This story came together much better than it could have, considering it worked out in the last hours before we sent the Rebel News e-mail out. It’s not always easy to find someone to profile for the Who’s Who section, and not everyone wants to be put in the spotlight. Fr. Ralph, who was one of my teachers when I was a student at Priory, didn’t shy away when I ran into him in the library the day of this story and asked if he was interested. Adding to the good timing, it happened to be right before a new book he wrote was released to the public, giving the profile an extra news peg.
Father Ralph began writing poetry during his studies at Oxford and the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, but began to write more seriously after he arrived in St. Louis in 1970. Having difficulty finding time to write between teaching classes, grading papers, and his other responsibilities as a monk, he asked Father Austin Rennick for advice.
“Father Ralph, you’re a poet,” he said. “When it comes, give it time. It’s part of your call.”
Taking that advice to heart, Father Ralph has written more than 10 books of poetry and of prose, with the latest, Wildest… being released in time for this weekend’s Year of Faith event with Scott Hahn. It will be available for general purchase in mid-November.Wildest… is the third in a series of books (after Wild… and Wilder…) that offer poems about animals for each letter of the alphabet, with an accompanying illustration for each.
Father Ralph was born in Ollerton, England, in 1938. He is one of four sons, three of whom became monks. His older brother, Father Stephen, and his younger brother, Father Timothy, both stayed at Ampleforth Abbey, where Father Timothy became the abbot in 1997.
He started out intending to follow in his father’s footsteps and studied engineering. After finding himself “out of his depth,” he switched to studying the classics and never looked back. After a stint in the British Army in Malaysia in the 50s, he joined the community at Ampleforth and began studies for the priesthood.
Right before he was ordained, Abbot (later Cardinal) Basil Hume called him back from Freiburg to ask him to go to St. Louis. “I knew something was happening because we usually stayed in Freiburg for Christmas,” he says. “Abbot Hume said, ‘You can tell me what you think about it, but I might send you anyway.’”
And so, after ordination, Father Ralph came to St. Louis. It wasn’t an easy trip, however. He hitchhiked the last part of his trip, all the way from Chicago! The Illinois state police stopped him twice, but he made it nonetheless.
He started teaching immediately, in September 1970. He’s taught Latin, Greek, theology, English, and senior seminars during his time as a teacher, and has coached the tennis team throughout most of his time at Priory as well. “When I started, I felt totally inadequate,” he says of tennis, “but over time you learn some tricks.”
A highlight of his vocation, he says, has been serving as the monastery’s novicemaster for 12 years, starting around 1978. “It’s a great grace and privilege to work with the new monks when they come to the Abbey,” he says. He’s also served twice as the Abbey’s vocations director.
Teaching the Form V morality class in the theology department brought Father Ralph to another of his passions, the pro-life cause. In January, he’ll travel to Washington, D.C. with a group of students for the 16th time for the March for Life — a streak that started in 1998 and has only been interrupted once, when Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999. For the first several years, the group would travel by bus, but recently they’ve spread the trip out and travelled by plane, staying in the guest accommodations at St. Anselm’s Abbey. “The bus had its simplicity,” he says, “ but St. Anselm’s opened up that option, and it’s been wonderful.” Pro-life themes make their way into much of Father Ralph’s writings, and that’s made him a fixture in the local pro-life community since Roe v. Wade.
Father Ralph’s a person who puts pen to paper to bring stories to life, but in many ways he’s lived an interesting story of his own.
Interested in reading Father Ralph’s books? Signed copies are available for purchase in the Campus Store!