“Who was G.K. Chesterton?” by S.M. O’Connor

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a poet, biographer, literary critic, mystery novelist, social critic, and (after his conversion) a Catholic apologist.  An imposing figure to behold, G.K. Chesterton stood 6’4”, weighed 300 pounds and had a droopy blond mustache.  He invariably wore Prince-nez eyeglasses; a crumpled, wide-brimmed hat; and cape; and carried a sword stick.  Thus, his appearance had a theatrical air that made him instantly recognizable and easy for caricaturists to draw.  Chesterton wrote approximately 100 books and contributed to 200 more.  Most of these books were non-fiction: biographies and works on literary criticism, social criticism, history, political science, philosophy, and theology.  However, he also wrote five novels.  The bulk of his fiction came in the form of 200 short stories.  Chesterton is best known now as the creator of the Roman Catholic priest and amateur detective Father Brown, a hero which Chesterton remarkably created before he converted to Catholicism.  He also wrote hundreds of poems.  As a journalist, he wrote more than 4,000 essays for newspapers, as he wrote weekly columns for the Illustrated London News for thirty years and weekly columns for The Daily News for thirteen years.  Furthermore, he wrote five plays.

His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all real estate agents.  Born on May 29, 1874, he was one of three children born to Edward Chesterton (1841-1922) and his wife, Marie Louise Grosjean Chesterton (1844-1933).   His mother’s family was English but they traced their roots to the French part of Switzerland the way J.R.R. Tolkien’s paternal ancestors had been in England for several generations before he was born but they were aware they were descended from German immigrants.  Gilbert outlived his elder sister Beatrice Elizabeth Chesterton (1870-1878), who unfortunately died in childhood. Notably, his younger brother Cecil Edward Chesterton (1879-1918) was born the year after young Beatrice died.  Gilbert and Cecil were very close and published a newspaper together.

As a little boy, he liked to read fairytales, and, as a big boy, he both wrote and illustrated fairytales.  Some of these fairytales are preserved in his book The Coloured Lands.  The first school he attended was Colet Court School. At the age of twelve, he became a day student at St. Paul’s, which is to say it was both a boarding school and a day school and he did not reside there.  Whilst there, he forged lifelong friendships with Edmund C. Bentley (1875-1956), who went on to become an author and humorist, and Lucian Oldershaw (1876-1951), who would become two-time Mayor of Maidenhead.

As a teenager, he became Chairman of the Junior Debating Club.  Its organ (newsletter), The Debater, published his prose essays on Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and other celebrated writers.  In 1892, the same year he graduated from St. Paul’s, he won a prize for his poem on the Jesuit missionary Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552).  It is extraordinary that as an Anglican teenager he would write any kind of poem, much less one that won a prize, about a Catholic saint who lived after King Henry VIII and Parliament wrenched the English Church out of the Roman Catholic Church to create the state-backed Church of England and would seem to demonstrate he was already an Anglo-Catholic (High-Church Anglican) long before he converted to Catholicism.  However, by the time he married his wife in 1901, some sources describe him as being convinced of the truth of Christian cosmology in a broad sense but not a subscriber to any particular Christian creed while others describe him as an atheist.

From 1892 to 1895, he studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art (the fine arts school at the University College London).  During this period in his life, he also attended lectures on English literature at University College (now University College London, one of the component tertiary universities in the federated University of London).  Whilst a college student, he began to write book reviews of art books published by Hodder & Stoughton for the publishing house’s organ The Boohman.  A classmate whose family controlled the firm supplied him with the art books to review.

When he left The Slade (as students call it), he began to work for a publishing house that published spiritualist books.  This did not last for long, though, as he soon found employment with a general publisher, Fisher Unwin.  Even as he worked as an editor for the books written by others and help those authors revise their books, he began to write his own first book, Greybeards at Play. Published in 1900, it was a volume of verse that he also illustrated.  Later in 1900, his father financed the publication of his second book, The Wild Knight and Other Poems.

