Dom Laurence Shepherd from the historic perspective of the Stanbrook Abbey community

James Laurence Shepherd was born in Liverpool (England) in 1825. Two of his aunts, Dames Mary Teresa and Augustine, were members of the Cambrai community of Benedictines which had been expelled from there in 1793. Both died at Salford Hall Warwickshire, the community's second temporary home before Stanbrook Hall was purchased in 1838.

After being schooled at Ampleforth, James Laurence entered the community there in 1842. In 1845 he was sent for a three year study period to the monastery of San Giovanni at Parma under Abbot Bianchi. 1849 saw his ordination at Ampleforth and three years later he was appointed novice-master.

At Parma Dom Shepherd had first encountered the then recently published 'L'Année Liturgique' of Dom Guéranger but he did not meet the Abbot of Solesmes until 1854, by which time he had himself become sub-prior of Ampleforth. Since his days at Parma he had been aware of the need for a 'return of true Benedictine observance' and he recognised in Abbot Guéranger's famous work, a means of fostering the monastic life and love of the liturgy. Having decided to embark on an English translation he spent time in Bath and then Belmont Abbey before being appointed Vicar (Chaplain) at Stanbrook in 1863. He arrived there on today's date 145 years ago and remained until his death in January 1885, which was itself ten years to the day after Dom Guéranger had gone to his eternal reward.

The nuns write:

"In the seventeenth century the liturgy was lived in all its plendour: the amount of solemnity given to the Divine Office at Cambrai has possibly never been equalled, certainly never surpassed at Stanbrook.........What was in danger of being lost in the nineteenth century was the understanding and appreciation of the prayer of the Church. Benedictines are the traditional custodians of the Church's liturgy, but in the early years (of that century), Benedictinism throughout Europe could hardly claim to be in a very thriving state."

If Stanbrook was to flourish, Dom Laurence judged that two things must happen. First a church must be built appropriate to the dignified celebration of the full choral Divine Office and second, canonical enclosure must be re-instituted. During the next 22 years he worked and fund raised towards these ends. He devoted all the revenue from his translation of 11 volumes of 'L'Année Liturgique' to the church building fund and sacrificing his chaplain's salary, asked only for his fare to Worcester.. "Truly he merits the title of a founder of Stanbrook."

Peter Anson bears witness to Dom Shepherd's spiritual and material contribution to Stanbrook. His arrival at the Abbey resulted in 'a great revival' in its spiritual life; the Church designed by Edward Pugin was consecrated in 1871 and full enclosure was made possible in 1878.

To be continued.

  • "In A Great Tradition: Tribute to Dame Laurentia McLachlan" by the Benedictines of Stanbrook. John Murray 1956;
  • "The Religious Orders and Congregations of Great Britain and Ireland" by Peter Anson. Stanbrook Abbey Worcester 1949
N.B. I did not deliberately choose to publish this post on the anniversary of Dom Shepherd's arrival at Stanbrook. It is another 'confluence' which I am delighted to note. Requiescat in Pace.


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