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Michael Davies ~ In Memoriam Return to Scrapbook

by Michael Matt

Editor, The Remnant

Several readers have inquired after details of Michael Davies’ funeral, which took place on Friday, October 22, at St. Mary’s Church on Crown Lane in Chislehust, Kent, about a half an hour by train outside London.

Imagine, if you will, the most picturesque, country church—something you may have seen on a postcard or in an old movie—complete with thick stone walls, stained glass, a little steeple and a churchyard dotted with headstones of Catholics laid to rest there over the recent centuries. Imagine further that this church is nestled in a quaint village with tree-lined lanes and flower gardens, far removed from the hustle and bustle of noisy London. Imagine all this and you’ve got an idea of the final resting place of Michael Davies.

This is particularly poignant, I think, to those who knew well his yen for country living and his oft-stated regret that his work kept him in London, far removed from his beloved Wales and quite distant from the simple, rural life he’d dreamt of since having left it as a boy. It pleased his friends a great deal to see that, in death at least, Michael’s wish for a return to the country had been granted. The charming village, the gentle breezes rustling the treetops, the rolling fields nearby—all of it seemed to quietly attest to the fact that Michael Davies had found a fitting place to rest.

In many ways, his Requiem Mass was like he was—anything but ostentatious, gentle and ever so genuine. Consider the scene as I saw it: The old church is filled to capacity, as are the sanctuary with priests and the vestibule with friends obliged to stand for lack of room in the overcrowded pews. At the front, his patient widow, in black veil and mourning dress, leans upon the beloved daughter and two sons she’d given her faithful husband. And there in the center of the modest sanctuary is a simple wooden coffin, appointed with flowers and a silver crucifix.

At first I could hardly bring myself to look at it, scarcely able to make my mind accept the reality that in that box lay the body of my old friend. It was so hard to believe that the he was there, lying silently before us. But, of course, he wasn’t there at all. His soul had shuffled off that mortal coil, which awaited Christian burial there in the churchyard just outside.

As the Requiem progressed, it occurred to me that, wherever he was, Michael must have been gratified to see that his family and friends didn’t overdo his funeral. Indeed, those in attendance witnessed a funeral befitting a dignified Catholic gentleman. The ancient Requiem was sung by friends (not professionals) and, yet, it was one of the most moving I’d ever heard. The historic Catholic Mass was celebrated with all the solemn dignity that Michael cherished. It, too, was not overdone. It was prayerful, reverent, Catholic!

The celebrant, Fr. Martin Edwards of St. Mary Magdalene’s in East Hill, Wandsworth, had been (I later learned) one of Michael’s students many years ago, a fact that showed in everything the good priest did and said. Father’s manifest reverence for the Mass and flawless celebration of the Requiem were impressive beyond words.

And when, after Mass had ended, Father delivered a eulogy in honor of his old teacher, I doubt very much that there could have been a dry eye in the place. He spoke at length of the teacher, the father, the husband, the friend, the scholar, and the devoted son of the Church who’d dared, out of love, to stand and resist those who attacked her from within.

He recounted humorous anecdotes, as well, including one that recalled Michael entertaining a group of seminarians in his home some years ago. He’d given each a glass of whiskey and then played the film, The Magnificent Seven, for them. The punch line came when Father Edwards recounted how Michael pointed to the hero in the film (played by Yul Brynner) and said in his inimitable accent: “There, now doesn’t he remind you of Archbishop Lefebvre?”

The priestly tribute paid to Michael Davies that day by his student turned traditionalist priest was as unforgettable as it was accurate and from the heart. And the pleasant fact that it was delivered in that slightly elevated manner of expression that is the English way only added so much more to the moment.

Shortly thereafter, as the In Paradisum was solemnly chanted, I looked on as my old friend’s coffin was carried out of the church and into the adjoining churchyard. The finality of death was beginning to set in. After having walked so many miles with him on pilgrimage, this would be the last walk we’d take with him.