The previous year, he began to write for The Speaker, a Liberal weekly newspaper (back when the Liberal Party was still a thing).  What brought him to prominence was his pro-Boer position during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), when the British Empire conquered the Boer Republics of the South African Republic (also known as the Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State (which were self-governing former Dutch colonies in southern Africa).[1]  In 1901, Chesterton also began to write for The Daily News.  That same year, he published his third book, The Defendant.    It was an anthology of his articles that had appeared in The Speaker and was full of paradoxes.  He became highly associated with the use of paradoxical statements in his non-fiction as a literary device.  In 1905, he began to write “Our Notebook,” a weekly column for The Illustrated London News, which he would continue to write until his death.

Meanwhile, in 1896, while his friend Lucian Oldershaw was courting Ethel Blogg, Oldershaw took Chesterton along with him on one occasion when he called at the Blogg household.  Gilbert instantly fell in love with Ethel’s sister, Frances (1869-1938).  The feeling was mutual, but they would not wed until 1901, which was a long courtship by the standards of the era, due to his meager earnings.

Thus, Chesterton and Oldershaw were boyhood friends who became brothers-in-law.  Oldershaw also introduced Chesterton to Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) in 1900.  Born to a French father who was an eminent lawyer and an Irish mother who was a women’s suffragette, Hilaire Bellic was a British subject who was married to an American – Elodie Agnes Hogan – from Napa, California.  Belloc would go on to serve as a Member of Parliament (M.P.) from 1906 to 1910.  He was a prolific author and one of the influences on Chesterton’s eventual conversion to Catholicism.  Belloc also collaborated with Chesterton brothers on the weekly newspaper that became known as G.K.’s Weekly.

Frances Blogg Chesterton was a devout High-Church Anglican who helped her then-atheistic husband become active in the Church of England.  In 1905, he became a lay preacher at St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, which pleased her a great deal.  Unfortunately, they were unable to have children and late in life the adopted Dorothy Collins, whom had been his secretary since 1926.

During the Edwardian Era, Chesterton published a number of books and he became increasingly famous.  G.F. Watts was published in 1902, Twelve Types was published in 1902; Robert Browning, which was part of the English Men of Letters series, was published in 1903; G.F. Watts and The Napoleon of Notting Hill were published in 1904; The Club of Queer Trades, an anthology of short stories, and Heretics, an anthology of essays, were both published in 1905; and Charles Dickens: A Critical Study was published in 1906.  The latter was so well-received that he started to write prefaces for re-prints of all novels by Charles Dickens (1812-1870).  In 1904, the British physicist and inventor Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), the Principal of Birmingham University (1900-1920), invited him to apply to become the Chair of Literature at Birmingham University, but Chesterton declined.

Frances Chesterton became her husband’s business manager.  He was absent-minded and needed her help to keep track of his many speaking engagements and to stay on schedule with the composition of his newspaper columns.  He was particularly in high-demand as a speaker for all kinds of social groups on various issues from 1904 to 1908.  His metaphysical thriller The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare was published in 1908, as were Orthodoxy, a book of Christian apologetics, and All Things Considered, a collection of essays.  George Bernard Shaw, a biography of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and Fabian Socialist, was published in 1909, as was Tremendous Trifles, a collection of Chesterton’s Daily News columns.

In 1909, the Chestertons moved from Battersea in Greater London to Beaconsfield, a market town in the South Bucks district of Buckinghamshire, where they would reside for the remainder of their lives.  At their home, Overroads, they entertained friends including Belloc, Sir Henry Maximilian (“Max”) Beerbohm (1872-1956), an English essayist, parodist, and caricaturist; the Right Reverend Monsignor John O’Connor (1870 – 1952), an Irish priest who served as a curate in several English parishes; Monsignor Knox (1888-1957), an Anglican vicar and academic who converted to Catholicism, became a Catholic priest, and was also an essayist, translator, theologian, Catholic apologist, mystery novelist, and B.B.C. Radio broadcaster; Maurice Baring (1874-1945), an English dramatist, novelist, poet, translator, essayist, and war correspondent; and George Wyndham (1863-1913), an English Conservative Party M.P. and statesman,[2] magazine publisher,[3] essayist, biographer, and editor.

