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Path to sainthood for ancestor of British royals

Church mission: George Spencer who worked tirelessly for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith. Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A 19th century English Catholic priest, a distant relative of Britain’s Prince William, is on the path to sainthood.

Pope Francis has approved a decree recognising the “heroic virtues” of George Spencer, a son of the 2nd Earl of Spencer and a priest of the Passionist religious order who lived from 1799 to 1864.

Spencer, converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1830 in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood in 1832. He took the name “Ignatius of St. Paul”.

Prince William and his brother Prince Harry are related to Fr Ignatius (Spencer) through their mother Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales, who died in 1997.

Fr Ignatius was Diana’s great-great-great-uncle, and also a great-uncle of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill.

He grew up on the Spencer ancestral estate in Althorp where Diana is buried.

After his ordination in Rome, he returned to England and ministered to poor Irish migrants in the West Midlands.

In 1849 Fr Ignatius became Provincial of the Passionist Congregation in England and Belgium.

He spent much of his life working for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith. He died in Carstairs, Scotland, on 1 October 1864,

The Passionist religious order in Britain has been working on his sainthood cause for decades, investigating his life and writings.

The pope’s approval of the decree means Fr Ignatius now has the title Servant of God. 

His sainthood cause is still at the early stages. One miracle would have to be attributed to Fr Ignatius for him to be beatified and another for him to be made a saint.

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