Members of the San Luigi Orders: Bishop Sidney E.P. Needham

Bishop Sidney Ernest Page Needham (1879-1962) was a Prelat Commandeur of the Order of the Crown of Thorns. He combined his office as an Anglican priest with that of a bishop in the Catholicate of the West.

Needham’s early career was in the Army. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the 1st Volunteer Battalion, the Warwickshire Regiment in July 1902, transferring to the 5th Battalion as Lieutenant in 1908. He then served with his regiment in the First World War as a Captain, ending the war as second in command of the 5th Battalion. Having trained for the Anglican ministry, he was appointed Rector of Farthinghoe in Northamptonshire in 1925, also becoming responsible for nearby Thenford in 1931. He was married to Constance Evelyn, née Yates, who would predecease him in 1952.

He came into contact with the American Catholic Church, which had been founded by Prince-Abbot Joseph III (Vilatte). In 1928, he was conditionally ordained priest by that body’s Primate, Archbishop Frederick E.J. Lloyd, and named by him Bishop-Designate of a body to be called the English Catholic Church. Under the  Primacy of Archbishop Daniel Cassel Hinton, Lloyd’s successor, Needham served as a priest of the A.C.C. in England alongside his Anglican duties. On 28 May 1940, pursuant to Letters Dimissory issued by Hinton, who was fulfilling Lloyd’s earlier election of Needham to the episcopate, he was consecrated bishop by James Bartholomew Banks, Lord Patriarch of the Old Catholic Orthodox Church, assisted by Mar Jacobus Dominic O’Gavigan. Since he held the benefice of Farthinghoe throughout these events, it was not possible for the Church of England to take any effective action against him despite his acceptance of Holy Orders from other churches. Needham entitled his mission The Old English Catholic Church, but this body undertook little activity in its homeland. Its principal pastoral responsibility proved in fact to be for an Old Catholic mission in Sardinia.

He was appointed by Hinton as the head of the University of Sulgrave, a short-lived and controversial Delaware-based institution that quickly incited the opposition of the educational and political establishments. This had taken its name from a village near Farthinghoe. On 4 January 1945, in his private chapel at Farthinghoe Rectory, he exchanged mutual subconditional consecrations with Mar Georgius of Glastonbury (q.v.) and was appointed by him as Mar Theodorus, Bishop of Mercia in the Catholicate of the West. On 1 August 1945, Mar Georgius founded the Western Orthodox Academy (later University) as a means of continuing the work of the erstwhile University of Sulgrave, and appointed Needham as its Chancellor.

Needham combined his offices in the Church of England and the Catholicate of the West for a year or so, but in 1946 retired from his ministry in the former body and moved to Newbury.

The Needham succession

Needham consecrated Percival Sydney Raby (1901-82), who was also an Anglican priest and between 1944 and 1962 served as Rector of Erpingham with Calthorpe, Norfolk. Of the two other priests who had served under Needham, H.D. Ricketts served under Mar Georgius until his death in 1966, and George Draisey served variously under the Lord Patriarch Banks and Bishop Francis E. Glenn. Draisey received consecration from Raby and was acquainted with our Grand Prior for the United Kingdom, Mgr. Howard Weston-Smart.

William James Mathias (1919-90) was also consecrated by Needham on 6 January 1953, albeit in conditions of some secrecy, since he was also a priest of the Church of England. Mathias was Vicar of St Marks, Victoria Park, at that time, and subsequently served the Anglican Church in posts in London, Australia and lastly as Vicar of Abertillery (1965-77). In 1986, in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford, he imparted conditional episcopal consecration to Prince Kermit Poling de Gniezno, later Royal Patron of San Luigi, and a photograph from that occasion is below.

William James Mathias and Prince Kermit