Fr. Brown, is a Roman Catholic priest and an amateur detective who first appeared in “The Blue Cross,” published in 1910.  Chesterton modeled Fr. Brown on the priest who would eventually receive him into the Catholic Church in 1922, Monsignor O’Connor, whom he met in 1904.

In 1910, four of his books were published – The Ball and the Cross, What’s Wrong with the World?, Alarms and Discursions, and Blake.  The next year, three more were published: Criticisms and Appreciations of Dickens, The Innocence of Father Brown, and The Ballad of the White Horse.  In this period, he stopped writing for the Daily News, which was aligned with the Liberal Party, and began to write for the Daily HeraldA Miscellany of Men, an anthology of his essays, was published in 1912, as were the novel Manalive and Simplicity and TolstoyThe Victorian Age in Literature was published in 1913.  That same year, his poetic play Magic, was staged in England in October.  It was staged in the German Empire shortly thereafter.  The Wisdom of Father Brown was published in 1914, as were The Flying Inn, London, and The Barbarism of Berlin.

In 1914, Chesterton also took part if a “trial” The Dickens Fellowship held for John Jasper in King’s Hall, Covent Gardens.  This was a sort of sequel to the final, unfinished novel of Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  G.K. Chesterton sat as the Judge (“Mister Justice Gilbert Keith Chesterton”), Cecil Chesterton served as Counsel for the Defense, and George Bernard Shaw served as the Jury Foreman.  Chapman & Hall, Ltd. subsequently published a booklet entitled Trial of John Jasper, Lay Precentor of Cloisterham Cathedral in the County of Kent, for the Murder of Edwin Drood.

G.K. Chesterton published four books in 1915: Poems; Wine, Water and Song; The Appetite of Tyranny; and The Crimes of England.  The next year, he published another four: Divorce vs. Democracy, The Book of Job; A Shilling for My Thoughts; and Temperance and The Great Alliance.  He published three more books in 1917: Utopia of Usurers, Lord Kitchener, and A Short History of England.

The Chesterton brothers and Belloc began to publish a weekly newspaper called The Eye Witness from 1911 to 1912 and The New Witness from 1912 to 1923. Cecil Chesterton, who had recently converted to Catholicism, and wed the journalist Ada Elizabeth Jones (1869-1962) in 1916, enlisted as a private soldier that year and fought in the First Great World War (1914-1918).  He died in France on December 6, 1918, having succumbed to pneumonia.  Gilbert Keith Chesterton succeeded him as Editor of The New Witness.  In 1918 and 1919, he published just one book each year, How to Help Annexation and Irish Impressions respectively.

In 1919, Chesterton went on a speaking tour of British Palestine, one of the experiences that led to his conversion.  In 1920, he published The New Jerusalem.  He also published The Uses of Diversity and The Superstition of Divorce and went on a speaking tour of the Kingdom of Italy.

He went on speaking tours of the United States of America in 1921-1922 and 1930-1931.  During the course of one of these tours, he delivered thirty-six lectures on Victorian literature and history at the University of Notre Dame du Lac outside South Bend, Indiana.  His poem “The Arena” commemorated his time there.  The cities he visited included Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Omaha, and San FranciscoWhat I Saw in America was published in 1922 and Sidelights on New London and Newer York was published in 1932.

