Shortly after the third birthday of her first born, Mabel and her two boys left South Africa for England.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Her husband, who was unable to vacate his banking post at the time, was to join her as soon as the opportunity arose. The opportunity never did arise. While still confined to South Africa and five thousand miles away from his family, he died as a result of a severe hemorrhage.

Her husband's untimely demise left Mabel nearly destitute. She found inexpensive lodging for herself and her two boys in a suburb of Birmingham. Not able to afford tuition fees, she decided to teach her sons at home. She proved to be a more than adequate home school teacher.

Mother's Sacrifice

Four years after her husband's death, Mabel, together with her sister, May, were received into the Catholic Church. Immediately, the wrath of their family descended upon them. Mabel's Methodist father was outraged, while May's Anglican husband forbade his wife from entering a Catholic church. Reluctantly, May felt obliged to obey, leaving her sister to endure the consequences of her conversion alone. And the consequences were considerable, both in terms of emotional stress as well as financial hardship. Nonetheless, nothing could shake Mabel's faith in her new religion. Indeed, she began giving Catholic instructions to her sons. Her eldest thus became a child convert at the tender age of eight.

A few years later, the family's deteriorating financial situation obliged them to find cheaper quarters. They moved to a house that was little better than a slum. The only consolation of their new abode was its proximity to the Birmingham Oratory, a large church established by Cardinal John Henry Newman more than fifty years earlier.

It was not long after Mabel occupied her new home that her health began to deteriorate. She was diagnosed with diabetes. When her eldest was but twelve, Mabel passed away. She had lived thirty-four trouble-filled years. Yet she bore her hardships with great faith and without any apparent traces of acrimony.

Her older son would one day, in a letter to his own son, say of his mother:

I witnessed (half-comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Catholic Church; and received the astonishing charity of Francis Morgan.

In her will, Mabel had appointed Father Morgan as the guardian of her two sons. Over the course of the following years, he proved to be a loving father figure and a generous provider.

Enduring Example

Forbearance is patient endurance under provocation and in the face of persistent difficulties. But it is also the capacity to suffer outrageous fortune with little or no complaint. Mabel, outcast and destitute as she was, remained a model of forbearance for her two sons. Nine years after her death, her first born expressed his indebtedness to her in the following words:

The Many Faces of Virtue
by Donald DeMarco

My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it was not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to His great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labor and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.

Providence has a mysterious way of bringing beauty out of ruins, splendor out of apparent hopelessness. The eldest son never lost his faith. His marriage, which lasted fifty-five years until his wife passed away, bore four children, of whom the first born was ordained a Catholic priest.

The first of Mabel's two sons is better known to us as a writer. He is J.R.R. Tolkien, who, according to several polls, is not only the author of the twentieth century's greatest book — The Lord of the Rings — but is the century's greatest author. His books have sold more than fifty million copies worldwide, and there are no signs of his popularity abating.

Lord of the Rings

Tolkien's success as a writer is unimaginable apart from his formation as a Catholic. And his formation is inconceivable apart from the faith and forbearance of his mother. Tolkien's stories are magical and mystical, using what we can imagine to draw us closer to the primary reality that we long for but cannot imagine. Perhaps the greatest story concerning Tolkien is connected with the hidden mother who is the invisible source and shaper of her elder son's prolific success. She is the still point of his moving world, the anonymity that has made his name a household word. She is truly the mother of the lord of The Lord of the Rings.




Donald DeMarco. "Forbearance." from The Many Faces of Virtue (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2000): 215-218.

This article is reprinted with permission from Emmaus Road Publishing and Donald DeMarco.


Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He also continues to work as a corresponding member of the Pontifical Acadmy for Life. Donald DeMarco has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2012 Emmaus Road Publishing

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