From Father James, Downside Abbey

A patron is someone we look to for inspiration and guidance in our lives; someone who can inspire us and help us navigate the twists and turns of life.

St Gregory the Great is the patron of our School, the Old Gregorians and the Monastery who inspires us in so many ways. He lived during much of the sixth century and for the first four years of the seventh century. It was a time of difficulty and many problems, not so unlike the problems we have encountered during the pandemic.

Who was Gregory?
Gregory was Italian, and came from a patrician family. He was immensely gifted and was accorded the title St Gregory the Great, as well as Doctor of the Church; he could be said to have had many strings to his bow. He was a brilliant administrator, and those gifts were brought to his work when he was the chief civil magistrate of the city of Rome, dealing with the many problems that beset the city. Deep down in his heart was his strong desire for the love of God and a life of prayer and contemplation. With the wealth he had, he founded a monastery in Rome and half a dozen others in Sicily, becoming a monk in Rome when he was 35.

Gregory’s Vision
St Gregory desired that all immerse themselves in prayer and the Word of God, as the Word of God informs and guides the hearts and minds of all. This deep meditation of scriptures was brought to his epoch-making pontificate that lasted 14 years, at a time of great difficulty and disorder. In 592, when the Lombards were devastating northern Italy he negotiated treaties with them; he reformed the administration of the estates of the Roman Church, and from their income spent large sums on the relief of sufferers, from war, pestilence and famine, and to ransom prisoners; he maintained the Church’s independence of the civil power, and himself provided for the discharge of duties in which the secular authorities were neglectful or inefficient.

St Gregory will always be remembered as being the Pope who sent St Augustine and 40 other monks from his own monastery of St Andrew on the Caelian Hill to bring the gospel to England. It is for this reason that Gregory is known as the Apostle of the English. In the early 17th century, when a group of English and Welsh men gathered in Douai to found a monastery, having come from the Spanish monasteries and the English College at Valladolid, it seemed natural to choose Pope St Gregory the Great as their patron. 

Gregory was responsible for the book, Regularis Pastoralis, ‘Pastoral Care,’ on the office and the duties of a bishop. This book came to be used throughout Christendom and was translated into English by King Alfred. Today’s gospel passage from St Luke is about service: the one who is in authority is there to serve. Gregory called himself, ‘servant of the servants of God.’ This is the title many Popes have chosen.

Gregory was a man who opened his heart to the love of Christ and allowed his thoughts and actions to be filled with that deep love. He reached out and helped so many and amidst the chaos and disorder around him; he brought peace – the Peace of Christ.