Suffield, Robert Rodolph (DNB00)


SUFFIELD, ROBERT RODOLPH (1821–1891), successively Dominican friar and unitarian minister, son of George Suffield, a member of an old Roman catholic family in Norfolk, and his wife, Susan Tulley Bowen, was born on 5 Oct. 1821 at Vevey, Switzerland, and was baptised there as a catholic by a lay relative, though on the return of the family to England he was baptised again, for legal purposes, in his own parish church, St. Peter's, Mancroft, Norwich, on 27 Dec. 1821. He never went to school, but accompanied his parents in their travels in England and on the continent. In 1841 he was admitted a commoner of Peterhouse, Cambridge, being at that time a member of the established church (cf. Life, p. 98). After a residence of less than two years he left the university, and became a communicant in the Roman catholic church (cf. Five Letters on a Conversion to Roman Catholicism, 1873, p. 11). He spent some time at St. Cuthbert's College, Ushaw, and then entered the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, where he had Hyacinthe Loyson for a fellow-student. On the outbreak of the revolution in 1848 he returned to Ushaw, and on 25 Aug. 1850 he was ordained priest.

After a year's experience of parochial work at Sedgefield and Thornley, Suffield joined a community of secular priests who had established themselves at St. Ninian's, near Wooller, and placed missions in every part of the United Kingdom. In 1858 he was stationed at St. Andrew's, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and while there he revived the old English custom of collecting ‘Peter's pence’ for the pope. He joined the Dominican order at Woodchester on 21 Sept. 1860, and a year later he pronounced the solemn vows. For two years after this he was engaged in parochial duties at Kentish Town, London. His zeal and activity caused him to be greatly esteemed by the members of the Roman catholic church throughout the United Kingdom. With the assistance of Father C. F. R. Palmer, he compiled the well-known manual of devotions published anonymously in 1862 under the title of ‘The Crown of Jesus.’ In 1863 he returned to Woodchester, and was appointed parish priest, master of the lay brothers, and guest-master. About this period he instituted ‘Our Lady's Guard of Honour,’ or ‘Perpetual Rosary.’ In 1866 he issued ‘The Dominican Tertiary's Guide,’ also compiled in collaboration with Father Palmer, and in February 1868 he delivered at West Hartlepool a lecture on ‘Fenianism and the English People,’ which was published permissu superiorum. Subsequently he was stationed at Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire (10 Oct. 1868). Doubts had at this time arisen in his mind as to the truth of the Roman catholic doctrine, and, after a correspondence with the Rev. James Martineau, he withdrew on 10 Aug. 1870 from his order and the church. A few months later he settled down as a unitarian minister at Croydon. In 1874 he published ‘The Vatican Decrees and the “Expostulation” [of Mr. Gladstone, entitled “The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance”].’ He left Croydon in 1877, and in February 1879 he undertook the charge of the Unitarian Free Church at Reading, where he remained till his death on 13 Nov. 1891. His remains were cremated at Woking. He married, on 7 Dec. 1871, the eldest daughter of Edward Bramley, town clerk of Sheffield.

[Life (anon.), London, 1893, 8vo, written by the Rev. Charles Hargrove, unitarian minister at Leeds, and previously a Dominican friar; Times, 16 Nov. 1891; Sunday Sun, 15 Nov. 1891.]

T. C.