On July 17th, Stratford Caldecott fell asleep in the Lord after a long battle with prostate cancer. Already, many have written great words of mourning for one of the most powerful voices of Catholic cultural renewal. The author of several books (and a contributor to many more) and the co-founder and editor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal he and his wife Léonie long edited along with the UK/Irish version of Magnificat; it is hard to put into words how much of an impact this man of Christ had on so many. This is especially hard for me, as Mr. Caldecott was a friend who greatly encouraged my own work and how I view Christ in the world. In short, I am of the opinion that we will never be thankful enough for the great work of Stratford Caldecott.
A Chance Encounter
I was a Catholic for a mere three years when I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Caldecott at a pub in Nashua, NH. The meeting was planned by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I was studying, and I was invited along to meet a few G.K. Chesterton scholars. Upon meeting him we were quickly singing the joys of Chesterton and the Inklings. I was impressed with his intellectual calibre and he was kind enough to invite me to Oxford to view the Chesterton Library.
I twice accepted his invitation and each time I was graciously given a view of Chesterton’s personal effects which included his hat, cloak, chair, typewriter, among other assorted books and items that personally belonged to the bombastic journalist and great Catholic writer. It was, for me, like being a reliquary. What I did not expect, was how much the man showing me the items would change my view of faith and my vocation.
When I returned in the Summer of 2008 I was as a part of TMC’s Oxford Programme where I was to study the great works of the Catholic Literary Revival and see the sites of GKC, Newman, St. Edmund Campion, and even Lewis and the Inklings.
Love and Intellect
As part of the Oxford Programme, I had the pleasure of being a guest of Stratford and Léonie in their home just outside of Oxford. In our courses, dinners, and walks I got to see first hand what a loving couple they were and how their love for each other and Christ enabled them to accomplish so much. They were partners in everything, from parenting to publishing. No doubt that there were struggles, but they endured them with a rarely-seen grace that allowed them to do so much for the Church in England, the United States, and beyond. Along with running the Oxford Programme, they seemed to have a hand in running dozens of programs that involved sharing and understanding the faith. From that family they created more work for the glory of God than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime.
In my own work and intellectual pursuits they were encouraging, but honest. They cared about a revival of Catholic culture and the conversion of all, and that meant encouraging writers and editors. The number of writers that they have encouraged and had a hand in developing is staggering, even among the writers here at CE. As well as mentors, they became my friends and were a joy to know.
Their greatest lesson was the unspoken one of the centrality of the love for Christ in all that we do and how much that love was so badly needed to be shown to the world. For them, Christ was not merely a thing to gaze upon and consider but He was a light that illuminated the world. Literature, art, and even the most everyday pursuits became something beautiful for God and they delighted to show people this joy.
When Stratford was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook many of us to our core. Even with the battle that he was enduring, he still published a great deal of work and he and his wife continued in their endeavours with editing, publishing, and the fantastic work at the Center for Faith and Culture. Across the world, many prayers were offered and they demonstrated love, charity, and kindness to all who encountered them. When I was going through a rough patch, they even took time to write encouraging messages to me. Seeing their strength amidst their sufferings had given me the resolve to keep carrying on.
A few months ago, with the Caldecott family gathering to offer comfort to Stratford, Sophie, his daughter, launched a hashtag campaign called #CapforStrat with the intention of bringing some comfort to him. The plan was to tweet images in support of Stratford and to hopefully get celebrities involved to allow him to watch The Winter Soldier in his home. Stratford had long been a fan of comic books, especially those by Marvel, but was unable to make it to the theaters to see their latest film. Sophie was successful and Marvel agreed to show the film. So many people gathered in support of one man, some of whom were his friend but many others were strangers who wished to bring some comfort to a good man. It was as if the world was giving him a final embrace.
As his name went viral and as he came closer to death, Stratford would demonstrate great courage and hope in the face of death. In one of his last articles, Stratford reflected on his love of comics and the mystery of facing death. Realizing this challenge, he still saw the work of Christ in all things, even the tragic. Seeing Christ’s hand in all, he wrote,
God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.
Go With God
So it is that we now say goodbye to a good man, a fine scholar, a loving father and husband, and truly one of the most brilliant writers of our era. This is hard for many, but we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Stratford served Christ well, and we now pray that he continues to do so and that he will finally be in a place where there is no pain and where joy quickly replaces all sorrow.
Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all that is required is for us to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.