4 JANUARY 1992, Page 39


Q. I was in my local Catholic church on Sunday when a white .haired woman fainted or had a stroke in the bench in front of me. Luckily an Irishwoman and an aristocratic- looking Frenchman dealt with her. (The two Filipinos beside the woman did nothing and I am hopeless with sick people.) How- ever, the Frenchman then turned to me and asked me to get a priest to fetch a doctor. My first instinct was to rush up to the side of the altar and interrupt the Mass but when I got there there were only two nine- year-old choirboys who did not understand my excited gesticulations. I became embar- rassed about making a fool of myself in front of Antonia Fraser who was among the parishioners (as I know one of her sisters) so I walked back wondering what to do. Suddenly I remembered that a very dis- turbed man of my acquaintance was also among the congregation and in fact I had seen him handing out pamphlets at the hack and going in a secret side door earlier to help with Parish matters. I rushed down the aisle, tapped this man on the shoulder

Dear Mary. . .

and whispered that a woman was dying near my pew. He acted promptly and went to the Porter's Lodge to call an ambulance. My question is: what is the correct proce- dure if this happens again? If I had not known this disturbed man (who, by the way, is a convert) would I have had to yell out and interrupt the Mass by shouting loudly for a doctor? My cousin, who like me is from a very old Catholic family — which, unlike that of the Duke of Norfolk's, never gave up its faith — says that priests are used to mad hag ladies shouting in Catholic churches and he would have taken no notice. When I asked Antonia Fraser, who by complete chance drew up outside my own front door after the Mass, what I should have done, she smiled charmingly but did not answer the question. My aunt, who is also from 'a very old Catholic family' but has gone ecumenical, says it wouldn't have mattered if the woman did die in church. What better place is there for her to die?

Troubled Catholic Campden Hill Square

A. In the circumstances it would have been quite in order for you to approach the cele- brant and interrupt him firmly and calmly. For future reference, however, you should acquaint yourself with the telephone facili- ties adjacent to the church so that you can move swiftly on your own initiative should something similar occur again.

Mary Killen

If you have a problem, write to 'Dear Mary', The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.