Although his friends Maurice Baring and Monsignor Knox, who were both adult converts to Catholicism, both influenced his own conversion, as he acknowledged, they had the wisdom not to push the matter.  In 1922, years after he had begun to write the Father Brown mysteries and his late brother’s conversion, he finally took the final step himself.  The same day Monsignor O’Connor received him into the Catholic Church in 1922, Chesterton wrote the poem “The Convert.”  That same year, he published St. Barbara and Other Poems.  The next year, he published a biography of Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). It was simply entitled St. Francis of Assisi because nearly all of his biographies had their subjects for titles.

Meanwhile, his books Eugenics and Other Evils and The Man Who Knew Too Much were both published in 1922. Fancies Versus Fads was published in 1923.  The End of the Roman Road was published in 1924.  Tales of The Long Bow, The Superstitions of the Sceptic, The Everlasting Man, and William Cobbett were published in 1925.

Chesteron launched a new weekly newspaper in the spirit of The New Witness in 1925 and would serve as Editor from 1925 to 1930.  Again, he would receive the help of Belloc.  The newspaper was called G.K.’s Weekly from 1925 to 1936, and The Weekly Review from 1936 onward.  To a certain extent, it was the house organ of the Distributist League, of which Chesterton was president.  The organization sought wide-spread prosperity and opposed both big business and big government, both capitalism and Communism.  The newspaper’s circulation rose from 4,650 to 8,000.  Eric Gill (1882-1940), a sculptor, typeface designer, and printmaker who was a fellow adult convert to Catholicism, was a regular contributor.  Chesterton’s atheistic friends Shaw and H.G. Wells (1866-1946), the English science fiction novelist, short story-writer, social commentator, futurist, historian, socialist, and globalist were occasional contributors.

Frances (Blogg) Chesterton converted to Catholicism in 1926, four years after his conversion.  That same year, G.K. Chesterton published The Outline of Sanity, The Catholic Church and Conversion, The Incredulity of Father Brown, and The Queen of the Seven Swords, as well as the nine-volume Collected Works.  Regarding The Incredulity of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton told Fr. Rice, “My publishers have demanded a fresh batch of corpses.”  The next year, his Collected Poems, Culture and the Coming Peril, Social Reform vs. Birth Control, Gloria in Profundis, The Return of Don Quixote, Robert Louis Stevenson, The Secret of Father Brown were published.  His play The Judgement of Dr. Johnson was also staged.  In 1927, he spent a month in Poland, which had only regained its independence at the conclusion of the First Great World War, having been divided by the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austrian Hapsburgs.

He joined the Detection Club in 1929 and was soon its president.  In 1929, he published The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic, Father Brown Omnibus, The Poet and the Lunatics, Ubi Ecclesia, Christmas Poems, and New and Collected Poems.  That same year, he also visited Rome.  While there, he interviewed both Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)[4] and Pope Pius XI (lived 1857-1939, reigned 1922-1939).

In 1930, he published The Resurrection of RomeCome to Think of It, published in 1930, and All is Grist, published in 1931, were collections of essays.

From 1932 onward, G.K. Chesterton delivered up to forty lectures a year on B.B.C. Radio, despite his opposition to the existence of the B.B.C. as a state monopoly.  Consequently, it is understandable that he had to submit manuscripts of his prepared remarks to the B.B.C. before he went on the air, and yet he was allowed to go off-script to allow for an air of spontaneity.    When he died, one B.B.C. executive opined, “G.K.C. in another year would have become the dominating voice from Broadcasting House.”

In 1932, Gilbert and Frances Chesterton attended the Eucharistic Congress, which led to him writing Christiandom in Dublin.  He wrote biographies of Chaucer and Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Dorothy Collins, Chesterton’s aforementioned secretary and surrogate daughter, told his biographer Maisie Ward (1889-1975)[5] a remarkable story about his biography of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274); he dictated the first half of it to her, then asked her to go to London to pick up some books on the great Dominican philosopher, which he skimmed, and then he dictated the second half of his book.[6]    Étienne Gilson (1884-1978), a Thomist philosopher, wrote, “I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas.”

