Sunday, January 29, 2012


Msgr. Vernon Johnson first met Ronald Knox at Oxford, when they were both undergraduates. Both converted to Roman Catholicism and, later, both returned to Oxford as Chaplain to the Catholic students. Msgr. Johnson wrote at some length of their friendship:

"It was a June evening towards the end of the summer term at Oxford in 1906. I was standing at the entrance to Pusey House, the High Church undergraduate centre, and saying farewell to one of the clergy. As I turned to go he said, ‘By the way, an extremely brilliant boy who has taken the first scholarship at Balliol is coming up from Eton next term. He has leanings in our direction. Pray that he may not lose his faith at Oxford.’ That was how I first heard of Ronnie!

The following October, Ronald Knox swept like a comet, with all a comet’s attendant brilliance, into the life of Oxford University. Before the term was far spent his name was on everybody’s lips. The Dons in their Senior Common Rooms were all discussing his brilliance, half afraid as to where it might lead him. (One of the authorities when asked his opinion of Ronald Knox is reputed to have replied, ‘He is indeed brilliant but rather too given to Socialism and Christianity’.) In the Junior Common Rooms the undergraduates were all rocking with laughter at his wit.

As time went on every great classical prize fell to him and it was not long before there was nobody at the Union who could touch him for popularity as a speaker. After the great debates, the foremost political leaders were all eager to secure him for their party.

In the midst of all this adulation Ronald Knox remained quite unmoved and utterly unspoilt. What was the secret which kept him always so charmingly modest amid this hurricane of fame? His racy wit and inveterate love of a joke had indeed quickly earned for him the reputation of being an enfant terrible, flippant and superficial. Little did these people know of the private personal life which lay behind this brilliance and which he was at such pains to keep completely hidden."

Read the entire essay in PDF.

Msgr. Vernon Johnson is best known for his devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. He is the author of Spiritual Childhood: The Spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux