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The research is summarized on the timeline on and ongoing basis, and visitors to this site are encouraged to share any information that they may have, and/or conduct research of their own!  (NOTE: the links below concerning books are informational–not necessarily buying source recommendations.)

There is not yet any biography of Fr. Dudley:  Fr. Dudley’s novels contain so much autobiographical information that it would be interesting to know where the autobiography stops and the fiction starts.  Moreover, there have not yet been personal letters or even public interviews located in which he discussed the questions arising from this plots (some of which are suggested below).

Books that discuss Fr. Dudley (and also provide insights into the era):

  • To Promote, Defend, and Redeem:  The Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism 1920-1960, by Arnold Sparr, SJ, Greenwood Press, 1990.  This book mentions Fr. Dudley repeatedly, because the American literary revival was patterned on the British one, and in that regard Daniel A. Lord, SJ, was a fan of Fr. Dudley’s novels.
  •  The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan, by John A. Hardon, SJ , Grotto Press, 1998 (revised edition), pages 175-177.  Fr. Hardon provides a well-done summary of Fr. Dudley’s life, and notes:  “Dudley is best known as a powerful novelist.  His aim, he said, was `to bring Catholic philosophy and theology before the public in a popular form.’  Six of his novels have been standard in English Catholic literature.”  Still, there may be some confusion:  he then summarizes six books–one of which was not a novel, and there were seven novels total.  It appears that Fr. Hardon was unaware of Fr. Dudley’s last two novels (which are no longer in print):  Michael:  A Tale of the Masterful Monk and Last Crescendo.
  • The Road to Damascus:  The Spiritual Pilgrimage of Fifteen Converts to Catholicism, Fr. John A O’Brien (1893–1980), Doubleday & Company, 1950, pages 134-149.   These converts–including Fr. Dudley–were part of the Catholic literary revival, and their conversion stories provide insights into that era.
  • The Catholic Literary Revival:  Three Phases in its Development from 1845 to the Present, by Calvert Alexander, SJ (Bruce Publishing Company, 1935), pages 343 and 353.  Fr. Dudley is mentioned only in passing:  primarily, this provides insights into this era.
  • Cardinal John Carmel Heenan: Priest of the Pope, Prince of the Church, by James Hagerty, Gracewing, 2012, pages 57-59.  Then Father Heenan succeeded Fr. Dudley as Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society:  he did not always agree with Fr. Dudley, nor did the bishops overseeing the Society.  As these matters were not the central focus of this book, further research is needed.
  • Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief by Joseph Pearce (HarperCollins Publisher in Great Britain, and Ingntius Press in the USA, 1999), pages 81-82 discuss the similarities between Ronald A. Knox and Fr. Dudley.

Books that don’t discuss Fr. Dudley specifically, but provide insights into the era:

These books will be discussed on the Catholic Literary Revival page.

Newspaper articles:  In addition to the articles found in archives, some newspaper records are available electronically for the period of Fr. Dudley’s life and before.  They usually require some payment to search.

Fr. Dudley is not always referred to as “Owen Francis Dudley” (which is a distinctive “exact phrase” search):  he is also called Father Owen Dudley, Father Owen F. Dudley, and just Father Dudley.  “Masterful Monk” is also a distinctive search.  The “Catholic Missionary Society” nets a lot, but there are many organizations of that name:  it helps to add an additional word (e.g., “Dudley”).

All but one of these sources have been searched, but there still remains work to be done.

It appears that religious news of Catholics (and Protestants) was covered much more frequently and widely in the USA as compared to the UK.


