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Challoner, Richard


Bishop, vicar apostolic of the London district, author; b. Lewes, Sussex, Sept. 29, 1691; d. London, Jan. 12, 1781. Challoner, the resolute leader of English Catholics during the 18th century, combined a firm administration with spiritual prudence necessitated by the times. His pastoral leadership, devotional writings, and exemplary life of prayer and mortification have made him one of the most venerated vicars apostolic of England. Challoner was converted from Presbyterianism to Catholicism in his youth while living at Lady Anastasia Holman's Warkworth Manor, where his widowed mother was housekeeper. He was tutored by the Holman's chaplain, John Gother, apologist and missionary, who arranged for Challoner's admittance to the English College at Douai (1705). He spent 25 years at Douai as student, teacher, and administrator, completing the 12 year course in eight years. After entering the seminary, he taught poetry, rhetoric, and philosophy. He was ordained (1716) and received his bachelor of divinity degree (1719), whereupon college officials appointed him vice president, professor of theology, and prefect of studies. He later earned a doctorate in divinity (1727).

Receiving a long-awaited missionary assignment, Challoner returned to England (1730). Although the penal laws were not as rigorously enforced as in former times, he was nevertheless compelled to live under layman's disguise, celebrate Mass secretly, and conduct religious meetings in obscure inns. Success as a missionary priest and "controversial writer" led to his appointment as vicar-general. Controversy over a pamphlet by Challoner, in part refuting an attack on Catholicism by Dr. Conyers Middleton, a prominent Anglican divine, forced him to return to Douai (1738). Anticipated papal appointment of Challoner to the Douai College presidency prompted vigorous intervention by Bp. Benjamin Petre, vicar apostolic of the London district, who pleaded to Rome that Challoner be made his coadjutor bishop. After difficulties and delay, Challoner returned to England and was consecrated titular bishop of Debra and nominated coadjutor with right of succession to Petre (1741). He assumed much of the work of the aging Petre and succeeded him in 1758. For the next 23 years he successfully administered the London district, which included ten counties, the Channel islands, and British North America.

Challoner's pastoral achievements are especially noteworthy when it is recalled that, due to existing laws, he spent his life in clandestine service. A zealous preacher particularly devoted to the poorer classes, he made numerous conversions in the London slums. He founded the "Benevolent Society for the Relief of the Aged and Infirmed Poor" and established three schools. Although Jacobite in sympathy, Challoner eventually recognized George III as de jure sovereign. He unsuccessfully sought practical solutions for Catholics forced by law to marry under Anglican rite. He defended episcopal authority over regular clergy and instituted conferences that increased clerical unity during a period of threatened imprisonment for "exercising the functions of a popish priest." In general, Challoner's episcopacy was marked

by efforts to infuse into the ancient faith a spirit of resistance to the anti-Catholic forces prevalent in the 18th century. He labored to save Catholicism in England from extinction; his writings and preachings served to strengthen the faith of the Catholic minority and to condition them to the possibility of a permanently hostile society. Challoner lived to see official signs of Catholic toleration, however, in the Catholic Relief Act (1778). During the Gordon Riots he fled London temporarily. He died several months later.

Challoner wrote numerous books and pamphlets. His major literary efforts were Think Well On't (1728), a book of meditations; The Garden of the Soul (1740), the most popular of his devotional writings, although subsequent editors radically altered the original; Memoirs of the Missionary Priest (2 v. 174142); Britannia Sancta (1745), a treatise depicting lives of English, Scottish, and Irish saints; Meditations for Every Day in the Year (1753); and British Martyrology (1761). Moreover, he revised the English Catechism, made several translations, e.g., The Imitation of Christ and St. Augustine's Confessions, and provided English Catholics with a more readable Bible by revising the Douay-Rheims. Although unsuccessful in making English Catholics steady readers of Scripture, Challoner's Bible (174952) was the standard Catholic version until recent times.

Bibliography: e. h. burton, The Life and Times of Bishop Challoner, 16911781, 2 v. (London 1909). m. trappes-lomax, Bishop Challoner (New York 1936). t. cooper, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 18851900; repr. with corrections, 21 v., 190809, 192122, 1938; suppl. 1901), 3:134952. d. matthew, Catholicism in England (2d ed. New York 1950). e. i. watkin, Roman Catholicism in England (New York 1957). j. cartmell, "Richard Challoner," Clergy Review 44 (1959), 577587. e. duffy, ed., Challoner and His Church: A Catholic Bishop in Georgian England (London 1981).

[j. t. covert]

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