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Priest who said future of Church rested on family rosary dies aged 95

Fr Thwaites ‘spoke in a gentle manner while firing off spiritual advice that could blow you off your feet'

A Jesuit priest who inspired Catholics across the country has died at the age of 95.

Fr Hugh Thwaites converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism following his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese during the Second World War and later became a Jesuit priest.

He was a strong supporter of the Extraordinary Form Mass and the Legion of Mary, and he linked the abandonment of the rosary with a loss of faith, writing: “If we want in any way to be like Jesus, we must do what His Mother asks. If we do not, can we expect things to go right? We cannot with impunity disobey the Mother of God.”

Following his conversion, Fr Thwaites was passionate about evangelisation and he was renowned for asking people: “Are you a Catholic?” and then adding: “But you would like to be, wouldn’t you?” He also once compared the Anglican Church to “whisky with three parts water”, while saying Catholics were “straight out of the bottle”.

Fr Thwaites was instrumental in the establishment of the annual Rosary Crusade, which will make its 28th year in October. During the crusade, Catholics process from Westminster Cathedral to London Oratory reciting the rosary.

In his booklet, Our Glorious Faith and How to Lose It, Fr Thwaites made a passionate case for the importance of the rosary to the Catholic faith.

He wrote: “I know that Fatima is only a private revelation, but nevertheless the Church has endorsed it, and that makes it rash for us to disregard it. If the Church informs us that Our Lady really did come to Fatima and tell us these things, then we must harken to her words. It really seems to me that those Catholics who do not take Fatima seriously and say the rosary every day in their homes are very akin to the Jews who laughed at Jeremiah.

“If God sends us His prophets and we do not take them seriously – well, we have the whole of the Old Testament to tell us what happens as a result. But at Fatima, God sent us not His prophets, but His Immaculate Mother. So I think that the abandonment of the family rosary is a main reason why so many Catholics have lost the faith. It seems to me that the Church of the future is going to consist solely of those families who have been faithful to the rosary. But there will be vast numbers of people whose families used to be Catholic.”

Priests and laymen have paid tribute to Fr Thwaites following the announcement of his death on Tuesday August 21.

Fr Tim Finigan, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, in the Archdiocese of Southwark, wrote in a blog post: “I had the privilege of meeting Fr Thwaites when I was a young student and from time to time since then. He converted to the Catholic faith as a result of his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese during the Second World War. He never bore resentment for his treatment, reasoning that the Japanese guards did not have the benefit of the Christian faith. His approach to evangelisation was direct and simple because he understood the truth and beauty of the Christian faith and wished others to benefit from it.

“Fr Thwaites always spoke in a kindly and gentle manner while firing off spiritual advice that could blow you off your feet; he was a priest who made many converts almost instantly by his sincerity and holiness, and converted countless lukewarm Catholics to a deeper following of Christ. He was passionately devoted to the rosary, loved the older form of the Mass and remained faithful to the traditional Jesuit daily spiritual exercises.

“May the Lord have mercy on his soul, forgive any sins he committed through human frailty, and bring him speedily into the presence of Our Lord, in the company of Our Lady whom he loved so faithfully and St Ignatius whose way of life he followed with fidelity. Requiescat in pace.”

Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, also wrote about Fr Hugh Thwaites.

He said: “Fr Thwaites has been a familiar figure on the traddy scene more or less forever. Despite his advanced age, by the time I met him, he had an extraordinary air of boyish innocence. Innocence, not ignorance.”

Dr Shaw went on to quote Fr Thwaites’s comments on his conversion to Catholicism. Fr Thwaites had said: “In that first letter home I told my parents I’d become a Catholic since leaving England, and that in spite of everything I’d had the happiest three and a half years of my life. I forget how I tried to explain it, but it would not have been more succinct than King David’s ‘Thou has put into my heart more than when corn and wine abound’ in Psalm 4. I expect my family thought I had gone off my head.”

Fr Thwaites’s funeral Mass was due to take place on Friday at noon at Corpus Christi church in Bournemouth, Dorset.

A Requiem Mass in Latin is also due to be celebrated at noon on Saturday September 29 at St Bede’s Clapham Park, London.