Historical account of Lisbon college/Chapter 12

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The College suffered a great loss by the premature and unexpected death in 1834 of the Vice-President, Father Le Clerc. Born in 1799 of a French father and an English mother in the county of York, he received his first education at Sedgely Park, whence he passed to Lisbon in 1814. From the time of his entrance into the College he was remarkable for his talents and piety, and he always manifested such gravity of demeanour that it might be said of him that he had never been a boy. The high estimation in which he was universally held, warranted his appointment over the other students as General Prefect at the early age of eighteen, and his subsequent rapid promotion to the position of Vice-President. From the time of his entering upon this office, in 1829, he had always been of the greatest possible assistance to the President in the difficult times, during which the College was being reconstituted, after the departure of the French from Lisbon. He was an assiduous student especially of the natural sciences, and he has left evidence of his power and unction as a preacher in the sermons which he contributed to the Catholic Pulpit, all of them most beautiful specimens of pulpit oratory. During the dreadful scourge of cholera, which in 1833 well nigh decimated Lisbon, with the greatest zeal and unwearied self-sacrifice and devotion he attended the sick in the hospitals, and it was while visiting the Military Hospital that, in the following year, he caught the fever of which he died. He was buried in the cemetery attached to the college garden, and a monument bearing the following epitaph was erected to his memory.

Hic jacet
Corpus Carol! Le Clerc
Presbyt. huj. Coll. Alum.
Et Vice-Præses.
Judicio et Moribus ipsa adolescentia senex
Virtutis et Laboris
Insignis exemplar effulsit.
Mundi suique contemptor
Nil præter Deum quærens nil amore
Verbis parcus opere profusus.
Temporis accuratissimus œstimator
Correptus ex Nossocomiis Febre
Charitatis victima occubuit.
Die 6 Julii Œtatis 35 flentibus non solum
Coll. Incolis sed et quicumque
Olyssip. inhabitabant Britannis.
A.D. 1834.

The President in a letter addressed to the mother of the deceased announcing his death, thus writes: "Great as must be your affliction on this sad and unexpected event, I cannot think it can much have exceeded that which I myself experienced. I loved him and had reason to love him, and when with streaming eyes I sang the first Mass of Requiem over him, I could truly say with David, I wept over thee, my brother, I should rather say, my son, 'As a mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee. I will not at present add to your regret, by giving you the details of his admirable and saintly character, I will only say now that I never knew a death to cause so strong and universal a sorrow amongst the British public here, and amongst all the Portuguese that knew him as this has done.

"This College, in particular, deplores his loss as a most grievous calamity. Never, I firmly believe, since its foundation, did it possess a son so peculiarly qualified in every sense and so zealously inclined to forward its grand end, the formation of genuine ecclesiastics, as he was.

"Consummatus in brevi implevit tempora multa."

In the Catholic Magazine of 1834, mention is made of the visit paid to the College, on January 21, of that year, of Lord William Russell the British Ambassador Extraordinary, accompanied by Lady Russell. They went through the various parts of the establishment, and expressed their admiration at the magnificent prospect presented from the Observatory. The next day the students addessed to Lord William a Latin petition for the purpose of obtaining two play-days, to which His Lordship returned an elegant and gracious reply in the same language. The students returned thanks in the following Ode:

Nos tibi Russell generi decori
Muneris nobis memores peracti
Solvimus grates, hilarique laude

Corda resultant.

Illius sic, te generosa conjux
Dotibus famaque micans ubique,
Prcemio per te simili fruentis


En nitent horoe roseoe coronis,
En novo soles rutilant nitore,
En novi nobis veniunt honores

Numine vestro.

Pignus hoc ergo pia Musa profert
Vos decus nostrum studiosa poscens
Illud ut suavi et anime benigno


Admiral Parker, commanding the English Channel Fleet which was stationed in the Tagus, also paid a visit at the same time. It was, probably, on this occasion that a somewhat amusing incident took place. The Admiral was accompanied by some of the middies who, at the conclusion of their visit, it seems suggested to him to ask permission from the President for the students to visit their vessel. Those who remember what a strict disciplinarian Father Winstanley was and how anxiously he guarded those under him from anything which he thought might tend to weaken the ecclesiastical spirit, can imagine how such a proposition was likely to be received. Something, probably, in his look or manner betrayed the state of his feelings, which the Admiral readily detected. He, however, quickly turned the difficulty by jocosely remarking: " You are right, Mr. President, I quite see that if your fellows came on board, the discipline of my ship would be absolutely upset. Thus the matter ended pleasantly.

On the death of Father Le Clerc the Rev. Joseph Ilsley was appointed Vice-President and was succeeded in the Procuratorship by the Rev. Peter Baines, and in 1837, the Rev. Peter Davies was elected Superior and took charge of the Classical Studies completing again the staff of Professors.

Besides the aid which the College was able to give to the English Mission by the regular dispatch of numerous zealous priests educated within its walls, the interests of religion were in no small degree promoted by it in Lisbon itself. It was a centre whence radiated the light of good example. The exemplary conduct both of priests and students, the staunch loyalty and devotion it ever manifested towards the Holy See, the order and reverence with which all the solemn services of the Church were carried out and the active missionary work which to some extent it was able to perform, were a stay and encouragement to the religiously disposed, and won the respect and good will of the public in general. This influence came no doubt to be more clearly recognized after the suppression of the Religious Communities, one of the first acts of the Constitutional or Liberal Government set up by Don Pedro in 1834.