In 1934, The Athenaeum Club in London elected Chesterton a member.  [At the time the Athenaeum Club was a private and very prestigious gentlemen’s club, though nowadays it also has women members.  Many members have to gain distinction in art, literature, science, or engineering before being elected members, and the other members have to possess a pronounced interest in science or literature.  Many Nobel Laureates have been Athenaeum Club members.]  That same year, Innocent XI bestowed the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great on both Chesterton and Belloc for their services as writers to the Catholic Church.

G.K. Chesterton died on June 14, 1936.  His Funeral Mass was held at Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey).  Monsignor Knox delivered the panegyric.  Cardinal Hinsley received a telegram from the Holy See that read, “Holy Father deeply grieved death Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton devoted son of Holy Church gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith.  His Holiness offers paternal sympathy people of England, assures prayers dear departed, bestows Apostolic Benediction.”  Originally, the Catholic Church was represented in Beaconsfield only by a mission of the parish in High Wycomb, but Chesterton contributed heavily to the construction of an independent parish church in Beaconsfield.  He and his wife are buried there.

Ada Elizabeth Jones Chesterton long outlived her own husband, Cecil; Gilbert; and Frances.  However, as neither couple had children, the direct family line died out.   In the early 1920s, she wrote articles about living on the streets of London for two weeks (to demonstrate what it was like to be impoverished in London).  She became an authoress when she wrote a book about this same experience entitled In Darkest London.  Subsequently, she founded a charity called Cecil Houses that provided shelter for homeless young women and children.  She raised £5,000 to establish the charity in 1926 and opened the first shelter in March of 1927, her second one in January of 1928, her third one in March of 1929, and her fourth one in November of 1930, and her fifth (now the headquarters) in March of 1934.  The charity still exists today, though having merged with two other charities, it is now known as the Central & Cecil Housing Trust (C&C). The mission has shifted, however, from providing shelter for homeless young women and small children, to finding housing for senior citizens of both sexes.


Chesterton’s friend Belloc wrote a book entitled The Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters, published in 1940.  Ralph McInerny (1929-2010), Professor of Philosophy and Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and an expert on the theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas, considered Maisie Ward’s biography of Chesterton, published in 1943, to be the best.[7]

Theodore Maynard (1890-1956), an Anglo-American poet, literary critic, and historian of the Catholic Church, cited Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy as an influence on his conversion to Catholicism.  Canon Bernard Iddings Bell (1886-1958), an Episcopalian priest, author, social commentator, and academic administrator, cited the same book as an influence on his choice to be ordained.  It is well known that the scholar, Christian apologist, and fantasy novelist C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was an atheist when he met his friend, fellow veteran of the First Great World War, scholar, and fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), a devout Catholic who guided Lewis to regain his Protestant Christian faith, but Lewis also cited the influence of Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man.

The Father Brown short stories have been adapted as movies in 1934, ‘54, ‘60, ’62.  [Father Brown (1954), released in the U.S. as The Detective, starred Sir Alec Guinness (1914-2000) as Fr. Brown, during the production of which he was mistaken for a priest off the film set.  This episode became a contributing factor in his family’s conversion to Catholicism.]  They have also been adapted as television shows.  Josef Meinrad (1913-1996), one of the most distinguished German stage actors of his generation, played the priest-detective on the Austria television show Pater Brown (1966-1972).  Renato Rascel (1912-1991) starred as Father Brown and Arnoldo Foà (1916-2014) played Flambeau in an Italian miniseries that aired in 1970-71. England in 1974, and an ongoing series in Germany that started in 2003.  Kenneth More, C.B.E. (1914-1982) played Fr. Brown in ITV’s Father Brown (1974),[8] which faithfully adapted thirteen of Chesterton’s stories.  Welsh drama teacher-turned-actor Dennis Burgess (1926-1980) played Hercule Flambeau. P.B.S. aired the show in the U.S.A.  Barnard Hughes (1915-2006),[9] played an Americanized Father Brown in New York City in Sanctuary of Fear (1979), a telefilm that was meant to be a television show pilot but had so many changes to the character of Father Brown fans and critics rejected it.  Bavarian television star Ottfried Fischer starred as a Germanized “Pfarrar Braun” on Pfarrar Braun (2003-2014), which aired on ARD, the German counterpart to P.B.S. Mark O’Brien played Father Brown in “The Honour of Israel Gow,” a 2009 episode of The Theater of the Word on the Eternal World Television Network (E.W.T.N.), the American Catholic cable television network founded by Mother Angelica in Irondale, Alabama.  Mark Williams, who was previously best known for playing Arthur Weasley in six Harry Potter films, plays the eponymous role on the B.B.C.’s ongoing series Father Brown, which started in 2013 and is only loosely based on Chesterton’s stories.  It is set in a fictional Cotswold village in the 1950s. P.B.S. airs the show in the U.S.A.

