Catholic cultural renewal advocate Stratford Caldecott mourned
Stratford Caldecott, a Catholic cultural thinker dedicated to literature, theology, and the “second spring” of Catholicism, passed away Thursday, weeks after Hollywood stars took to Twitter to support him in his struggle with cancer.
Those who mourned his death included his friend Michael J. Lichens, editor of the U.S.-based website Catholic Exchange.
“I don't know anyone who has encountered Stratford Caldecott and not been changed, whether that was by his writing or meeting him in person,” Lichens told CNA July 18.
“His words, his example of love and charity, and his absolute gratitude for life shined through in his writings and also made him an absolute joy to encounter.”
“He was, without a doubt, the most powerful voice for Catholic culture in the Anglophone world.”
Caldecott, known to his friends as “Strat,” died in Oxford, England, on July 17 of prostate cancer.
Leaders with the U.K.-based Catholic Truth Society praised his “encyclopedic knowledge of the faith” and his “authentic talent for spotting gifted writers who, like himself, could explain the riches of the faith to all.”
Among his many roles, Caldecott served as commissioning editor of the Catholic Truth Society’s Compass magazine.
Caldecott wrote on the importance of Catholic culture, education, aesthetics, and theology. He drew inspiration from the luminaries of English-speaking Catholicism: Blessed John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Christopher Dawson.
His wrote various books about the sacraments, Catholic education, Catholic liturgy, aesthetics, and the spiritual vision of Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Caldecott was the founder of the Second Spring journal, which takes its name from a sermon by Cardinal Newman that encouraged a Catholic revival in England.
He founded the Centre for Faith & Culture at Westminster College in Oxford, and later became the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford.
He served as an editor for many journals, including the U.K. and Ireland edition of “Magnificat” and The Humanum Review, the journal of the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.
He served on the editorial boards of the journals Communio, The Chesterton Review, and Oasis.
Caldecott was born in South Africa and raised in London. He became interested in mysticism and religion as a teen. He studied philosophy and psychology at Oxford, and later converted to the Baha’i religion. He became involved in Buddhism, but his interest also grew in Christianity.
He recounted his conversion story in an essay in the collection “The Path To Rome – Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church,” published in the U.K. by Gracewing and reprinted on the Patheos blog “Standing on my Head” by Father Dwight Longenecker.
Caldecott had a dream about the Holy Grail that made him realize the importance of stories from his childhood, such as the King Arthur legends, Tolkien’s works, and the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
“All along, my imagination had been built on a Christian foundation, and I had never noticed it before,” he wrote.
He then began to study the Catholic faith. He said that he recognized in Catholic teaching “the God of my interior horizon,” described by St. Thomas Aquinas as “closer to the soul than the soul is to itself.”
“To reject the invitation of that God would have been to deny my true self,” Caldecott wrote.
“I had not expected this. I had intended not to ‘fall in love’ but simply to test Catholicism for its persuasive power, and then break the news gradually to my family, completely prepared in advance to answer all the inevitable objections.”
He was baptized in 1980. His wife Leonie entered the Church two years later.
“I began to realize that no matter how much grace is present in the other religions, it is only Christianity that knows the secret of how grace enters the world,” he said. “Without the cross, no ‘religion’ would suffice – were it founded on the Beatitudes themselves.”
“Christ came not primarily to teach, but to do. He came to die for us.”
While deeply admired by Catholics and others around the world, Caldecott gained his greatest worldwide prominence in his final months due to his lifelong appreciation for comic books about super heroes.
Because of his cancer, Caldecott was too ill to go to the movie theaters to see the Marvel Studios film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
In May, Caldecott’s daughter Sophie took to the social media site Twitter to ask Marvel to send her father a copy of the movie so he could watch it at home. She enlisted the help of the general public and of Hollywood movie stars under the hashtag “#CapForStrat”, to encourage Stratford in his final days.
The stars of Marvel Comics films, including Robert Downey, Jr. and Samuel Jackson, posted “selfies” with signs supporting Caldecott. Their photos joined hundreds of other messages of support that Sophie presented to her father.
Marvel then arranged a showing of the movie.
Sophie Caldecott in a May blog post said that her father loved comic heroes “because they inspire hope, and encourage people to fight for the greater good.”
“I think we’ve witnessed a bit of that child-like purity of spirit and good intentions over the past few days,” she added, voicing hope that the hashtag campaign will encourage men at risk of prostate cancer to undergo the proper tests.