Father Boyd

The death this week of Father Ian Boyd (C.S.B., S.T.B, Ph.D., &c), at the age of eighty-eight — when people are expected to die (unless they die before, or after) — came nevertheless as a surprise. I had naively thought him one of the immortals, but in a too biological sense.

I first became aware of Fr Boyd about forty years ago, when reading the Chesterton Review, which he founded. He was an “academic” in Thomas More College, Saskatoon. At the time I was editor (and founder) of The Idler in Toronto, and apparently both publications were candidates for Canada Council grants, along with (precisely) 97 other literary, or literary “artsy,” magazines in the Howling North. We were the only two to be “declined,” perhaps because we were the only two with literary standards, or perhaps we were both dismissed as rightwing. You see, G. K. Chesterton was Catholic, and though only some of my contributors were, none of them were also contributors to the Liberal Party.

This was not a big disappointment, however. The Idler capitalized with a house ad that declared, “Subscribe to the 98th best literary magazine in Canada!” which won innumerable subscriptions, and the Chesterton Review was published out west where they really, really hate Liberals, so we both did well.

Later I came to actually know Father Boyd, and found him an uncommon Basilian. Though educated at St Michael’s College and Aberdeen, he had retained Christian beliefs, and was a remarkably entertaining authority not only on Chesterton, but I soon found, on Hilaire Belloc, Charles Peguy, Paul Claudel, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor and the legion of fine modern reactionaries; as well as Dickens, Trollope, and many other dead white males. He was that astounding thing, a genuinely learned “English perfesser,” and a very lively (though polite) controversialist in his own right.

His success in teaching was a priestly accomplishment. He cared, sincerely, for the souls of the little people that he taught, and would go to extraordinary lengths to stock their young minds with admirable content.

He also did miracles. When I decided to convert to Catholicism myself, partly on his example, no one knew except maybe John Muggeridge and my (appalled) mother. Father Boyd was minding someone else’s parish for him in the dark recesses of British Columbia, at a distance of 2,700 statute miles. So how did he instantly find out?

I was informed that he had said a Mass for my intention, before I had fully formed it myself; and during a drive across the continent shortly after, he called on me, so we could attend Mass together. He also gave me a copy of This Tremendous Lover, by the eminent Cistercian, Eugene Boylan (1947), which was almost excruciatingly apt.

Then he went to Seton Hall, where both he and the Chesterton Review found welcome, and now to Heaven, where he may expect the greatest welcome of all. However, I will miss him.