Religion, identity and class, as we all know can be emotive subjects and at the turn of the twentieth century my family appears to have been particularly prone to the problems it can cause. Irish catholic and English protestant wars erupted when one or other of my fairly recent ancestors dared to fall in love with a person of the wrong persuasion.  My maternal grandmother told me of weddings boycotted, family members cast out and one - my great uncle Daniel - running away to join the church.  Some were reconciled, some not.  From the stories I heard I had always believed my great grandmother (my mother's paternal grandmother) was Irish born and bred and so was rather surprised to discover that both her parents had been born in England.

Nevertheless, when my great grand father Job married Elizabeth, whom his family described as Irish Catholic, on 30th December 1900 it seems to have caused rift between him and his family.  I only have the family accounts to go on but his family was a strong Primitive Methodist family and it is said that they considered Elizabeth to be both of the wrong faith and beneath him. As a result, they say,  Job’s children grew up with little or no contact with their paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Family accounts need to be taken with some caution, even great uncle Daniel's own writen account. He writes "My father and mother were married in the Registry Office since he wouldn't hear of being married in the Catholic Church" but their marriage certificate shows they were married in the Parish Church of Wellington, Staffs according to the rites of the established church.

Job Elizabeth marriage

One fact is clear:  Job and Elizabeth's children were brought up as Catholics and at least two of them joined religious orders. One of these was my great uncle Daniel. As Brother Michael he later wrote an account of his vocation, an astonishing story of how at the age of only thirteen he ran away to Belgium to join a seminary.  It is hard to imagine that such a thing could happen in today's world but it is easy to see the strain it must have put on his parents.

In his own words as Brother Michael he writes: "My original name was Daniel Cooper. My parents were Job and Elizabeth (formerly Scally) Cooper. My father was a non-Catholic and by trade a potter's jiggerer." He goes on to list the religious milestones in his early life: baptism, first communion, confirmation, choir member and alter boy.

Daniel attended  "Hanley Catholic Boys' School from infant to standard 7, the hightest class in the school" and left at the minimum age of 13 in 1922.

For 9 months after leaving school he worked in a local toy shop: "I was employed for about nine months in a toy shop; one of the curates, Father McCormack, told me one morning after I had served his Mass that he had seen me arranging the shop window and that he thought I was the finest toy in it." 

But during his final year at school, 1922, he met Brother Lucien, the "Recruiter for the District of Nantes", who was on a recruiting tour which had brought him to Hanley.  "I had had the desire to become a priest from the time of my first Holy Communion ... however all sorts of difficulties arose to prevent this happening." Although he doesn't say what they were. In any event he had an interview with Brother Julien and then exchanged letters with him for almost a year. Eventually he heard that he had been accepted into the "Juniorate at Lembeq in Belgium if I was prepared to go into the Missions."

Daniel had no idea what the "Brothers really were", but "jumped and the chance" and by return was invited to meet Br. Lucien at Euston Station, London on 23rd April (1923) at 4:00pm.

Elizabeth his mother and his parish priest were supportive but Daniel knew  it "would be hopeless to ask my father's consent and, in fact, not a word must be breathed to him about it." This created practical difficulties but with the consent of his mother ("which she did willingly although she knew the consequences for her would be very unpleasant") the parish priest paid his expenses and helped to kit him out with the clothes he needed for the journey.

Daniel had never travelled further than Manchester before, just 50 miles from his home in Stoke on Trent. London was three times the distance. He had expected to travel alone but on the train he met a school mate under the supervision of his mother and he travelled under her care until Euston where Brother Lucien was waiting for him. After a short stay in London they travelled by boat and train to Belgium: Ostende, Brussels and finally Lembeq where he met other boys from across the whole of Europe and where they were required to speak French whether they knew it or not. 

So Daniel had left his life in the toy shop of Hanley behind and was at the start of a long career in the church. He never returned to live in England, except for a brief period in Dover, but he was aware of the "trouble I left behind me in Stoke on Trent". He knew that "his father ... was totally opposed to my becoming a priest or a brother or anything of that sort just as he had opposed, unsuccessfully, my eldest sister's going to the convent to become a nun."

Job had clearly wanted a compromise over religious denomination with his wife. Daniel writes "he had wanted all the boys who would be born to be Protestants; all the girls could be Catholics" but this hadn't worked out. Job had not even succeeded in giving his sons biblical names - all except Daniel himself were given the names of saints. Elizabeth had apparently liked the name Daniel and it was also the name of his father's only brother.

As Daniel had been in the habit of visiting and staying with his maternal grandparents in Manchester for weeks at a time, Job did not realise for some weeks that Daniel had gone, but eventually he had to be told. "Then it was as though all hell had been let loose. Not only had I left home without his permission, but I had left the country. He would go to the police and say I had been kidnapped, he would move heaven and earth to have me brought back. It was not a happy home for several days."

Daniel reports that eventually his mother persuaded Job to speak to the parish priest and he was reassured, and indeed a year later "my father was received into the Church and received the Sacraments." He also agreed to have the marriage blessed in by the church. In 1927 Job and Elizabeth went to Dover to see off Daniel when he left to take up a post in Ceylon when Daniel was just turned 18.

Daniel concludes the first part of his story "My father died in 1941 as a result of a fall while fixing the blackout on the windows. Bt this time I was in Australia. My mother died soon afterwards. So 17th October 1927 was the last time I saw my parents on earth. I have every confidence that in God's mercy and kindness I shall see them again in heaven."

Read Daniel's account, "The Story of My Vocation"

Daniel continues his account of his life as Brother Michael in "The Story of My Juniorate"