RepositoryJesuits in Britain Archives
Ref NoABSI/SJ/31
TitleFr Edmund Lester SJ (1866-1934)
LevelSub fonds
DescriptionA book presented to Fr Lester SJ for his Golden Jubilee
Admin_HistoryFr Edmund Lester SJ (originally Charles Edward Lester) was born 14 January 1866 in Bristol, to a Protestant family who later moved to London. Ill health meant he did not go to school but had tutors at home. He was drawn to the arts, especially the theatre, painting and particularly music. He was a very good pianist. On 26 April 1883 he and his sister Mary Agnes and his brother George became Catholics and at this point he took the name Edmund.

On 1 February 1885 Edmund Lester entered the Jesuit novitiate at Manresa House, Roehampton, and in August 1888 he started his scholastic philosophy at Stonyhurst. In 1890 and again in 1895 he taught at Mount St Mary's College, with 4 years teaching at St John's Preparatory School Beaumont from 1891-1895. In 1896 he began to study theology at St David's College, Mold, then continued his studies a year later at Milltown Park, Dublin. He was ordained priest on 30 July 1899 at St Francis Xavier's Church, Dublin. He then taught for two years at St Aloysius' College, Glasgow, and on 2 February 1903 took his final vows at Stonyhurst, at the age of 37.

From 1902-1910 Fr Lester worked at Accrington. He transformed the existing Boys' Guild and changed it into the Sodality of Our Lady and St Francis Xavier. Here he first started work for late vocations which ultimately developed into Our Lady's Young Priests at Osterley.

In 1910 Fr Lester moved to St Aloysius' College, Oxford, where he studied for 3 years, then spent two years at Wimbledon. It was here that he took over editorship of Stella Maris, which had been founded in 1901 as a magazine for the Apostleship of the sea. In 1914 he started the 'Sodality Knights of the Blessed Sacrament', which was a group of young men who took daily or weekly communion, and whose duty it was to encourage others to do the same. This later became The Knights, Handmaids and Pages of the Blessed Sacrament, and Fr Lester was its Knight Director. Stella Maris became the magazine for the KBS, and galvanised support for it. Many Catholic bishops and archbishops gave their approbation for the KBS, and so did Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI. The KBS became very popular very quickly; there were over 10,000 Knights after only 2 years, and by the time of Fr Lester's death in 1934 there were 3 million associates around the world. Each Knight had an enamel brooch to wear on their lapel. In 27 January 1924 there was a rally held at a packed London Colliseum, and addressed by Cardinal Bourne, Fr Lester and G. K. Chesterton.

In 1915 Fr Lester went to Campion House, Osterley, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Initially founded in 1913 as a Retreat House, by 1919 Fr Lester was welcoming its first students. They came because they wanted to become priests but did not have the necessary education to join a seminary or an order. Many had had their education interrupted by the First World War, yet the War itself led to a large rise in the numbers of young men wanting to become priests. Fr Lester at Osterley supplied a rigorous two year course aimed at giving young men enough Maths, Latin, French, English and Public Speaking to enable them to start their studies. Fr Lester devised the timetable to have long mornings in the classroom, afternoons working in the gardens, and lectures and study time in the evenings. Gardening was seen as a practical and a spiritual exercise, and Osterley had 13 acres of gardens, including large flawless lawns. Fr Lester felt that the education of the Young Priests needed to include culture, etiquette and manners, as all had to become gentlemen, whatever their origins. Therefore he included in the curriculum trips to concerts and plays, gave Sunday night gramophone concerts, invited guest lecturers to Osterley to speak on art and architecture and history and produced a list of 34 tips for good table manners. Fr Lester also encouraged his students to put on their own plays and concerts. Eventually over 1500 young men became priests due to the education given to them at Osterley.

As editor of Stella Maris, Fr Lester reached a large audience. It was 'the magazine for the Catholic Home' as well as for the Sodality and each month it carried news about Osterley as well as articles on Catholic history, and readers' enquiries about doctrinal or other issues. Fr Lester used it very effectively to fund raise for Osterley. Fr Lester also funded students at Osterley by a sytem of 'Godparents' whereby a devout Catholic would sponsor a Young Priest for two years.

Fr Lester died suddenly on 24 October 1934, and was buried at Kensal Green. On the 24 October 1938 his remains were re-interred in the gardens at Osterley.

An obituary can be found in Letters and Notices 50, 1935, pp. 66-72
Related Material - Fr Lester's Correspondence concerning Osterley, see WS/3/4/6, also all of WS/3/4
- A letter written to Fr Pollen SJ by Fr Lester SJ on 15 April 1915. The letter oncerns the League of Our Lady, an organisation for the conversion of Protestants, and he thanks Fr Pollen for calling his attention to the English Martyr question. Ref: RG/3
-S ix letters from Fr Lester SJ to Fr Hubert McEvoy SJ, 1924-1932. Fr McEvoy was a former student at Osterley who went on to be Superior of Mount Street. The letters give advice to McEvoy on his career after he left Osterley. Ref: OU/6
- Three letters from Fr Lester SJ to the Fr Provincial, concerning the Sodality. two are undated, one dated 25 January 1910. Ref: H1/L
- Correspondence and accounts concerning The Knights, Handmaids and Pages of the Blessed Sacrament of which Fr Lester SJ was Knight Director, 1919-1921. Includes letters of approbation from Cardinal Bourne and from various Archbishops and Bishops including the Bishops of Leeds and Aberdeen and the Archbishops of St Andrew's and Edinburgh and of Brazil. The folder includes a badge worn by the Knights, Handmaidens and Pages, marked KBS. Ref:O/4
- Letter from Fr Lester SJ to the Fr Provincial, 11 May 1928. Concerning financial matters at Osterley, mentions buying another house there and discusses how much financial reserve they should keep in the bank. Ref: 28/5/6/16
- Letters copied into the Blackett Letter Book 20: folio 235, a letter to Fr Lester SJ about the illness of a colleague, 12 January 1934. Folio 331, A letter about Fr Lester SJ's will, 14 May 1935. Folio 398, A letter about Fr Lester SJ's will, 16 August 1935. Ref Blackett Letter Book 20
- Editions of Stella Maris largely devoted to Fr Edmund Lester SJ: December 1934, January 1935, August 1963 (Golden Jubilee Number)
- Obituary of Fr Lester SJ: L&N50, 1935, 66-72
- Tigar SJ, Clement, Edmund Lester SJ 1866-1934, A memoir. Longmans, London 1937. Ref: BY 44 L4
- Photographs can be found at SJ/PH/715
- For portrait by Simon Elwes see WS/3/20
AccessConditionsThe papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to archive material in the Jesuits in Britain Archives.
DS/UK/967Lester; Edmund (1866-1934); Jesuit Priest1866-1934

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