At the age of eighteen I entered the Congregation of the Passion, a religious order founded in the north of Italy in the middle of the eighteenth century. The rule by which we lived at the time I joined had not changed since the time of the founder, St Paul of the Cross. We rose at 1.45am, prayed Matins and Lauds, went back to bed at 3am and rose again at 5.45 for the Divine Office. It was essentially a contemplative order and we spent five hours a day in prayer. The rest of the time was spent on manual labour and study. Ministry was restricted to the preaching of retreats and parish missions. Paul of the Cross termed our monasteries “retreats” with the underlying intent that when we had finished a mission we would retreat to the monastery in order to devote time to silence and prayer.

One of my great regrets on entering religious life was not that I would never marry and have children, although that certainly was a concern for me. I regretted the fact that I would be locking myself up in a monastery and would never be able to indulge my desire for travel. Ironically, after my novitiate in Broadway, Worcestershire, I was sent to Scotland where I studied philosophy tor two years before moving to Dublin for theological studies. Two years after ordination I went to Paris for four years for further studies in theology, philosophy and Scripture. I then spent a year working at a retreat centre in Houston, Texas. In the middle of the eighties I was asked to go to South Africa for pastoral work. On my return to Britain I applied to the Centre for Religious Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts to train as a spiritual director.

My work as a spiritual director occasionally faced me with individuals with psychological difficulties and mental health problems, issues I was not competent to address. Consequently, I returned to the United States where I gained an MA in Counselling Psychology and a PhD in Pastoral Psychology. On my return to England I was asked to teach at Heythrop College in the Psychology of Religion department, which I did for two years. The commute from Yorkshire to London on a weekly basis somewhat dampened my ardour for travel so I finally had to leave the post and concentrate on my work – and my life – in Yorkshire.

Fr David Williams cp

Fr David currently lives in Yorkshire and carries out his work through Riverdale Counselling Services (see Passionist Places for more details)