BY MAY 1915, the First World War was raging, and, in response to
the British naval blockade, German U-boats were wreaking havoc on
British shipping. One hundred years ago on Thursday, the RMS
Lusitania sailed within range of U-20, a submarine lurking
off the coast of County Cork. With a single torpedo, the great
Cunard ocean liner was lost to sight within 20 minutes.
The human cost was appalling: more than 1000 lives were lost.
Whole families perished together, such as Paul and Gladys Crompton,
along with their six children, and the children's nurse. Other
families were rent apart: Annie Marsh lost her husband and their
only child, who was 11 months old. Infants, such as the
eight-month-old Nigel Booth, were left orphaned, and grew up
without memory of their parents. And among the lost was body no.
223 - washed up on the shores of the land of his birth, and
identified by the fountain pen he kept in his inside pocket - Fr
MATURIN was born in 1847, one of the ten children of William
Maturin, the Tractarian Vicar of All Saints', Grangegorman, on the
outskirts of Dublin. Basil and his siblings grew up playing games
in the vicarage garden, and enjoyed long walks in the countryside
After schooling in Dublin, and studies at Trinity College, he
took holy orders - as did two of his brothers. Two sisters entered
the convent. In 1871, he became Assistant Curate of Peterstow, in
the diocese of Hereford.
Not long afterwards, while on retreat in Oxford, Maturin felt
that God was calling him to the religious life. Richard Meux
Benson's Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) - the Cowley
Fathers - was the first stable religious order for men in the
Church of England, and Maturin felt that he needed to be a part of
He wrote to his father: "I feel that I have the power within me,
if it was rightly directed, but that I need direction most
dreadfully, and require so much Rule . . . and silence, and to be
by myself above all. . . I do feel so really that I should serve
Him so much better there; and as to doing good, must not one do
most good by devoting oneself entirely to His service by giving up
In 1873, Maturin joined the Cowley Fathers as a novice, and
three years later was sent to help establish the order's new
mission in Philadelphia. For ten years, Maturin worked at a church
there, St Clement's, and became deeply attached to the place, later
saying: "I felt when I left America as if I left half myself behind
In the United States, Maturin became well-known for his sermons.
His confrère Arthur Hall, later Bishop of Vermont, noted the
ability of this "pulpit orator" to draw large congregations with
his "magnetic preaching".
"It held his hearers spellbound," another said. "It took
possession of them, soul and mind, and made it impossible to be
inattentive. It was true eloquence, a torrent of eloquence - but it
was more; it had a fascination that was irresistible. And the
delicious accent of his native land imbued his language with a
musical beauty difficult to describe."
One novice did complain, however: "It was very living and vivid,
but there was not much time to pray afterwards."
AFTER Philadelphia, Maturin spent six months at the SSJE mission
in Cape Town, before finally returning to the British Isles; but he
had long been wrestling with his position in the Church of England,
and this became a permanent source of inner turmoil for him.
In 1897, he became a Roman Catholic - which would presumably
have horrified his paternal grandfather, Charles Maturin, who was
of Huguenot descent, and had published Five Sermons on the
Errors of the Roman Catholic Church (1824).
Theologically, Maturin felt he had made the right decision; but,
culturally, it was a struggle. He tried to join the Jesuits, and
also spent some time with the Benedictines at Downside, but neither
plan matured. Moreover, he lost contact with many close friends at
Cowley. He dearly wished to visit. "I intend to slip down quietly
to Oxford before I leave," he intimated to his fellow Irishman,
George Congreve, "and prowl about unseen, and if I can sum up
courage, look into the church."
He did not manage to visit unseen, as he had hoped. "The other
day", Benson wrote at the end of 1900, "Brother Maynard found
someone who had scamlled [sic] into the new cloister and
was greatly delighted with the house - Fr Maturin! I cannot help
thinking that he was looking under the loose pavement to see if his
heart was not buried there. . ."
IN 1914, after more than a decade's ministry in London, Maturin
was appointed RC Chaplain to the University of Oxford. The outbreak
of war, however, meant that only a handful of "unfit" RC
undergraduates returned for Michaelmas Term, the others having
joined up. In Hilary Term 1915, Maturin travelled to the US, and
preached a series of Lenten sermons in New York.
He made the decision to return home on the RMS
Lusitania on 1 May, believing, like many others, in her
size and speed, despite the German Embassy's warning in the
American papers of the danger to shipping. On 7 May, Maturin had
taken lunch on board with a fellow RC priest, Fr Charles Clarke,
before the ship was struck by the torpedo.
From the point of impact, he knew his duty to the men and women
on board. He was seen on deck looking pale, but perfectly calm,
giving absolution to his fellow passengers in their final moments.
As the last lifeboat was lowered into the water, he handed over a
baby with the words: "Find its mother." Of more than 30 infants who
boarded safely at New York, only four survived.
When Maturin's body was washed ashore, it was not wearing a
JOSEPHINE WARD recalled that "Fr Maturin used to say that he knew
he should have a lonely funeral, and he prophesied that it would be
on a wet day, and in an empty church."
But Maturin was deeply mourned by his Roman Catholic and
Anglican friends. His body was brought to London, and
Cardinal Bourne presided at the requiem mass sung in a
packed Westminster Cathedral on 21 May.
The Cowley Fathers mourned him, too. Congreve wrote to Sister
Fidelia CSJB, Maturin's sister at Clewer: "Our Irish origin drew us
together, and enabled us generally to understand one another. And
so I came gradually to find all the vitality of intelligence and
affection, all the light and joy and beauty of his soul. . .
"I refuse to dwell in thought on the sorrow of the end, for that
is passed and over for ever, and one thinks of the Infinite Love
that has welcomed him home. And of all the hope and happiness he
has brought to numberless souls in this world, whom he has taught
to look through it, to our Lord."
Andrew Doll is Research Assistant to the Director of the Cowley
Project, and Scholar-elect of Jesus College, Oxford.