But, as if Heaven wished to console us, what do you suppose happened next? Yes, the clouds parted and brilliant sunshine quite suddenly bathed the scene even in the shadows of the stone church. I’m not much for “signs and wonders,” but perhaps it wouldn’t be so out of the question for Heaven to have smiled down on a favored son just as he was being laid to rest. It certainly seemed that way.

Solemnly, the casket was lowered into the ground. Tears were shed, prayers were said and, exactly as Michael would have wanted, the small men’s schola now bid him one final adieu by singing a Welsh anthem over the body of the fallen Welshman. Indeed, it was a poetic moment!

Whoever arranged Michael Davies’ funeral (and I suspect it was mostly the work of his longsuffering wife, Marija) certainly gave every possible consideration to the personality and temperament of the man, and tailored it accordingly. Down to the last detail, the service at Chislehurst could not have been improved upon. While leading all present in solemn prayer for his soul, the ceremony also honored Michael Davies just as he’d lived—simply and truly.

As my American companions (Chris Ferrara and Gerry Matatics) and I dropped some bits of earth into the hole where Michael’s body now rests, it struck me that this had not been the terribly sad event I had dreaded on the plane overseas. A Catholic had died after faithfully serving his God, his Church and his family all the days of his adult life. What could be sad about that! Fittingly, his Requiem had been offered according to the ancient Rite he’d spent a lifetime defending. Even more fittingly, it had been celebrated by one of the little students now grown into manhood who’d learned from him and who’d heard the calling to the holy priesthood soon thereafter.

And there’s more. Just two weeks before he’d passed, an American priest friend had unexpectedly stopped in to see Michael at his home in London. For reasons only God knows, this priest insisted to a then-recovering Michael Davies that he should receive the Last Rites. Michael agreed, and took the Sacrament of Extreme Unction there in his home at the hand of his old friend. The rest is, as they say, history.

Michael Davies died suddenly of heart failure less than two weeks later, believing to the end that death by cancer was still a year off. Clearly, the Almighty takes care of His own.
While considering all this there in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, there just didn’t seem to be any reason to weep. Life was simply marching on as it always does, only stopping for a moment to acknowledge the passing of a fallen son. Sooner or later, we’re all meant to follow, and our prayer can only be that we’ll accept it as blithely as did he.

A short while after the coffin had been lowered into the ground, a distinguished (and very English) funeral director in black tails announced that Michael’s family was inviting the entire company to a nearby public house called Papa Charlie’s, where lunch was to be served and all would raise a glass in memory of the deceased. Papa Charlie’s? Again, it couldn’t have been scripted any better. Way to go, Michael!

Indeed, glasses were raised that day, as happy memories were recalled and stories recounted at that delightful pub in Chislehurst. Michael may have physically left us but his memory still remained. He’d died and now been buried, but on that day his friends and family made an implicit pact that he will not soon be forgotten, at least not by those who knew him, loved him and were inspired by him.

As that unexpected ray of sunshine pierced the overcast skies that day outside the stone church of St. Mary’s, I wondered how many Masses had already been offered for the repose of the soul of Michael Davies. Perhaps the sun’s light gave some hint that all is well and that the gentle soul has already passed through the gates of Paradise; but, then again, perhaps not.

In the event that more prayer is needed to release his soul from purgatory, I repeat my plea from our October 15th issue and ask all to take it to heart: Any one who is fortunate enough to be worshipping regularly at the Tridentine Mass these days may see fit to consider that, were it not for the work of Michael Davies, there may not be many such Masses left for any Catholic to attend anywhere in the world.

Would it not be right, then, for each of us to vow here and now to have one such Mass offered for the repose of his soul? I can think of no more fitting way to repay the debt we owe the man who spent thirty-five years teaching us all about the “most beautiful thing this side of heaven”.



Michael's Requiem Mass

Michael as a young soldier

Michael on Pilgrimage
to Chartres

Some years later carrying the Welsh flag on pilgrimage to Chartres

Michael in Nigeria

Michael in London

At Notre Dame de Laus,
French Alps, 1995

Michael lecturing at the Chapel of
the Vendee, 1994

With Walter Matt on the occasion
Walter Matt's 50th Anniversary
as an Editor

Michael with Walter Matt on the
30th Anniversary of The Remnant

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