Ignatius: a saint at silly mid-off

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IT'S A game many treat as a religion, and now cricket may well get its own saint. An 18th-century priest who was obsessed with cricket has been recommended as an ideal candidate to be patron saint of the game by the man who is organising the campaign for his canonisation.

Father Ignatius Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, abandoned a life of privilege to devote himself to prayer and the poor, but he never lost his passion for the bat and ball.

His letters, diaries and sermons are to be presented to Rome within six months. If the Vatican accepts his cause he will be registered as a Servant of God, the first step towards canonisation.

Fr Ignatius could join the 3,000 official saints worldwide whose lives are celebrated today, All Saints Day.

To qualify as a saint, the person must be deemed by the Pope to have practised Christian virtue to "a heroic degree". Father Hubert Condron, Fr Ignatius's postulator, the ecclesiastical campaign manager, said yesterday: "Father Ignatius is an example of heroic Gospel living. His poverty and humility and sacrificing of himself were all the more heroic in view of his aristocratic origins.

"He described himself as having a 'mania' for cricket and felt that if he had dedicated himself to it he could have become a great cricketer. A haloed cricketer would be an unusually attractive figure."

Fr Ignatius was the great-great-great-uncle of Diana, Princess of Wales, and also a distant relation of Winston Churchill. Born the Honourable George Spencer in Admiralty House, London, in 1799, he was the youngest son of the second Earl Spencer. He was brought up at Althorp, the Spencer family seat in Northamptonshire.

In 1863, he died the death he had prayed for, at Carstairs, Scotland, in a ditch, alone and abandoned like his Master. He had suffered a heart attack.