The Father Brown short stories have been imitated by many mystery writers with clergymen heroes and heroines.  These imitators include The Cadfael Chronicles written by Edith Pargeter (1913-1995), under the nom de plume Ellis Peters, which had a Welsh Roman Catholic monk and apothecary solve mysteries in Medieval England,[10] to The Grantchester Mysteries written by James Runcie, which have an Anglican vicar solving mysteries in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, England in the 1950s.[11]  Professor McInerny had Father Brown in mind when he developed the character of Father Dowling, a parish priest in Chicago who becomes am amateur sleuth.[12]  Famous fans of Chesterton include the late comedic fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) the comic book writer and fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman, who pointed out that Chesterton used his profitable fiction to subsidize the publication of his unprofitable weekly newspaper.

In 1974, Fr. Ian Boyd, C.S.B., a member of the Order of St. Basil, and a Distinguished Professor of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, founded the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture and The Chesterton Review.  In addition to publishing The Chesterton Review, the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture holds conferences and sponsors lectures.  Although G.K. Chesterton is (obviously) the focus of The Chesterton Review, it has also devoted whole issues to Chesterton’s friends Belloc and Baring; scholars and fantasy authors Tolkien and Lewis; French Catholic author George Bernanos (1888-1945); English Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970); and Henry Edward Cardinal Manning (1808-1892), Archbishop of Westminster (1865-1892).  Fr. Boyd remains President of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture and Editor of The Chesterton Review.  Gloria Garafulich-Grabois is the Director of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture and Managing Editor of The Chesterton Review.  Professor Dermot Quinn is the Associate Editor.  In 2018, Fr. Boyd announced that William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, and writer of the “Main Street” column, was the recipient of the First Journalism Award “in recognition of his distinguished career as a Journalist in the Chestertonian tradition.”

      The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It describes itself as “a Catholic lay apostolate, recognized formally as a canonical private association of the Christian faithful.”  The motto of the organization is “RENEWING SOCIETY THROUGH CHRISTIAN JOY AND COMMON SENSE.”  Its mission “is to promote Catholic education, evangelization, and the social teaching of the Church.”  The Society of G.K. Chesterton sponsors The American Chesterton Society,[13] organizations in the Chesterton Schools Network,[14] and the missionary organization Teach for Christ.[15]

Dr. Dale Ahlquist, President of The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, created and hosts the series G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense on E.W.T.N.  Dr. Ahlquist produced Manalive (2012), a film adaptation of Chesterton’s novel of the same name that the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton screened exactly 100 years after the novel was published.  Mark P. Shea, a Catholic convert who is better known as an author of Catholic apologist, played Innocent Smith in the film.  He has appeared in several episodes of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense.

