Crusader of prayer for England and pioneer of ecumenical prayer, the Ven. Fr. Ignatius Spencer was born the Hon. George Spencer on the 21st of December 1799, the youngest child of the Second Earl Spencer. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he took orders in the Church of England. Increasing doubts led him to become a Catholic in 1830. He was ordained a priest, in Rome, in 1832.
He served as assistant priest at Walsall and then priest-in-charge at West Bromwich. In May 1839 he was appointed Spiritual Director at Oscott Seminary.
While in Rome he had met Blessed Fr. Dominic Barberi, the Passionist, and they had become great friends. Dominic came to England in 1842 and established a Passionist foundation at Aston Hall, near Stone in Staffordshire. In 1846 Fr. Ignatius joined the Passionists at Aston Hall and was professed as a Passionist in 1848. As a Passionist, he initiated a ‘crusade of prayer for England’, which he promoted wherever he went on his extensive travels, on begging journeys and wherever he gave retreats.
He was appointed superior at Aston and on Blessed Dominic’s death in 1849, became, for the next period, the Provincial of the Passionists in England. He played a huge part in the establishment of the Passionists in England in many areas.
Fr. Ignatius is particularly known for his love of the poor. A contemporary wrote this of him: “His great charity to the poor and wandering beggars was unbounded. At times he gave them all the money he had, and stripped himself of his clothes to give them to the distressed; and when he had nothing to give, he would thank God he had only His holy truth to impart, and would speak of the love of God so fervently, that he would call forth tears from the poor objects of misery who came many miles to beg money or clothes of him….Some.. would present themselves with loathesome sores and these he would assist in dressing and trying to cure. His house was always open for the distressed and he often longed to make a hospital of it for the poor. He was all for gaining souls for God.”
He had a great affection for the newly formed congregation of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion (passionists) and helped them enormously.
His fellow Passionists were concerned that he was wearing himself out. On October 28th 1864 he was in Scotland giving missions. He set out to visit a house in Carstairs and on a lonely bit of the road collapsed and died. He was buried at St. Anne’s Passionist Retreat, Sutton, Lancashire, where there is now a shrine to himself, Bl. Dominic and the Passionist foundress Mother Joseph Prout.