Fr. John Kearns, the British Passionist Provincial, Fr. Spencer also maintained his love for cricket, calling it “my mania.”
He was also known for his work with the poor, particularly with Irish immigrants. He once said that he wished he could die like Jesus – “in a ditch, unseen and unknown.” The words ended up being prophetic, because Fr. Spencer died alone after having a seizure on a country lane near Edinburgh, Scotland. His body is entombed in the Church of St Anne and Blessed Dominic in St Helens, Merseyside.