By Kevin Jones
Devotees of the English writer and Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton rejoiced at the news that a Catholic bishop in England is seeking to open an investigation into whether he should be declared a saint.
“A lot of people have been hoping for this for a long time,” Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, told CNA Aug. 6. “Chesterton has a huge devotion to him around the world, particularly here in America. There are people who have long believed that he is someone who should be raised to the altars and have already privately started asking for his intercession.”
Ahlquist made the announcement on Aug. 1 during the American Chesterton Society National Conference at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., citing Martin Thompson, head of an English Chesterton group.
Thompson said that Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton is “sympathetic” to those who desire to see Chesterton canonized and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”
Ahlquist said the announcement caused “huge cheering and applause and great emotion” at the conference.
“People jumped to their feet, they started cheering. People were crying. It was a great moment,” he added.
Chesterton lived from 1874 to 1936. Under the influence of his wife Frances, he became a devout Anglican Christian. He later converted to Catholicism in 1922.
Known for his witty writing and love of finding truth in apparent paradox, Chesterton authored literary essays, novels, poetry, plays, philosophical works and Christian apologetics. His short stories include the Father Brown mystery series, and he influenced the thinking of many converts and writers, including C.S. Lewis.
Ahlquist said Chesterton was “an articulate defender of the Catholic faith” and “very prophetic.”
“He definitely saw what’s going on in our culture with regard to the attack on life, the attack on marriage, the huge economic disparities that exist,” he said. “Chesterton seems to get it right about all those things. But he does it with joy, with charity, and with goodness, without banging the table of condemnation.”
In Ahlquist’s view, Chesterton’s cause for canonization may have gotten a boost from Pope Francis’ election.
A March 10 letter to Thompson from Miguel Angel Espeche Gil – an Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in Argentina – noted that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, “encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the Cause of Chesterton to the altars.”
Cardinal Bergoglio, who was elected as Pope Francis on March 13, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonization of Chesterton.
Pope Francis was also a member of an honorary committee of a conference for the Argentine Chesterton Society and celebrated a Mass for the conference. He owns several books by Chesterton.
The first stages of a canonization cause include collecting evidence of heroic virtue.
Ahlquist said that Chesterton’s personal character showed this.
“There’s a goodness that just exuded from him,” he explained. “The biographical accounts of Chesterton always portray him as being very joyful, and humble and good, so that everyone was just drawn to that, including his intellectual and philosophical enemies. The people who violently disagreed with Chesterton on the issues were drawn to him as a person because of his charity.”
Ahlquist cited stories of Chesterton emptying his pockets for the poor and showing great love and appreciation for children.
“He would always stand in the presence of a woman, no matter how old or how young she was. He would always make the sign of the cross over a room before he would enter it,” he said.
Chesterton would receive the Eucharist with great emotion, explaining “I am afraid of that tremendous reality.”
Still, the apologist is “not the stereotypical saint,” Ahlquist continued, pointing to Chesterton’s profession as writer was “right in the midst of the heartbeat of London journalism.”
Ahlquist, a former Baptist, said the idea that someone like Chesterton could be a saint attracted him to the Catholic Church.
“The fact that a 300-pound, cigar-smoking journalist might be a saint of the Catholic Church made me understand what the communion of saints is all about. They’re not just one particular type of person.”
Any investigation for sainthood can take many years, and not all causes succeed. A Vatican investigation and two recognized miracles attributed to the candidate’s intercession are necessary for the candidate to be declared a saint.