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Yes indeed. My dear friend and fellow imaginative conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, is every inch a Dwight in shining armour.
I was amused to discover, upon perusing the comments appended to my recent essay, “Dwight in Shining Armour”, that most readers had assumed that it would be about my friend and fellow contributor to the Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker. I rather had the impression that most readers were a little disappointed that it wasn’t about him. I thought I’d rectify the situation with this brief token of my gratitude for all that Fr. Dwight has done and continues to do in the fight for all that is good, true and beautiful, and as a small token of my own gratitude for his friendship.
Fr. Dwight and I go back a long way. We go so far back that Fr. Dwight was not even Fr. Dwight when we first met. At the time, back in the 1990s, we were both recent converts to the Catholic faith. There was, however, a difference between our respective receptions into the Church. I had come in from the cold whereas he had been thrust out into the cold, being made both homeless and jobless as the price he had to pay for following the voice of his conscience and answering the call of reason.
At the time of his conversion, he had been an Anglican vicar in a quaint village parish on the scenic Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. He had a beautiful English wife and a couple of young children. He was living the dream. Ever since his arrival in England from his native Pennsylvania to study for the Anglican ministry, it had been his deepest desire to be a country parson, living in an old rectory next to an ancient church in the heart of an idyllically scenic English village. He and Alison, his wife, had to sacrifice all this as the price to pay for becoming Catholics. They lost their source of income and their home. No doubt, mindful of St. Matthew’s Gospel, they would say that they had discovered the one pearl of great price which merited the sacrificing of all that they owned. No doubt they were right to do so but the sacrifice is no less real or painful.
If my memory serves me well, I believe that I became aware of the name “Dwight Longenecker” from seeing his name as a byline on articles in the Catholic press which caught my eye and earned my admiration. I can’t recall when or where we first met but I do recall visiting him and his family at their home in Chippenham, a market town in Wiltshire. I was a newly wed at the time and was accompanied by my American wife, Susannah.
Another somewhat surreal memory is of Dwight giving me a guided tour of the Roman ruins at Bath. It seemed strange that I, an Englishman, should be given a guided tour of one of England’s most famous and iconic historical sites by an American, an idiosyncratic role reversal which still strikes me as a little odd and more than a little amusing.
In September 2001, four days before 9-11, Susannah and I moved to the United States. Susannah, a California girl, had only spent four months in England, following our marriage, before returning to the States. I, on the other hand, had never lived anywhere except England and was ready for the new adventure in the New World. A few years later, Dwight and Alison, together with their four children, moved to South Carolina. Shortly afterwards, Dwight was ordained. The fact that the Longenecker’s were in the upstate of South Carolina was a contributing factor in our decision to move here, which we did in 2006. Since then I have been blessed to have Fr. Dwight as my neighbour.
I’ll conclude these musings on our friendship with a couple of examples of Fr. Dwight’s visionary approach to evangelization.
Several years ago, after he had become pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, he announced his intention to build a beautiful new church. There is no doubt that a church was needed. Mass was being celebrated in a dingy and poorly lit rectangular building which lacked any claim to even the barest hint of beauty. Yes, a new church was needed but Fr. Dwight was not interested in building a new church in accordance with the brutalist norms of recent decades, nor was he interested in erecting a shoddy unedifying edifice which sacrificed beauty in the name of economy. He declared his intention to build a beautiful Romanesque church, inspired by the ancient church of Saint Antimo in Tuscany. Lacking his vision, I sought to caution him of the cost of building such a church in this day and age, especially as his parish was the poorest in the city. He responded with commendable wisdom by ignoring me. The money was raised and the church was built. It now stands as a living symbol of Fr. Dwight’s vision and a permanent reminder to me of my lack of vision and faith.
A few years later, Fr. Dwight declared to me his intention of starting a classical high school at Our Lady of the Rosary. He had no ready resources except for the old church building, which was now serving as the parish hall. This would host the proposed new school. I was skeptical. He ignored me. The rest, as they say, is history.
Earlier this year, I was honoured to give the commencement address for the first graduating class. Enrollment is such that there are plans to erect new buildings to meet the demand. There’s a waiting list for students wishing to enroll in the high school. Families have moved from as far away as Washington State to provide their children with the good and solid Catholic classical education that Our Lady of the Rosary offers.
Yes indeed. My dear friend and fellow imaginative conservative is every inch a Dwight in shining armour.
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The featured image is courtesy of DwightLongenecker.com.