  • Westminster Diocesan Archives houses the archives of the Catholic Missionary Society:  there is a wealth of information about the Society and Fr. Dudley.  There is a lot of information there (not yet completely reviewed).
  • Georgetown University Library, “Gallery of Living Catholic Authors” collection (especially Boxes 16 and 67).  This is a collection that includes a number of articles about Fr. Dudley, some letters to and from Fr. Dudley, and a marked up galley proof of The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk.  All contents have been reviewed, and some scans made.
  • Christendom College Library, Front Royal, VA:  some Catholic Gazette (the Catholic Missionary Society publication) issues containing articles by Fr. Dudley.
  • Jesuits in Britain Archives:  Fr. Owen Francis Dudley’s younger brother was Fr. Eustace Dudley, SJ.  They have an interesting outline of Fr. Eustace’s life, but they do not have any correspondence between the brothers.
  • British Library Reference Services.  Checked both in person, and via email.  The email response on 11/12/2014 was:  “I searched the BL Archives & Manuscripts Catalogue, which includes the Chesterton Papers, and there are no references at all to Owen Francis Dudley. I also checked if there was an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article about him but unfortunately there isn’t.”  However, still unexplored is their newspaper archives, and how that may compare to UK Press Online.
  • Boston University Library, Belloc Collection.  On the hope that Hillarie Belloc and Fr. Dudley had exchanged letters, I checked with the library:  they reported no such letters.
  • Catholic Record Society:  no information–except that the book of James Hagerty (who is with the Society) did have information as noted above.
  • The London (Brompton) Oratory:  they had the record of his reception into the Catholic Church on 6 February 1915, but had no additional records.
  • Archives of Carmelite Convent at Woodcock Hill outside of Berkhamsted in Hertforshire:  Fr. Dudley’s last assignment was with these Dominican Sisters from 1949 to 1951.  They moved to Wales in 1951 (he did not follow), and finally dispersed in 1989.  The oldest nun, after consulting Preseigne/Berkhamstead Annals, provided helpful information.

Other contact efforts:

Research questions that suggest themselves:

