Aston Hall was the first Passionist foundation in England. The Passionists arrived there on 17th February 1842. It was the feast of the Nails and Spear of Christ Crucified according to the Order’s calendar.
The locality pleased Blessed Dominic very much. It reminded him very much of his own Tuscan countryside. The house was surrounded by extensive grounds ‘twice those of Ceccano’, and was bounded by a moat in ‘perfect solitude’ with twenty rooms, and an adjoining church sufficiently large, and equipped with organ and sacred furnishings.
But the symbols of the Nail and Spear was soon discovered. The priest who up till then was in charge of the district, was so taken by the house that he was still in residence when the two priests and two lay postulants arrived, and they couldn’t easily get him out. He was to stay on for a few months yet.
Also, the three hundred parishioners had been warned against ‘these black men from Italy’ and they were not happy about receiving their spiritual care from foreigners who neither spoke their language nor understood their outlook or way of life.
COnsequently, their arrival met with a disgraceful and irreverent scene. The people even wished to intimidate the superior by leading him to believe that his very life would be in danger if he remained there.
In his charity, Dominic put a lot of the rejection down to himself. He noted himself that the English were greatly influenced by appearance, speech, manner, etc.
A Monsignor Searle, afterwards Archbishop Wiseman’s secretary, described Dominic thus:
“He was neither handsome nor tall. He was short and bulky. His voice was shrill but he had the eye of an eagle; he could display sarcasm and irony in the simplest remark with the air of great arrogance …
“In his secular dress he was a holy show. His suit was in a style unknown to English tailors; it was neither clerical nor lay; wholly incorrect; where it did fit it was badly buttoned. On his travels he carried a watch that could have served as a town clock among the Lilliputians; it had to be adjusted every five weeks. His waist coat looked like that of a itinerant hawker. His trousers evidently were made regardless of the length or width of his legs. His shoes perhaps had some service in Noah’s Ark. To crown all, he used the poorest and shabbiest hat to be seen in England, outside the collieries.
(“Fr. Julian Tenison Woods and the Passionists” by Fr. Gerard Mahony C.P., Passionist Via, December 1980)