By Fr. Roger Nesbitt
Although he died on 24 March this year  it is still difficult for those of us who knew him well to believe that Fr. Edward Holloway, ‘Slim’ to most of us, has actually left us. As a friend, counsellor and colleague, he was like a large oak tree under which we all sheltered and over the years received strength and support. After fifty-five remarkable years of continuous pastoral priestly ministry Slim, who always wished “to die with his boots on”, did precisely that, actively involved in parish life right up until he fell ill just one week before his death.
While others have written extensively about his theological and philosophical legacy I would like to record my own memoir of the man and the priest and make a tribute to the pastoral legacy that he has left behind.
Priesthood and priestly vocations
I first met Fr. Holloway in 1957 at Imperial College London, where I was a student of chemical engineering. He came occasionally to give talks to the College Catholic Society, which in those times was one of the most successful student societies in the university. Although very often I did not fully understand what he was saying, I always enjoyed his talks and recognised that this priest was talking sense. He struck a chord in my soul, particularly in relating the scientific world to our Catholic faith. For somehow he managed to bridge the gap between the scientific culture which permeated my studies and my religion. Although it was several years before I began to appreciate what exactly he was saying I did recognise that it was unique. No one else was even talking about the relationship between science and religion then and, apart from Faith movement, very few are even now! I got to know many priests at the flourishing London chaplaincy but somehow it was only Slim who struck a chord in me. On one occasion as the secretary of the Imperial College Catholic society I wrote to him sending him his expenses and he replied, “If you want to see me for your good self any time I would be pleased to see you”.
Nearly three years went by. I graduated and went to work in Lancashire before returning to Imperial College to do research for a doctorate. I had reached a turning point in my life and was unsure about my future. After a few months something inside me said - “Go to Fr. Holloway”. I did not know where he was living, so I got a Catholic directory and wrote to him. He replied immediately and I went to see him. Within a few minutes he had persuaded me to think about a vocation to the priesthood and within nine months I was in St John’s Seminary at Wonersh. He was convinced that people with a scientific background would be useful to the Church and this was something no one had ever said to me before.
I mention this episode about my vocation because I know that many other young men, who have subsequently become priests, had similar experiences with Fr. Holloway. He had a love for the priesthood and a love for young people, and he was instrumental in helping numerous people to discern their vocations. He was not at all stuffy or “clerical” in the wrong sense, rather his approach to the priesthood was one of great love for Our Lord and of great zeal. He projected an understanding of the priesthood linked to a remarkable theological vision of Christ as Lord of Creation and he maintained that the priest was clearly called to celibacy and chastity precisely so that he could love God and people more fully. At a time when there were essentially only two strands in priestly spirituality - one of “sacrificing everything, even human love” for Christ and the other that if you had friends you were only expected to have priestly ones - many of us found his approach very refreshing.
Perhaps the first aspect of Slim’s pastoral ministry was, then, his zeal for the priesthood and for priestly vocations. He had a regular ‘surgery’ of young seminarians and priests who sought his advice, spiritual direction and friendship and he was both spiritually and financially generous to all. One of these young priests said at his funeral, “We all loved him so much”.
A time of turmoil and his special vocation
I was in the seminary in 1961 when Slim first gave me a copy of his unpublished book Matter and Mind: A Christian Synthesis (which he had completed in 1950, amazingly having written it while he was a curate at the English Martyrs parish in Walworth, South London). He told me that his inspiration had been the vision given earlier to his mother Agnes Holloway and that the book was based on the principles she had been given. As I read the book I began to see that his vision of Science and Catholicism, which I had glimpsed briefly at University, made an astonishing sense. It offered a moderate middle way between the rigidity of the “old synthesis” and the new and devastating “modernism” sweeping into the Church. In this period of turmoil, under the first impact of the forces of disintegration, I found his book exciting as well as supportive of my vocation.
It was also at this time that Fr. Holloway pointed out to me that this claim to a private revelation was at the heart of his vocation and that he believed that he was called to develop and spread the ideas given to his mother. Whilst this vision became for him a source of bitter rejection, suffering and loneliness he said that it was also an enormous consolation to him because of its immense power and deep wisdom. As the modernist crisis grew during and after the Second Vatican Council, Fr. Holloway began to see that his mother’s prophecy of chaos in the Church was coming true and that there was an urgent need to propagate this new synthesis of Catholicism and science. Whereas before the Council he had been suspected of ‘neo-modernism’, ironically he now began to be considered as ‘conservative’ and reactionary. As he himself said, he never did win with the ecclesiastical establishment!