The universal expression of regret elicited by the death of the Rev. Father Le Clerc is abundant evidence of what has been stated and it is further illustrated by a work commenced at this time and for many years zealously maintained by the Rev. Joseph Ilsley, for the benefit of the poorer classes of the inhabitants of the city.

On the publication in the year 1834, of the Constitutional Charter, some English Protestants who considered it an opportune moment, to initiate a Protestant free school, backed up by abundant resources, strove by unworthy means to draw to it the children of the poorer classes, on the sole condition that they should conform to the practice of the Protestant religion.

Many of the poor were induced by the advantages offered to frequent this school. The grave danger to which they were exposed of losing their faith, aroused the zeal of many, and the President of the College earnestly impressed upon Father Ilsley the urgent necessity of counteracting these efforts. He accordingly vigorously set to work, opened a free school and in a short time saw his efforts crowned with such success, that almost all the Catholic children were withdrawn from the Protestant school. Nor was this all, for the school thus established rapidly acquired such a reputation for excellence of teaching and careful attention to the morality of the pupils, that many of the well-to-do Portuguese began to seek admission for their children. Such an impetus was thus given to it, that its founder resolved to separate the poor from the better-to-do children and for the accommodation of these, he hired another house, procured masters from England, and thus from the profit accruing from the higher class institution, was enabled to support the poor school.

From this period for some years, little worthy of note happened, and the College pursued the even tenor of its way, fulfilling peacefully and harmoniously the great object of its foundation, but the increasing infirmities of the President which threatened to incapacitate him for his professorial duties, rendered it necessary to strengthen the staff of Superiors, and in 1840, the Rev. Laurence Richmond on the conclusion of his Course was appointed as Assistant Classical Master. At this time, too, it was decided to alter the rule which required the Master
"Dr. Edmund Winstanley"


of Humanities once or oftener in the year to compose a Latin oration to be delivered by his pupils on the occasion of the Examinations. The present practice of delivering speeches in English or other modern language by the Classical students was substituted for it, a change which if perhaps less academical was decidedly more useful.

In the August of 1852, there came to an end the long and in many respects the most important Presidency of Dr. Winstanley. For years age and infirmity had weighed upon him but in the July of this year, disease of the heart developed itself, for which the physicians declared there was no cure. He received this intimation with calmness and devoted his attention to preparing himself for the passage into eternity. He suffered at times great anguish through the defective circulation of the blood, and to his physical pain it pleased God to add severe spiritual trials, thus purifying the soul of His servant more perfectly, and opening to him a more speedy reward, to which he was called on the Vigil of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the following day he was buried in the cemetery adjoining the College garden as he had requested. He had lived in the College for sixty-seven years during thirty-two of which he held the office of President, dying in his eightieth year.

Mention has already been made of the years of devoted labour in the service of God and the salvation of souls which, whilst still young, he spent in attending the sick and wounded of the British army during the Peninsular War. Ever forgetful of himself and regardless of the personal sacrifice which it involved, he assiduously attended upon the sick in the hospitals and by exhortation and " instruction publicly and privately sought to promote the spiritual interests of those in health, nor is it on record that he ever received even the thanks of the British Government for the years of devoted work which he unstintedly gave to the religious needs of the Catholic troops, who were so heroically sacrificing their lives in defence of England.

From the time he succeeded Dr. Buckley as President, besides the duties of this office, he was ever ready to assist in the schools, and though for many years he presided over the higher classes of Philosophy and Theology, he did not disdain to teach the rudiments of Latin and Greek to the boys engaged in their Classical studies. An implacable enemy to idleness, his whole time was divided between prayer, study and writing, and no better evidence of this can be given than the fact that when already worn out by his many cares and labours, he mastered the rudiments of the Hebrew language that he might be in the position to teach them to his disciples.

A memorable proof of his industry is the Civil and Ecclesiastical History which, in the midst of his professional duties he found time to write, a work novel in its method, and which elicited from the late Cardinal Newman a public tribute of praise. Though unable to finish it he brought it down to the Twelfth Century. Above the medium stature he was remarkable both for talent and virtue, incapable of meanness, either in thought or act, and would have disdained to stoop to anything unworthy or ungenerous. Having been educated in the strict scholastic methods of the last century, he could never be induced to adopt the modern and less formal manner of reasoning, and while some perhaps may consider that this savoured somewhat of narrowness of view, to others it will present evidence of a stability of mind not easily moved amidst the fluctuating opinions of men.

Under a rugged and stern countenance he bore a kindly heart, and if he possessed the power of inspiring fear, he knew how to conciliate the love and affection of those over whom he ruled. Nor was he deficient in a sense of humour, as those will well remember, who ever heard him relate, as occasionally he would do, his varied experiences. He was held in the greatest esteem by the Papal Nuncio in Lisbon, Cardinal di Pietro, who in 1850 spontaneously asked and obtained for him from Pius IX the degree of Doctor of Divinity, a title he well deserved as a Theologian, but which his humility made him hesitate to accept.