As a general rule “ours” (Jesuit-speak for members of the Society) do not keep pets. Fr. Charles Plater SJ was a notable exception. His faithful bulldog Jim would accompany him on visits to convalescing sldiers during the first world war. Plater’s friend and biographer, Fr. Mardindale SJ described Jim as “lumbering”, “apostolic” with a genuine ability to “break ice”. This description in fact holds true of Plater himself: a man acutely interested in the world around him and unafraid of going beyond usual boundaries.
I was reminded of Charles Plater last week whilst at St. Beuno’s for my retreat in preparation for taking vows in September. Plater spent four years at St. Beuno’s between 1907-1911 in the days when it served as the English Province Theologate. Like me, Plater loved to climb to the top garden terrace and behold the enormous view of fields, farms, villages, old towns and spires – a perfect “composition of place” for Ignatius’s meditation on the Kingdom of Christ.
One achievement of Plater’s short life (he died at a mere 45 years of age) was his role in establishing the Catholic Social Guild, a national body encouraging the formation of study groups that equipped working people with knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching at a time when there was a genuine fear that the Church was losing ground to socialistic atheism. In promoting his work, Plater travelled widely and was exposed to widespread destitution affecting workers. His diaries are full of accounts of conversations with everyday people he encountered on trains and streets, be they miners, quarrymen or railway porters. He enquired about their welfare, how they made ends meet, the condition of their housing. Plater’s passion for social justice led him to collaborate with leading non-Catholic churchmen in demanding a “living wage”. He also set up a Catholic Workers’ College in Oxford.
Crucially, Plater was intensely interested in ordinary peoples’ spiritual lives too.
This brings me back to St. Beuno’s because it was here, half-way up a Welsh mountain, that Charles Plater whilst still only a scholastic studying for ordination that he devised and implemented his scheme for workers’ retreats. In the space of a few years, thousands of lay people were being introduced to Ignatian Spirituality through “preached retreats” taking place in industrial towns and cities up and down the UK. The retreat movement was indeed Plater’s life work and his richest legacy.