Algy Robertson

1894-1955

Another local person who has influenced the life of the Church is Algy Robertson, co-founder of the Society of St Francis. Simon Kershaw relates his story.

At his requiem service, Algy Robertson was remembered by the then Bishop of Exeter as someone who had lived ‘a splendid life: splendid in its obscurity and humility, splendid in its strength and charity, splendid in its achievements.’

He was born into a Congregational family in Ealing on 16 October 1894. Named William Strowan Amherst, he was known from his schooldays at Westminster as ‘Algy’. He studied at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and went to Calcutta to teach. He was ordained in 1921, after returning to England to study at Westcott House.

He began to work for the Student Christian Movement, and through this he became involved in a multi-racial religious community in Poona in India, a community called the Society of the Servants of Christ. He was convinced of his own call to the religious life, and specifically to life as a Franciscan. His health, however, suffered in India and he was forced to return to England where, in 1931, he became vicar of St Ives.

The vicarage became a centre where those wishing to join the community in India could spend some time in preparation. Members of the CSS returning to England on leave also used the vicarage as a base. So he fulfilled his desire to recreate the full Franciscan life of brothers or friars, enclosed sisters and a ‘Third Order’ of people not living communally.

Meanwhile, a community near Cerne Abbas in Dorset was also exploring the Franciscan life whilst caring for unemployed wayfarers. Father Algy was prominent in bringing these two groups together to form the Society of St Francis (SSF) in 1936. The following year he left St Ives to move to the friary in Dorset where he was in charge of the novices – those joining the Society – who spent a year under his guidance.

His delicate health drove him to move quickly to realize his vision of Franciscan life: a brotherhood committed to evangelism and to the care of the poor and disadvantaged. He trained every brother to preach, and to lead missions and retreats.

He continued to visit Cambridge, especially after the founding of an SSF house there in 1939. After the war Father Algy send some of the younger brothers to Cambridge, with the intention of attracting undergraduates and ordinands. He worked hard to enable a creation of a closed community of sisters, the Society of St Clare, and this community came into existence at Freelands, near Oxford, a few months before his death.

Renowned for the power of his preaching, Father Algy was a sought-after spiritual director and missioner. Alongside his organisational skills, his theology of sacramental friendship provided a strong foundation for the charism of the Franciscan community, and proved to be one of his greatest contributions. He died in Dorset on 23 November 1955, aged 61.

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Algy Robertson

All Saints’ Church, St Ives