After completing my studies at seminary I was ordained in 1967 and offered a post teaching chemistry at the John Fisher School in Surrey, a Catholic secondary school run by diocesan priests. Fr. Holloway advised me to take the post since he thought it could be very fruitful apostolically and that I would be able to show the relationship between religion and science to the pupils. It was while I was there that I helped him to publish the re-written version of his book, under the new title Catholicism: A New Synthesis. Also while I was there, in 1972, Fr. Holloway, who was then parish priest of Portslade in Sussex, suggested that we should form a youth movement. It seemed to me a slightly crazy idea at the time but we began and the first Faith Summer Session was held in 1973 at Herne Bay, Kent. Since then the work of Faith Movement has expanded enormously and as a result many young people have been helped in their faith. The aim of the Faith Movement was to offer to young people a positive alternative to the disintegrating influences in the Church and to give them the new vision of orthodox Catholicism and science propagated in Catholicism: A New Synthesis, in the Faith Magazine (Fr. Holloway had become editor of this new periodical in 1970) and in the series of Faith Pamphlets which we started to publish in 1974. In 1988 we published his mother’s writings God’s Master Key: the Law of Control and Direction to give a fuller background to the work.
There is no doubt in my mind that God had chosen a strong and powerful priest, but also a humble one, with a most brilliant mind to give us this unique vision. He could be very tough at times, but he had to be strong to survive, to do such great work and to transcend much resistance and misunderstanding in difficult circumstances. A weaker character could not have done the work for God that he did. He cared deeply for the Church and for the special vocation he had been given, and he was faithful to it to the very end. When he gave up being a parish priest and took up residence with Fr. Victor Cook at Cranleigh and at Warlingham he continued his intellectual work, turning his attention specifically to the renewal of Catholic philosophy along the lines of the Unity Law of Control and Direction, which had been shown to his mother. In my opinion his most brilliant work was the one completed just before he died, the third volume of his Perspectives in Philosophy - “Phenomenon and Noumenon: Rethinking the Greeks in the Age of Science”. It was the last piece in the jigsaw of his intellectual legacy. At the age of 81 he admitted that he was an old man in a hurry and that he could no longer write coherently any more after this. The miracle is that he finished it just before his death.
Fr. Edward Holloway’s pastoral legacy is truly outstanding. He spent fifty five years in pastoral work in many different parishes, wrote some magnificent theology and philosophy, helped many men to be priests, edited a magazine for twenty years, gave numerous retreats, talks and lectures, founded a youth movement and left a remarkable intellectual legacy. He gave us some sense of his vocation in a passage that I would like to quote here. He had always encouraged us to eschew clerical careerism and in 1988, towards the end of his life, he wrote:
My vocation from God has not been to be a scholar, or to enjoy the time and library researches for deep theological analysis and reflection. I have lived as a pastoral priest overwhelmed with the family chores of the People of God. I have never regretted it and I have been deeply fulfilled in it. So lived the Fathers of the Church, pastoral presbyters all of them. So lived our Lord and Master, Peter the fisherman, and Paul the tentmaker.
A vision for this millennium
Fr. Holloway had his first heart attack, a very serious one, in 1989 and the doctors only gave him about two years to live. In the providence of God he lived for another ten years, allowing him time to complete the formation of the Faith-Keyway Trust and hand over the work of the Faith Movement to the very many young priests ordained in the nineties. These ten years also gave him time, despite great physical suffering in the last years, to finish the main outlines of his philosophical work. So on 24 March 1999 (almost exactly eight years after his mother’s death, on 25 March 1991) God took him into the next life, his many labours over.
Even on this earth I am sure that we have not heard the last of Fr. Edward Holloway! On one occasion in the late sixties when his book had just been published the Apostolic Nuncio at the time visited Agnes Holloway and told her that he thought that a hundred years from now his book would be in every seminary in the Catholic Church. On the threshold of a new age God has given us, through Edward and Agnes Holloway, a vision for the new millennium and a mission to re-evangelise and ‘rebuild after the blitz’ of recent years in the Church. Despite all the resistance, the suffering and the misunderstanding a phrase of Cardinal Newman comes to mind - “Truth will ultimately win the day”. Fr. Holloway, thank you for all that you gave to us and meant to us. Your many labours over, may you truly rest in peace.