    • There are a host of questions concerning his books, partially because their settings and plots contained so much known autobiography–and it is not clear where autobiography ends and fiction begins.  Did he discuss any of these issues in his personal letters, etc.?
      • His characters converting to Catholicism often experienced strong disapproval of family members–and even a breach in their relationships. Fr. Dudley’s roots were strongly Protestant, and yet two of the Dudley sons became Catholic priests–despite their father being an Anglican vicar.  What was the reaction of the parents? Did it resemble the reactions of the parents of any of his novels?  (Further research has suggested that although there was inevitable tension at times, there was no breach.)
      • While Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society (England and Wales), he traveled to New Zealand and Australia which was recounted in fictional form in Michael–in which an English woman visited her New Zealand relatives (and the differences between the old world and the new were appreciated).  Fr. Dudley had Protestant relatives in Australia:  did they visit on his trip?
      • In Pageant of Life, the young Anselm Thornton (later the Masterful Monk) has some initial discussions with the mother of Cyril Rodney (Chapter II).  When he finds out that she dislikes Catholics, he asks why?  She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but he replied:  “`You won’t hurt my feelings.’  He looked at her whimsically.  `I’m used to it.'”  But later he brings the issue up again, and there is “a note of hurt in his voice which told her that she had hurt him as supper, though he had not shown it at the time.”  And into the conversation:  “`Mrs Rodney.’  He spoke her name appealingly.  The harsh tone had gone.  `It hurts us Catholics–this sort of thing.  Did you know that?'”  Was Fr. Dudley’s point that young people sometimes think something won’t hurt them, but then find out that they don’t completely know their own minds yet?  Did he ever comment on the apparent contradiction?
      • The Masterful Monk was made into a play by William Hocker and George H.H. Lamb in 1937.  Was their any correspondence between Fr. Dudley and the playwrights?  Did the changes made by the play spark any discussion about the original book?  These questions arise due to this:  although the play was largely true to the original book (even using much of the same wording), changes had to be made to reduce the scope of the book to the stage–in the process the playwrights fixed some arguable flaws in the plot of the novel.  During that era, keeping information from a character was a common plot theme:  for that character’s “own good” (as in this case); because of a confidentiality obligation (real or imagined); or because a lie had been told but not yet admitted.
        • In The Masterful Monk, Fr. Anselm Thornton did not inform Lord Esterton that there was very specific information suggesting the possibility of a violent crime at his home:  so specific that the Monk had requested Scotland Yard protection (without mentioning that fact to Lord Esterton) which was to arrive the next day.  As a result, it was Lord Esterton himself who opened the drawing room curtain–being totally unaware of the danger outside–which enabled the attack.  The novel acknowledged that the Monk and the Major erred–with the best of intentions–but the confessed mistakes were tactical in nature (failure to keep the malefactor from reaching the house itself).  The play fixed that by having the lord travel for business–and so he was not there–and by having the attack come with little notice.  Did Fr. Dudley notice and comment?
        • Beauty Dethier imposed tests:  first upon herself, and then upon Basil (see Chapter XIX and following).  Although these tests were understandable, Beauty imposed them in an inflexible and absolute matter–which arguably did not make sense in view of the traumatic loss to Basil of his beloved brother.  She was not a friend to Basil, although she loved him.  Was that a manifestation of the British pride and honor of the day?  A portrayal of a flaw in Beauty’s character?  A plot device to get to the last scene?  Or just an example of this characteristic plot device (problematic secrecy) of that era?
        • The name of the country estate in the novel was “Hendringham” or “Hendringham Park” near the towns of “Windern” and “Horsham” in Sussex.  Google maps does show a Horsham in (West) Sussex, however it does not show any “Windern” close by (nor in England at all).  (Sussex is on the Southern coast South of London.)  There is a “Hendringham” North of both London and Norwich–and south of the coast and Wells next the Sea:  and East of Little Walsingham where Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine is located (North-West of Norwich).  Is this an accurate summation of the actual geography of the names in the novel?
      • His novels featured many conversions, but never the conversion of a devout Protestant–indeed, Mrs. Rodney (Pageant of Life) is the only devout Protestant featured in his novels.  This is interesting in that he was the head of the Catholic Missionary Society whose mission it was to attempt to convert–largely Protestant–England and Wales back to Catholicism.  Obviously he thought the differences were important, because he was an Anglican minister that converted to Catholicism–as did one of his brothers.  Additionally, his books never addressed the common debate topics between Protestants and Catholics:  although he did often feature ignorant prejudice of Protestant origin against Catholics.  (He just didn’t seem to view Protestantism as viable due to endless disagreements over doctrine along with the Anglican compromises with modernism in his day.)  Many possible reasons spring to mind (e.g., priorities, family loyalty), but did he ever offer a direct explanation?
