Pennefather, William (DNB00)

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PENNEFATHER, WILLIAM (1816–1873), divine, youngest son of Richard Pennefather [q. v.], baron of the Irish court of exchequer, was born in Merrion Square, Dublin, on 5 Feb. 1816. He was educated first at a preparatory school in Dublin, and then at a private school at Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, where he was known as ‘the saintly boy.’ In 1832 he was removed to the care of the Rev. W. Stephens at Levens, near Kendal, Westmoreland. Pennefather entered at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1834; but, as the result of continued ill-health, he did not graduate B.A. until 1840. In 1841 he was ordained deacon, and priest in the following year. Pennefather was licensed to the curacy of Ballymacagh (Kilmore). He became incumbent of Mellifont, near Drogheda, in 1844. During the famine of 1845 he was conspicuous in ministering to the wants of his people without distinction of creed. In 1847 he married Catherine (see below), eldest daughter of Rear-admiral the Hon. James William King. In 1848 Pennefather accepted the incumbency of Holy Trinity, Walton, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. It was a difficult parish to work; there was no house, and the income was small. But Pennefather gained the confidence of his parishioners. The congregation grew, and the church was enlarged; new schools were built; and an active work was carried on among the bargemen on the Grand Junction Canal.

In 1852 he removed to Christ Church, Barnet, Hertfordshire. Here Pennefather's influence speedily extended far beyond the parish; his house became a recognised centre where ‘noblemen and farmers, bishops and nonconformist ministers,’ met on an equality. He at this period gave time and care to the orphans aided by the Patriotic Fund; and he began (in 1855) those conferences on missionary enterprise with which his name will always be associated. In 1864 Pennefather left Barnet for the incumbency of St. Jude's, Mildmay Park, Islington. The inevitable enlargement of the church and schools ensued; and the conferences begun at Barnet were continued on a new and more extensive scale. The conference hall at Mildmay grew in time to be the centre of many permanent organisations for home and foreign mission work. Early in 1873 Pennefather's health failed, and he died suddenly on 30 April.

Few clergymen have exercised a wider personal influence than Pennefather. As a mission preacher he was known all over England. He was one of the few clergy who have been equally active and equally successful in both evangelistic and pastoral work. Pennefather was the author of several hymns of much beauty, and of many separately issued sermons. He also published: 1. ‘The Church of the First-born,’ 1865. 2. ‘The Bridegroom King,’ 1875. 3. ‘Hymns, Original and Selected,’ 1875, a volume which contains twenty-five compositions by Pennefather. 4. ‘Original Hymns and Thoughts in Verse,’ 1875.

Pennefather's wife, Catherine Pennefather (1818–1893), hymn-writer, after her husband's death, continued to carry on the religious work which found its centre at the conference hall, Mildmay Park. As an organiser, an administrator, and an evangelist, she was scarcely less capable than her husband; and her publications followed very much the lines of his own. She died at Mildmay Park, Islington, on 12 Jan. 1893. In addition to some separately issued addresses and tracts, her works were: 1. ‘Follow Thou Me: Discipleship,’ 1881. 2. ‘Follow Thou Me: Service,’ 1881. 3. ‘Songs of the Pilgrim Land,’ 1886. 4. ‘That Nothing be Lost,’ 1892. She is largely represented in ‘The Homeward Journey,’ a selection of poems by Mrs. Pennefather and others, 1888.

[Braithwaite's Life and Letters of the Rev. W. Pennefather, 1878; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology, 1892, p. 888; Christian Portrait Gallery, p. 287; Record, 13 Jan. 1893.]

A. R. B.