Monthly Archives: October 2020

Dr. Thomas Howard, 1935-2020

Dr. Thomas Howard, whose thoughtful journey from Protestantism to Catholicism became emblematic for others struggling with similar questions, died on October 15, 2020 — which happens to be the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila.

Born into an influential, Bible-believing fundamentalist family, he was the son of Philip Howard, president/publisher/editor of The Sunday School Times, and brother of missionary Elisabeth Elliot, author of Through Gates of Splendor. As Howard explored the diverse dimensions and traditions of Christian worship, he discovered in liturgical churches a beauty, order and historicity that he felt was lacking in his home assembly.

Dr. Thomas Howard chats with students after Wheaton College chapel, 1975.

Immersing himself in literature by philosophers, theologians and novelists like C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Adam and Romano Guardini, Howard converted to Anglicanism, relishing its sacramentalism and formality; but realizing after a few years that “the ground had shifted under me,” he converted to Catholicism, sensing in Rome the climax of his quest, the fullness of the faith. When asked if he ceased being an evangelical by becoming a Catholic, Howard replied, “Quite the contrary. Evangelical and catholic are, or ought to be, synonymous. I will never be anything but an evangelical.”

He chronicles his pilgrimage in Christ the Tiger, Evangelical is not Enough, Lead, Kindly Light and On Being Catholic, in addition to innumerable essays written in prose marked by honesty, wit and elegance.

In a phone interview with Christianity Today, Howard affirmed, “I’m a fundamentalist when it comes to the scriptures,” but added that the Catholic Church “is the appointed guardian of the scriptures.” Howard did not deny his Protestant, Bible-based heritage, but saw it as a necessary and admirable foundation for his movement into Catholicism.

Howard attended Wheaton College, where his appreciation for myth, symbol and story was nourished by Dr. Clyde Kilby, professor of English and founder of the Marion E. Wade Center. Howard taught English at Gordon College and later at St. John’s Seminary.

Dr. Thomas Howard spoke several times at Wheaton College:

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Writing and Literature Conference, 1975

Wheaton College Chapel, 1979

Gladys Aylward at Wheaton College

One night in London a petite English parlor maid named Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) attended an evangelistic meeting, where she accepted Christ as her savior. Joining the Young Life Campaign, she was deeply impressed to serve as a missionary in China. Surmounting one obstacle after another, she made her way to that vast land and briefly connected with established missionaries. Caring for Chinese orphans while leading both children and adults to Christ, Aylward briefly returned to Britain in 1949. Ten years later she returned to China and founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage. Her astounding story is related in The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, but far less reliably in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman, a much taller Swedish actress. Aylward despised the Hollywood film because it so egregiously misrepresented her ministry.

Gladys Aylward (center) chats with students during her 1959 visit to Wheaton College.

The Wheaton College Record, October 22, 1959, announces Aylward’s visit during an international tour sponsored by World Vision:

…Miss Gladys Aylward is guest speaker at SFMF next Wednesday evening at 7:15 in Pierce Chapel. Her [biography] has been published by Reader’s Digest in condensed form and also served as the basis for the film Inn of the Sixth Happiness. In 1930 with less than eight dollars in her pocket, Miss Aylward traveled across what was then “impossible” Siberia to northwest China to begin missionary work. When war broke out with Japan her loyalty to Nationalist China caused her to spy on the invaders. As a result of this she was ruthlessly beaten, and then as a fugitive without food or money, led 100 homeless children across the mountains to safety. Illness forced Miss Aylward to return to England after more than 20 years of service, but she has returned to Formosa for more work among the nationalists.

Later commenting on her tour and its effect on her audiences, Aylward said, “There is much to do [in China] and I still have no one to help me except my own children. What I would do without them I do not know. I often wonder where all the young people  who go through Bible colleges go to, for they do not come here.”

During an era that produced such extraordinary missionaries as Amy Carmichael and Jim Elliot, Gladys Aylward, however short in statue, surely stands tall among the the most dedicated and bold ambassadors for Christ.