      • Overwhelmingly, the settings in his novels were real places using their real names.  How far did that go?  And when he did not use an actual name, was the location based upon a real place nevertheless?  For example, I have found no monastery at “Issano” Italy (on the lower slopes of the Alps near Switzerland, with a mailing address:  Il Monastero, Issano sott’ Alpi, Italia”):  was this based upon an actual monastery–or at least an actual Italian town in the Alps?
    • Fr. Dudley was very busy, and worked with people constantly:  sometimes people like that don’t have time for close friends.  Did he have close friends that he wrote to?
    • There are many questions concerning the Catholic Missionary Society (CMS) deserving of further research.
        • The mission of the CMS was to convert England and Wales from (at least nominal) Anglicanism to Catholicism:  clearly there was increasing discomfort with this mission as time went on.  When did the discomfort start (or was it there, to some degree, from the beginning), and what was its progression?  (According to Fr. [later Cardinal] Heenan, the original intention of the bishops of England and Wales was to let the CMS die, rather than to appoint a new Superior after Fr. Dudley, but the Apostolic Delegate [Archbishop Godfrey] successfully pleaded for a reprieve–indicating that abolishment would be poorly received by the Vatican which would assume that “evangelical zeal was cooling and that the Catholics of England had abandoned hope of winning the country back to the Old Faith.”)
        • Until Fr. John Carmel Heenan (later Cardinal) took over in 1947, CMS had a somewhat independent charter from the Bishops of England and Wales–for example, they chose their own Superiors.  Their priests were from England and Wales, and they had missions there, but they were not part of the diocesan administrative offices.  Did that cause bureaucratic-type strains and conflicts?
      • Regarding 1938: “Such was the parlous state of the CMS in 1938, however, that the bishops passed a vote of no confidence in it `as it is at present’ and appointed a committee to plan for its future” (Hagerty, p. 57). (James Hagerty’s source for this statement was: “Griffin to Downey, 4 Oct. 1946. ALA, Downey Collection, SI/II/B/74. Acta of the Bishops’ Conference, 25 Oct. 1938; 18-19 April 1939; 23-24 Oct. 1946; 15-16 April, 1947.”)  Fr. Dudley had been Superior at that point for about 5 years.  What were the issues?
        • Oddly, at the beginning of this same year (1938), Fr. Dudley had left for a (successful) world tour with the permission of his bishop, and with the bishop’s hand-written letter of introduction to the American episcopacy.  So, did the problems develop because the Superior, Fr. Dudley, was not there?  Or did they send Fr. Dudley on tour (or at least happily approve the suggestion) to get him out of the way?  Or was his bishop supportive, while  some of the other bishops view Fr. Dudley differently?  Or…
        • As Fr. Heenan was taking over as Superior for the Catholic Missionary Society, he met with Fr. Dudley.  Shortly thereafter, he wrote a 5 page letter that was rather critical.  Why?  Was Dudley was a better author/speaker than administrator?  Was Fr. Heenan was letting his ego get in the way (he was reportedly a difficult person to work for at times)?  Perhaps the bishops had antagonism to the CMS and/or Fr. Dudley, and their attitude carried through to Fr. Heenan?  Was there some combination of things?
      • In 1965 (over a decade after Fr. Dudley’s death, Fr. Michael Gallon, editor of the Catholic Gazette (the publication of Catholic Missionary Society), issued a report that was carried as “Church’s Failure” in newspapers.  According to the articles, Fr. Gallon viewed the greatest failure of the Catholic Church in Britain as its inability to integrate itself into English culture–which presumably require Catholics to jettison Catholic culture.  He is quoted:  “The Catholic population in England continues to stick out like a sore thumb from ordinary Englishmen…The result is the miserably small percentage of Catholics in Parliament or public affairs.”  Is there a full report in the CMS archives?
  • People who might have information (in Britain) include:
      • Nephews/nieces of priests who served with Fr. Dudley in the Catholic Missionary Society.
      • His family (who is currently assisting).
      • Fr. Dudley’s last assignment was as Chaplain to a community of Carmelite Sisters living on Woodcock Hill outside Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire, England.  When the Sisters decided to move to Wales, in May 1951 “3 young married couples, architect friends, agreed to buy the main property, transforming the big house into three family sized flats and leaving the house and garden Fr. Dudley occupied in his ownership.”  Their family names were apparently the Folkards, the Farms, and the Wiltshires:  their descendants may have some information (although it is possible that one or more of the original owners may still be living).
    • His housekeeper was Miss Winifred Dunham at the time that he died:  whether she left any remembrances is unknown.

What needs to be written?  Suggestions:

  • A biography of Fr. Dudley.
  • An account of the rise and fall of the extraordinary Catholic Missionary Society.
  • Fr. Dudley’s last two novels are very good, but they have been long out of print (with Micheal recently coming back into print only recently).
  • His novels could benefit from annotation:
    • He was very British, and his novels were generally set in real places and discussed actual events.  Annotation would help readers (especially those not British) understand better references and terms that are no longer familiar.
    • As he was part of the Catholic literary revival opposing very specific ideas and their proponents, annotation could make connections among concepts and people.
  • Articles are needed.  For example, it may be that pre-existing books adequately cover the Catholic literary revivals, but if so, they are largely unknown and need to be summarized and thus publicized.  Fr. Dudley needs to be publicized more–and he is far from being the only wrongly forgotten Catholic author!

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