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  • Alex Van Goethem

Celebrating World Animal Day

Fr Theodore Evans SJ, WW1 army chaplain, with his horse

World Animal day is celebrated on the 4th October. Its mission is “to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe”. World Animal Day was chosen to be on the 4th October as it is the day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, merchants and ecology.

In addition to serving as a day to raise awareness of animal welfare it also provides us with an excellent opportunity to showcase a few of our furry friends found amongst collections at the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

As a general rule, Jesuits don’t have pets, but it should come as no surprise that a few Jesuits strayed from this tradition and kept a dog - after all, it was recently voted the nation’s favourite pet. The human-canine relationship was particularly strong with Fr Charles Plater SJ and Fr Robert de Trafford SJ. The two photographs below, taken around the beginning of the 20th century, show Fr Plater with his bulldog, Jimmy. Fr Plater (1875-1921) was very fond of Jimmy, and the ‘famous RC dog’, as he came to be called, spent many happy years helping Fr Plater as an ‘icebreaker’ with shy young men in need of a priest. Others also grew to love Jimmy as a quickly became a beloved member of the community.

Two black and white photographs side by side. In the left-hand photograph a dog sits on a chair wearing a headscarf. In the right-had photograph a white man in clerical dress sits on a chair. Next to him the same dog sits on a table.
Jimmy and Fr Charles Plater SJ (ref. SJ/PH/1013)

As mentioned above, another dog-devotee amongst the Jesuits was Fr Robert de Trafford SJ (1887-1969), who was described as being a real outdoorsman and devoted to his dogs. Fr de Trafford had a sheepdog named Trixie whom he loved to take out for walks during his time at Heythrop. In the photos below you can see Fr de Trafford washing and walking Trixie.

Black and white photograph of an older white man in clerical dress washing a dog in the sink
Fr de Trafford with Trixie, his sheepdog (ref. SJ/PH/317)

Also found amongst Fr de Trafford’s collection is a postcard, shown below, written from the point of view of Nettle the dog to her sister, presumably Trixie. The postcard talks about her first time wearing a collar and getting into a scrap with ‘Nosey’.

Black and white photograph of an older white man in clerical dress sitting on a rock with a tree in the background, holding two puppies
Front of the postcard from ‘Nettle’ the dog shows Fr de Trafford with two puppies (possibly Trixie and Nettle) (1936) (ref. SJ/PH/317)

Animals have always been a source of inspiration for contributors to the Blandyke Papers – a set of manuscript journals written by Jesuits in training. One example, shown below, is of a short play called ‘The Heroes of the Song’. The play’s theme is centred on the natural order that exists between dogs, cats and mice, and how removing or inserting one can lead to chaos.

From the Blandyke Papers, vol. 40b, January 1892

Scene I reads:

How nature has provided well,

to keep the balance nice.

Vide – the way she balances

the cats against the mice.

For if there were no cats of course,

the mice would multiply;

and if there were no mice of course,

the pussy-cats would die.

Fascination with the animal world continues to be demonstrated throughout the Blandyke Papers with poems, articles and plays, but also with drawings and diagrams, as the next example shows. Fr Thomas Unsworth SJ’s particular interest in birds led him to write an essay on the theory of flight, within this essay he included beautifully drawn anatomical diagrams of three different birds.

Fig. 1 is the wing of a gannet. Fig. 2 is the skeleton wing of a pigeon. Fig. 3 is a hovering kestrel (Blandyke Papers 25, April 1890)

Missionary work means that English Jesuits have also had encounters with animals of a more exotic nature, a few of these being experiences which they would certainly not wish to repeat. Fr Henry Widlake SJ (1910-1978) is most definitely one of these. Fr Widlake was a very fond swimmer and the hot climate of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he was posted, gave him every excuse to jump into water. The account below describes his terrifying encounter with a crocodile. Fortunately Fr Widlake survived the ordeal, though he came away from the encounter completely in shock and losing a lot of blood. He bore the marks of the crocodile’s bite for the rest of his life.

Ref. SJ/68/1

If you are interested in any of the items mentioned in the blog post or in the work of the Archives in general, please contact us.

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