The first G.K. Chesterton Academy opened outside Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2008.  This is the Chesterton Academy of the Twin Cities.  Now, the East Campus is in St. Paul, Minnesota and the West Campus is in Hopkins, Minnesota.  A Chesterton Academy that opened in St. Cloud, Minnesota in 2014 has closed.  In 2014, the G.K. Chesterton Academy of Chicago, a Catholic high school opened in north suburban Highland Park, Illinois.  Although quartered at Immaculate Conception Parish, it is an independent school, not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Chicago and rented space from the Archdiocese.  However, the G.K. Chesterton Academy of Chicago closed.  The Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family opened in west suburban Downers Grove, Illinois in 2015.[16]  The Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart opened in Peoria, Illinois in 2017.  The Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee opened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2016.  The Chesterton Academy at Catholic Central High School opened at Steubenville, Ohio in 2018.  The Chesterton Academy of Detroit will open in Detroit, Michigan in 2020.

A number of Chesterton schools and programs at existent schools have opened on the East Coast.  In 2014, the Chesterton Academy of Buffalo opened in West Seneca, New York and the Chesterton Academy of Rochester opened in West Rochester, New York.  The Regina Chesterton Academy at Cardinal O’Hara School opened in Springfield, Pennsylvania in 2016.  The Martin Saints Classical High School in Oreland, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia, in 2017.  The Chesterton Academy of Annapolis opened in Annapolis, Maryland in 2018.  The Chesterton Classical Studies Program is opening at Immaculata High School in Somerville, New Jersey in the Fall of 2019.

The Valley of the Sacred Heart Academy in Dixon, California began to offer Chesterton Academy classes for the 9th and 10th Grades in the Fall of 2018.  The Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Victory is opening in Denver in the Fall of 2019.  The Chesterton Academy of the Willamette Valley opened in Mount Angel, Oregon in 2018.  The Chesterton Academy of Albuquerque, Our Lady of Victory will open in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2020, as will the Chesterton Academy of Notre Dame in Spokane, Washington.

There are three foreign Chesterton Academies.  The Scuola Libra G.K. Chesterton opened in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy in 2008.  The Chesterton Academy of Ottawa opened in Ottawa, Canada in 2018.  The Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of the Wayside is opening in Peterborough, Canada in 2019.

Chesterton is one of the seven famous Christian writers in recent British history to whom the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College,[17] is devoted.  The other six are Scotsman George MacDonald (1824-1905), Englishman Charles Williams (1886-1945), Englishman J.R.R. Tolkien, Englishwoman Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), Ulsterman C.S. Lewis, and Englishman Owen Barfield (1898-1997).


[1] The British Empire later amalgamated Transvaal and the Orange Free State with the Cape Colony (also known as the Colony of Good Hope) and the Colony of Natal in 1910, creating the Union of South Africa.  The Colony of Natal had been the Boer Natalia Republic before the British Empire conquered it in the First Boer War in 1843.

[2] George Wyndham was Under Secretary of State for War (1898-1900), Chief Secretary for Ireland (1900-1905), as well as a member of the Privy Council.  The Privy Council is the council of advisors for the British monarch.

[3] Wyndham published The Outlook, a weekly news magazine devoted to the politics of the boarder British Empire, as opposed to being devoted to politics at home in the British Isles.  He started the magazine in 1898, but withdraw from direct involvement in 1904.

[4] In 1929, Benito Mussolini was still a respected figure on the world stage.  In fact, he was at the height of his popularity in 1929 because that was the year he negotiated the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See under which the Kingdom of Italy recognized the sovereignty of the papacy within the walls of the Vatican (and certain buildings outside those walls) and started payments to the Holy See in compensation for the loss of the Papal States in 1870.

[5] Mary Josephine (“Maisie”) Ward used her maiden name as her pen name after she married Australian-born lawyer and author Frank Sheed (1897-1982).  Together, they formed the publishing house Sheed & Ward in 1926.  Chesterton’s life story would have been particularly appealing to Miss Ward as all four of her grandparents were Catholic converts.  Her father, the essayist and biographer Wilfrid Ward (1856-1916) and his friend, the Austrian-Scottish Baron Friedrich von Hügel (1852-1925), were the two leading Catholic lay apologists in Victorian England.

