St. G.K.C.? The Process Begins

Eleven years ago I visited England for the first time. I was completely excited, of course, to see the place, but especially to see the sites connected to my hero, G.K. Chesterton. My very first stop, however, was the rather unlikely town of Northampton. I had scheduled a meeting with Bishop Kevin McDonald. My hosts and chauffeurs were Aidan Mackey, who, though he does not wish to be known as the grand old man of all things Chesterton, nonetheless is precisely that, and Martin Thompson, who has been my counterpart in England, running a very active Chesterton Society.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the status of Chesterton’s cause. I found out just before the meeting, however, that there was no status. Absolutely nothing had been done. This came as a surprise to me because I knew of interest from all around the world in Chesterton’s cause. The irony was that this meeting would be “first contact,” formally requesting that the bishop appoint a cleric to begin the investigation. We sat down with Bishop McDonald in his book-lined office, and he said, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

I was fresh off the plane, my first time in England, and I had a bishop serving me tea. I exclaimed, “This is great!”

It is no wonder that the Brits have a hard time enduring Americans.

But the gracious Bishop of Northampton took a genuine interest in what I had to say. I told him how not only had Chesterton been the reason that I found my way to the Catholic Church, he also made me understand what I, as a former Baptist, had never understood: the Communion of the Saints. Not only was I convinced of Chesterton’s holiness and heroic virtue, he had brought me closer to Christ and was a model Christian that I and others followed with great joy. Chesterton had changed our lives not only because of his wisdom, but because of his goodness. Bishop McDonald asked some basic questions, and the meeting was very positive. Afterwards, he put out the word to the priests in his diocese to start “talking up” Chesterton. Things looked promising, and then, he was promoted to being the archbishop of Southwark, and we had to start over. The new bishop of Northampton was the Rt. Rev. Peter Doyle. As of this writing, we still have not met, but we have exchanged correspondence for eight years. In the early going, he expressed great appreciation for my work, but politely informed me that there was no local cult around Chesterton to merit opening an investigation. The prophet is without honor in his own country. But I knew that there were English Chestertonians very devoted to the laughing prophet of Beaconsfield. I kept up the gentle pressure on the bishop, and I had Martin Thompson rally the local troops to make their presence known.

Then, in 2010, Pope Benedict came to England to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman. The Pope not only won over a hostile media, but his visit, along with the beatification itself, stirred up some real excitement in the English Catholic Church, or at least as much excitement as the Brits will allow themselves to demonstrate. I pounced on the opportunity and wrote to Bishop Doyle that perhaps now it was Chesterton’s turn. He wrote back, and his tone had clearly changed. He, too, was feeling the excitement of the beatification. He indicated that he really wanted to do something … but still nothing happened.

Over a year later, Martin Thompson met with the bishop. Accompanying Martin was his father, John Thompson, who happened to be the senior deacon in the diocese. John is a Catholic convert, another one of many converts whose path to Rome was paved directly by G.K. Chesterton. An old man, whose frailty in mind and body was setting in, John said to the bishop very simply: “We need Chesterton’s holiness.”

Martin said the bishop was very moved. But in spite of being moved, he still did not move. Nothing happened. More than another year went by, and, a few months ago, they met again. This time, Martin explained that this interest in Chesterton’s sainthood is not going to go away. He told him about the many letters that I receive from people here in America wanting to know the status of the cause. He told him about the letters that he receives in England. “Including this one,” he said, handing the bishop a letter. It was from Ambassador Miguel Angel Espeche Gil, who is the chairman of the Argentine Chesterton Society. The ambassador also wanted to know what could be done to move the cause forward. He described the great devotion to Chesterton in Argentina, that there, too, Chesterton is a maker of converts. He closed by saying that the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires had approved a prayer (for private devotional use) asking for Chesterton’s intercession. The letter was dated March 10, 2013. Three days later, that Cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio, became Pope Francis.

Bishop Peter Doyle read the word “Bergoglio” and looked up at Martin. The bishop is a good and humble man, a parish priest who a few years earlier suddenly found himself thrust into a bishop’s chair. His responsibilities are already enormous in a country that has been at war with the Catholic Church for 500 years. He was obviously not looking for another gigantic task to be laid on his shoulders. I’m sure it was with something of a heavy sigh and then a deep breath that he uttered his next very cautious but very important words. Martin told me what the bishop told him. Neither of us told anyone else for a few weeks.

