Hobnail boots

Vincent McNabb: photograph

Image © English Dominicans. Reproduced with permission.

Fr Vincent McNabb OP (1868–1943) was the tenth of eleven children born to a Northern Irish sea captain and his wife. He had a lively sense of being a sinner in need of God’s grace, and famously quipped of his decision in 1885 to join the English Dominican noviciate in Gloucestershire, ‘As I didn’t want to go to hell, I went to Woodchester.’ From the beginning of the twentieth century he acquired a growing reputation as a preacher and retreat giver. Inspired by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, McNabb began to appear in the press, to speak at Hyde Park Corner, and to publish works on Catholic approaches to society, culture, and political philosophy.

McNabb was profoundly inspired by Pope Leo’s call for a remedy to the injustices and squalor suffered by the working class in newly industrialised societies. He was a frequent visitor to the sick and destitute in the London slums. He preferred whenever possible to travel on foot, walking at a rapid pace in hobnail boots. Where the distance precluded walking, he generally chose public transport. In his writings Fr Vincent championed the family over the individual, local production over mass markets. He preferred small holdings to agri-business, and the dignity of skilled craftsmanship to impersonal production lines. It was said by his biographer that ‘Vincent the social philosopher and theologian found in Ditchling, the ideal of Nazareth, the home of Joseph.’

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