The relationship between the Guild and the Catholic Church was not always straightforward. Bishops were distrustful of this group of articulate, independent thinkers whose ideas often went far beyond church teaching. Nevertheless, the Guild was a source of fascination to the many priests who visited on a regular basis. In addition, there were several priests more closely associated with the Guild – some as advisors, other being family members who were inspired to join the priesthood by what they saw at Ditchling. This brief article is an account of the more notable clerics.
Monsignor John O’Connor
John O’Connor (1870–1952), was an Irish Catholic parish priest in Bradford, Yorkshire, was the basis of G. K. Chesterton’s fictional detective Father Brown. O’Connor was instrumental in G. K. Chesterton’s conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922. He became a close friend of Eric Gill, and O’Connor received David Jones into the church in 1921.
Fr Vincent McNabb
Fr. McNabb was a member of the Dominican order for 58 years and served as professor of philosophy at Hawkesyard Priory, prior at Woodchester, parish priest at St. Dominic’s Priory, and prior and librarian at Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, as well as in various other official capacities for his Dominican province .Fr. McNabb was among the early Catholic ecumenists, seeking in particular to promote reunion between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans.
McNabb sought also to promote a vision of social justice inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas and by Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum, which called upon “every minister of holy religion… to bring to the struggle [for broad distribution of property] the full energy of his mind and all his powers of endurance”, as well as to shore up both faith and reason against the threat of modernism. This led him to promote distributism, especially those aspects relating to land ownership, and he was a key figure in the Catholic Land Movement. He was an important influence on Gill when he first became a Catholic, although this influence waned as the Guild were not able to pursue his ideas in agricultural self-sufficiency.
Fr Desmond Chute
Father Desmond Chute was a founder member of the Guild – see main article
Fr Conrad Pepler
The son of Hilary Pepler, Conrad (Stephen) Pepler O.P. (1908 – 1993) was an English Dominican priest, writer, editor, and publisher. He was the founder-Warden of the first Roman Catholic conference centre in the UK, at Spode House, Staffordshire.
Fr John Hagreen
The son of Philip Hagreen, John Dominic Hagreen (1919 – 2003) was a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark for nearly 51 years. After ordination in June 1952, Fr John worked first as an assistant priest, then as Parish Priest of St. John Fisher at Kidbrooke (a new parish) in 1975, as Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Brixton, and in 1984, as Parish Priest of St. Andrews Tenterden.
When the Guild broke up, Father John Hagreen was given custody of Joseph Cribb’s bas-relief of St Joseph where it was installed in the church of St Teresa of Lisieux, Horns Cross, Northiam, which was then in his charge.
Fr Vincent Maxwell
Father Vincent Maxwell was the son of George Maxwell. He worked as a parish priest in the Sussex Diocese. He also held the unlikely office of Diocese Exorcist. I met him several times as he often officiated at family weddings and funerals.
Fr Kevin Gaskin
Fr Kevin Gaskin (1937- 2014) was the grandson of George Maxwell, nephew of Fr Vincent Maxwell. He was ordained on 29th June 1962 and was Parish Priest at Wadhurst, East Sussex.