In this issue, we celebrates the extraordinary life and vocation of Dom Joseph Coombe-Tennant, who died at the age of 76 in 1989. His mother was a noted psychic and he was born – named Henry – as a result of her conviction that a former spiritualist mentor wanted her to have a child by her fellow spiritualist, Gerald Balfour, brother of the prime minister. Which just goes to show the wonderful and strange workings of Providence. Coombe-Tennant was a brilliant man with an extraordinary mind and a war hero. His vocation came when he was subjected to acute mental and physical abuse during the bloody revolution in Iraq in 1958. It was thought to be the catalyst for his conversion to Catholicism and ultimately his reception into Downside as a monk. There are many other stories such as his, of men who were brilliant in the world, but gravitated towards the monasteries to find their real vocation. But they are stories largely from the past. Why are there so few now? Because monasticism is held in less high esteem within the Church and the world, because of the association of some houses with the problem of clerical sexual abuse of minors and because many religious houses are no longer clear about what they are for. If we are to have more vocations such as this, the religious orders need to have a lucid sense of their calling, if necessary by returning to the values of their founders. Otherwise there won’t be more monks like Dom Joseph.
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