[6] Ralph McInerny. “St. Thomas Aquinas: An Introduction,” St Thomas Aquinas St. Francis of Assisi in One Volume. By Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius Press (2002), p. 9

[7] McInerny, p. 9

[8] Like Sir Alec Guinness, Kenneth More was a Royal Navy veteran of the Second Great World War, as well as a famous actor.  His comedies included Genevieve (1953), Doctor in the House (1954) The Admirable Crichton (1957), and The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) and his dramas included A Night to Remember (1958), Sink the Bismarck! (1960) the B.B.C.’s The Forsyte Saga (1967), and Battle of Britain (1969).

[9] Barnard Hughes is best remembered now as Dr. Walter Gibbs, the founder of ENCOM in TRON (1982), the crusty grandfather in the vampire comedy The Lost Boys (1987) and cantankerous Doctor Aurelius Hogue in the romantic comedy Doc Hollywood (1991).

[10] ITV adapted The Cadfael Chronicles as Cadfael (1994-1998).  Derek Jacobi played Brother Cadfael, a Welshman who went off to fight in the Crusades as a foot soldier and returned home as a mercenary only to become a Benedictine monk under the influence of a saintly abbot.  Although Brother Cadfael is a fictional character, the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury was a real monastic community.  The mysteries were set against the backdrop of The Anarchy (1135-1153), the real civil war fought between the forces of Empress Matilda (daughter of King Henry I and mother of King Henry II) and her usurper cousin, King Stephen (reigned 1135-1154).

[11] ITV started to adapt The Grantchester Mysteries as Grantchester in 2012.  James Norton plays Sidney Chambers and Robson Green plays Detective Inspector Geordie Keating. Starting with Series 4 (Season 4 in the U.S.A.), Tom Brittany became the new series lead as Reverend Will Davenport.

[12] Tom Bosley (1927-2010), best known for playing family patriarch Howard Cunningham on the hit show Happy Days (1974-1984), starred as Father Dowling in Fatal Confession: A Father Dowling Mystery (1987) and Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-1991).   Tracy Nelson, the daughter of actor-turned-singer Ricky Nelson (1940-1985), played Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski.  The telefilm was the pilot for the series.  Both the telefilm and the first two seasons of the series aired on N.B.C., while the third season aired on A.B.C.

[13] Founded in 1996, The American Chesterton Society has 2,000 active members.  Through the publication of its magazine and books, local societies, and national conferences, The American Chesterton Society promotes the written works of G.K. Chesterton to introduce him to new generations of readers.

[14] The Chesterton Schools Network (C.S.N.) seeks to form future Catholic leaders and saints by establishing affordable, theologically-orthodox Catholic high schools.  There are currently fifteen high schools in the C.S.N. in the U.S.A., Canada, and Italy.  Presently, there are more than 500 students in the C.S.N.

[15] Teach for Christ recruits, trains, and places Catholic teachers, tutors, coaches, and mentors in Catholic schools.  The goal is to provide support for career Catholic school teachers, boost their morale, and counteract burnout.

[16] Dr. Sean Tierney, an obstetrician, and his wife, Miriam, who had been home-schooling their five children and were looking for an alternative to existing high schools in Chicago’s western suburbs, founded the school.  They said it would offer a rigorous curriculum based on that of the original Chesterton Academy outside Minneapolis.  It would eschew computers, employ the Socratic Method, and ground students in the canon of western literature: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Homer, Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Mark Twain.

[17] Wheaton College – in full Wheaton College For Christ and His Kingdom – is an Evangelical Protestant liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois (the county seat of DuPage County).

1 thought on ““Who was G.K. Chesterton?” by S.M. O’Connor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close