Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maisie Ward

Writing about Caryll Houselander brings one, of course, to her friend and biographer, Maisie Ward. Maisie and her Australian husband Frank Sheed worked for the Catholic Evidence Guild and started their own publishing house. The Catholic Evidence Guild had strict guidelines for their lay catechists, who would preach in parks and on street corners.

Guild members formed close ties by studying and training together and sharing a vibrant spiritual life. Their outreach was grounded in prayer and daily Mass. They maintained an important rule: For every hour on the soapbox, they had to spend an equal amount of time before the Blessed Sacrament.

The speakers were taught never to attack others or to be confrontational in anyway. "We cannot regard the non-Catholic as an enemy," Frank wrote. Nor was the goal to demonstrate "clever ideas for getting the better of an antagonist." The Guild's ultimate aim was to "spread a knowledge of the truth."

The Guild challenged and sharpened Maisie's and Frank's beliefs; it transformed their ideas about serving the church with their talents; it catapulted them into a life of speaking and writing; and not least of all, it brought them together. They became the Guild's natural leaders. Together they compiled the Catholic Evidence Training Outlines, a speakers' handbook that remains in use today.

Frank and Maisie got to know each other while being heckled in Hyde Park. According to an article by Patrick Madrid:
They met at a Catholic Evidence Guild talk. He was working with the guild to make ends meet while he decided what to do with his life. Maisie Ward was a speaker one afternoon at the center where he was helping.

Their encounter was the start of the famous Sheed and Ward publishing career that would catapult many now-legendary Catholic writers to prominence.

Maisie was as different from Sheed as one could imagine. He, although now a Catholic, had been raised a Protestant. The Wards were an ardently Catholic family that had converted to the faith in the 1860s. Maisie was born in 1889, when the English faithful were still severely tested by their country's oppressive anti-Romanism. Frank was an Australian with a broad, suntanned brogue and a taste for adventure and action.

Maisie was English, Edwardian, proper, upper-crust, ferociously Catholic, witty, likable, and incredibly intelligent. Born into a family of writers and editors, Maisie's mind was as keen and expansive as Frank's, and she was steeped in centuries of tough-as-nails English Catholicism. His family was poor; hers had money. For years, the Wards had rubbed shoulders with the major figures in the English Church. This heady atmosphere, cloudy with incense and ringing with Latin and chant and the glorious echoes of generations of recusant English Catholics, was immensely attractive to Sheed. He gravitated immediately to Maisie and her live-wire Catholic world....

Along the way, he and Maisie decided that in addition to writing their own books, they would help fledgling Catholic authors launch their careers. And so they formed a publishing house: Sheed and Ward.

Frank and Maisie paved the way for the lay apologists of today. The Sheeds had their soap boxes; we have our blogs. It is admirable how they helped other Catholic writers. Let us hope we can be live up to their high standards of wit, charity, and compassion.



Anonymous said...

I like your idea that many Catholic blogs may be today's version of the streetcorner soapbox preachers! In that case, I wonder what the writing-to-speaking ratio of time might be, so we could calculate how much time we should spend in prayer for each hour spent blogging/commenting on blogs!

elena maria vidal said...

Good point!

Anonymous said...

Now that there is an 'army' of retiree's due to ageing 'baby boomers', their time and talents would be well spent in prayer and community outreach. They were noisy enough as youngsters protesting in the streets.

Unknown said...

Interesting, and coincidently I was reading a book that my son had read by Marigold Hunt, and she was a guild member as well. Thanks for the C. Houselander book mention(previous post). :) I'll look for that one.

elena maria vidal said...

Interesting, Alexandra, we need to revive the memory of some of those wonderful writers.