I have been delighted to find this video on Fr Quintin Montgomery Wright, which dates from 1988. Two indicators, his age of 74 and the controversy in that year over the four episcopal consecrations conferred by Archbishop Lefebvre. No one could care less nowadays!
My attention was drawn to this video by The Way We Were, itself referring to Fr Ray Blake’s website. My own association with this priest goes back to 1982 and my own disastrous conversion to Roman Catholicism. Also significant for me is the video on the SSPX UK History. I was received by Fr Black, and it was Fr Montgomery who had me re-confirmed by Archbishop Lefebvre at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in the following year, 1983. It was a Fr John Coulson, a former Camaldolese monk and World War II veteran looking after a small traditionalist chapel in Wimbledon, who pointed me to Fr Montgomery Wright.
At that time, I suffered considerably from the stifling bigotry of traditionalists in England and thought things would be better and more “natural” in France. I set off in July 1982 on a bicycle with a few belongings to explore the French traditionalist world. I took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, and cycled all the way to Fr Montgomery’s parish. I was 23 and had the naivety of a child. I had the idea that if there were still parishes like Le Chamblac, there might also be a diocese of the résistance. There were none, and the only option for anyone wanting to become a priest was Ecône and the Society of St Pius X. That meant my learning French and endearing myself to the Society in France. Thereupon began an extremely unstable and painful period of my life. Only recently would I begin to find answers in my own life rather than blame my shortcomings on others.
Fr Montgomery is probably the reason why I am living in France and a part of this country I link closely with England as he did. Though I aspired to being a country priest in a parish, my life would turn out in a totally different way. And fortunately. He had his life, and I mine. I arrived at the presbytery in July 1982, and Fr Montgomery was welcoming and charming. I spent until October 1982 with him and Christian, and then moved on to “pre-seminary” with the SSPX at a school near Chateauroux. Daily routine took us to Bernay and Mass with a small community of sisters looking after an old folk’s home, and we went each Sunday evening to Alençon where Mass was said in a hired hall.
The thing that most marked me about Fr Montgomery was his naivety, which I attribute at least partially to his age and experience of another era. He saw no difference between the gentle but determined Archbishop Lefebvre and his own life as a priest. Interestingly, Fr Montgomery Wright was involved in the worker priest movement in the 1950’s, which for him would have been a continuation of the radical socialism of the English slum priests of the Victorian era. He saw France through the eyes of an English gentlemen, and his eccentricity would allow him this distance not allowed for anyone younger.
This video was made at the time when I was a student at Fribourg and it would be a long time before I returned to Normandy. Fr Montgomery died in 1996 as a result of a car accident. I remember that he was quite a reckless driver as are many priests who are constantly on the road. Christian was in the car with him and was killed outright. I have visited Fr Montgomery’s grave, which is located in the corner between the south transept and the choir of the church at Le Chamblac. I should also say a word about the area where he lived. The Eure area of France is much more “backward” and France profonde than the Pays de Caux where I presently live. They are both rude areas with high winds and a climate that is very similar to southern England, conducive to apple trees and cows. He could become very attached to his pays, and I feel alienated just about anywhere!
For all his years in France and the traditionalist world, he seemed to have little understanding of the dialectic oppositions between “us and them” or “all or nothing”. He was fond of Archbishop Lefebvre, but had little understanding for the nasty aspects of intégrisme, which has its parallels in English and American radical conservatism. He was sheltered from it all by his being a parish priest, left alone by his exceptionally tolerant liberal Bishop (just as with Anglo-Catholic priests under Evangelical bishops in the Church of England). In his mind, everything was transposed, but there was nothing remotely “Anglo-Catholic” about the intégristes. His age protected him from accusations of being too Anglican (not sufficiently indoctrinated by the bullies and authoritarians of the traditionalist world).
He probably influenced me in many more ways than I would care to imagine. My own idea of “projecting” my Anglicanism onto the Roman Catholicism I experienced certainly did more than anything else to “undo” my illusory transition and return to some point where I could find my place. There is no comparison between the 1980’s and our own era, any more than with the 1950’s, 30’s or the Victorian era. Le Chamblac as it was then just would not be possible now. Many traditionalists became mainstream with Ecclesia Dei adflicta and the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but nothing has that lack of regulation and supervision of Fr Montgomery’s parish life or indeed or the parish of Bouloire (Le Mans) where I installed an organ and spent time with Fr Pecha (French from Bohemian roots).
Another thing with that era was that people were for or against anything. Now, the same people don’t care. Would it be the hypothesis of post-modernism where people shed off their “meta-narratives” and are content with nihilism? As we all get older, we get set in our ways and decreasingly in touch with the issues that matter to younger folk.
Illusions were still possible in the 1980’s, though they were vanishing like the morning mist. There are things that exist now that didn’t exist then, like the Institute of Christ the King that I joined in 1990. There are other religious communities. Of course, with the “mainstream” traditionalists, there are the issues of the 1962 liturgy, which would be perceived differently in rural France and suburban London. Oddly, I find much of the spirit I sought then in the ACC. We are very little regulated (as long as we don’t do anything really wrong) and we know each other. We don’t have the village folk, who had a good time riding on the piggy back without giving much in return. Fr Montgomery’s world ended in his little tomb in the corner between the transept and the choir of the church he loved. Ours on this earth will end too as I look over my even more fragile religious world.
If we are Christians, we are undaunted by the prospect of passing from this world, judging ourselves more harshly than God would judge us, and entering a world we cannot presently imagine. I shed my illusions many years ago and have learned to live with the reality of despicere terram et amare caelestiam.