Then, on August 1, at the national Chesterton Conference at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, in my opening talk, I said how we need a certain kind of saint to lead us today, someone with the mystical soul of St. Francis, with the mind of St. Thomas, with the social vision of Pope Leo XIII, someone from the ranks of the laity, who is devoted to the Holy Family because he knows his craft like St. Joseph, exalts the dignity of woman like the Blessed Virgin Mary, and understands that every baby is a divine gift like the Christ Child; someone who epitomizes Catholic joy in the face of the new Dark Ages. And I said that I believe we have such a saint. Then I made the announcement: that Martin Thompson had met with Bishop Peter Doyle and said that the bishop “has given me permission to report that the Bishop of Northampton is sympathetic to our wishes and is seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”

Over two hundred people jumped to their feet and starting cheering. Many were weeping with joy. I admit that I had a hard time controlling my own emotions. We have waited for this for a long time. It is only the first step. But it is the first step.

Dale Ahlquist


Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society. He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense." Dale is the author of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense and the recently published The Complete Thinker. He is also the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and six children.

  • kentgeordie

    Didn’t know there was a UK Chesterton Society. Am googling.

  • BBB

    Beautiful! Any chance of getting an English translation of the prayer for the intercession of G.K. Chesterton? I’ve got some intentions I could really use his help with!

  • GaudeteMan

    We need Chesterton! Catholics need to clash ideological swords with others like never before! “It is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the moment when hope ceases to unreasonable it begins to be useful.” (Heretics)

  • Madison

    Let the bugles begin their song!

  • grzybowskib

    One of my favorite authors/thinkers! my inner nerd exploded when I heard about this. 🙂

  • Victoria Darkey
  • John Borra

    Absolutely fantastic; thanks so much for all you do, Dale! Thanks for pursuing GK’s cause so long and hard. And, not least, thanks for your labor of love, “The Apostle of Common Sense,” on EWTN; it was my introduction to Chesterton and, as such, enriches my spiritual life beyond measure.

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  • pedroerik

    Dear Dr. Alhquist and Crisis Magazine Editor

    May I translate your article into Portuguese to my blog ( Or to Brazilian Chesterton Society?

    Best regards,

  • HigherCalling

    G.K. Chesterton is already a saint — we are just waiting for the Church to go through its formalities in recognizing what Heaven already knows.

    Concerning the necessity of miracles, I can say that ‘St. Gilbert’ interceded for my mother on Christmas day 2011 as she lay dying in a Catholic hospital. My sister called from 1000 miles away and tearfully said my mom was not expected to make it through the night. I went directly to our adoration chapel and prayed for Chesterton’s intercession. She is alive and well today, much to her doctors’ surprise.

    Thank you, Dale Ahlquist, for your tireless efforts in pushing for Chesterton’s cause. My chance discovery of GKC 5 years ago has changed my life, and your special contribution in spreading his wisdom and holiness has been priceless to thousands of people.

  • Michael Newhouse

    God bless you. I’ve adored Chesterton’s writing for 20 years, but dismissed the idea of his canonization. He’s a witty journalist, not a saint! But to hear you talk of how he has brought so many to Christ is opening my heart to the possibility. And while he did not live obvious heroic virtue in life like Mother Teresa or Isaac Jogues, there is little doubt in my mind that he is indeed celebrating with all the saints in heaven. May the Spirit guide us all in this matter.

  • sybarite123

    Just a note! In one of his TV programs Bishop Sheen read aloud the written ‘Proposal of Marriage’ that Chesterton made to his future wife. A retired Catholic priest in Canada. I saw the TV show on You Tube.

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  • accelerator

    Heroic virtue: If we keep waiving or stretching this requirement, why even have it?! A great writer, a serious Christian, Yes. A saint in terms of who the Church canonizes? What on earth? Will tradition ever cease being so dumbed down? GKC and Belloc were drinking buddies and cut-ups. Maisie Ward even fretted about the former’s heavy drinking in his last days. But because we love his books we build an elaborate scaffolding of his mysticism at which he would doubtless scoff? As I said, a great writer. But the enthusiasm here simply seems fanboyish. A good corrective would be Kenneth Woodward’s excellent “Making Saints.” There is a reason the process is not simply a popularity process, despite the accelerated pace of saintmaking. I see a parallel with the Mormon Church’s accelerated temple building. For the LDS, temples used to be far more sacred, special, and not everyday things. Then the multiplied them exponentially, building more and far less spectacular buildings. Now temple attendance for them has dropped off! Making something too common can cheapen it. We all know Heaven is crowded, but the pantheon of canonized saints has up til now been a rather selective company. It is not only a question of holiness, but of ***heroic*** virtue, of being a bona fide hero. Chesterton was a talent, a wit, but a hero? Dunno. Guess I am simply on an entirely different wavelength on this one…

    • Michael Doyle

      How was Therese de Liseux heroic? She lived life quietly as a Nun and died of an ailment in her youth. How do we define heroic?
      (Please don’t get me wrong, I love Therese de Liseux and believe her to be a Saint and Doctor of the Church. I just think you make a great point that should be explored.)