The monastic property at Highgate, of which St. Joseph's church is part, has an interesting royal link. Its purchase in 1858 was assisted by an annuity from the Duke of Marlborough to his nephew, the Hon and Rev George Spencer, Catholic convert son of the second Earl and great-great-great uncle of Diana, Princess of Wales. George Spencer was the youngest son of the second Earl Spencer, born in Admiralty House, London, December, 1799, his father being then the Lord of the Admiralty. Brought up in the elegance of Althorp, the Northamptonshire home of the Spencers, he studied at Eton and Cambridge, and became a minister in the Church of England, but converted to Rome in 1830. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1832, worked devotedly among the poor of Walsall, joined in 1844 the order of Passionists, with whom he had come in contact while studying in Rome for ordination. On entering the order, he took a new name, as the custom then was, which explains why he is now known in Catholic circles as Father Ignatius Spencer.
He finally died with a reputation as a saint in 1864. He is buried in a church of the order at Sutton, St. Helen's, Lancs. There is a portrait of him, with other distinguished members of the order, in the side chapel on the left of the high altar of St. Joseph's Church Highgate. George Spencer was dedicated to the cause of christian unity and was one of the great ecumenical crusaders of the last century. The Church is now formally investigating his life and work to see if he can be declared a saint.
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