1. What is a beatification?
2. Newman’s process of beatification
3. The miracle that made Cardinal Newman’s beatification possible
4. The significance of Newman’s beatification
5. A short biography of Cardinal Newman
6. Quotes about Newman
7. Background to Cofton Park
8. Background to the Birmingham Oratory
9. The Newman shrines
1. What is a beatification?
The making of a saint is a multi-stage process:
Stage 1 – local interest – All processes start from the bottom, by a grassroots movement of many people who are convinced that someone lived a very holy life. For the process to start at least 5 years must have passed since the death of the candidate, to allow greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case. However, in some few cases, this requirement has been waived as in the cases of Mother Teresa of Calcutta (died 1997) and Pope John Paul II (died 2005) whose causes started earlier than 5 years by popular demand.
Stage 2 – information gathering – The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (in the Holy See) instructs the bishop of the diocese in which the person died to begin collecting the evidence for their claim of holiness. Witnesses are called before the tribunal and all documents regarding the candidate must be gathered. At the end of the stage, the candidate might be declared to be a ‘Servant of God’.
Stage 3 – study of the life and writings – A full scrutiny is carried out of the life and writings of the candidate. If they show that the candidate lived a holy life and their writings are in accord with the teachings of the Church, the candidate is declared ‘Venerable’.
Stage 4 – a miracle and beatification – The Congregation for the Causes of Saints want evidence that people are being drawn to prayer and holiness through the candidate. As a sign of a special relationship between the candidate and God, a miracle is required which, if accepted, enables the person to be declared ‘Blessed’. The ceremony is called beatification and usually takes place in the country where the candidate lived and worked. It is usually performed by a representative of the Pope or the local bishop. In the case of Newman, in recognition of his importance, the Pope himself will carry out the ceremony of beatification.
Stage 5 – another miracle and canonisation – For canonization another miracle is needed, attributed to the intercession of the Blessed and having occurred after his beatification. If the second claim of a miracle is accepted, the candidate will be accepted as a Saint in a canonisation ceremony, performed by the Pope, usually in Rome. Canonisation is a declaration that someone can be venerated by the universal Church as ‘an example of holiness that we can follow with confidence’.
2. Newman’s process of beatification
John Henry Newman was born into an English Protestant world that was, at best, wary of the concept of sainthood. Within the Church of England reverence was paid to the Apostles, Martyrs and other saints of the early centuries, but scant regard was given to the saints of later centuries, for fear of approximating to dreaded ‘Popery’. In a sermon of 1831, Newman reminded his congregation that ‘our Church teaches us to put away from ourselves the title of “saint”.’
A Saint in the Making
Deeply grateful for Newman’s help at a time of crisis, Edward Pusey wrote to him: ‘I pray that He may make you what, as you say, there are so few of, a “great saint”.’ It may be coincidence but it is around the same time, at the end of the 1830s, that we begin to find the first of what were to be countless statements by Newman’s contemporaries of their conviction, that, indeed, they had a saint in their midst. One of those who for a while lived with Newman at Littlemore reflected, after becoming a Catholic, of his surprise at having been with one ‘outside the visible [Catholic] Church’ yet bearing ‘the most evident marks of Christian sanctity’.
A confessed lover of peace, Newman recognised that he was destined to be ‘a man of strife’. Controversy dogged his Catholic years as it had his time as an Anglican, yet a latent recognition of his sanctity continued.
Reputation for holiness
When he died in 1890, the streets in Birmingham were lined by tens of thousands of people who wanted to see his coffin pass by on the way to the cemetery. For them, Newman was the holy priest who had looked after the poor and sick of the parish for over 30 years.
The Times Obituary the next day remarked “Of one thing we may be sure, that the memory of this pure and noble life, untouched by worldliness, will endure and that whether Rome canonizes him or not he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England. The saint in him will survive.”
Other testimonies appeared – even the staunchly Protestant Evangelical Magazine proclaimed that ‘of the multitude of saints in the Roman calendar there are very few that can be considered better entitled to that designation than Cardinal Newman.’
Calls for Newman’s canonisation
The possibility of formal canonisation was mooted several times at Newman’s death, and, in 1907, the future Archbishop of Birmingham, John McIntyre, wrote of his own ‘hope that our Cardinal will be the first canonised saint of the Second Spring.’ Nevertheless, there were complications such as the Modernist crisis, when some of those who stood condemned sought to invoke support from Newman’s work for their heterodox ideas.
Above all, there was Saint Philip Neri and the Oratorian ideal of ‘ama nesciri’, loving to be unknown, and his surviving community knew how insistent Newman would have been on this point, even posthumously.
It was an American Dominican, Fr Charles Callan, who brought the question of Newman’s sanctity out into the open in an article in America magazine in 1941. The response was overwhelming and positive. In 1942, the Archbishop of Toronto gave his imprimatur to the first prayer for Newman’s beatification. A fervent admirer of Newman, Pope Pius XII’s insistence on the importance of the 1945 Centenary of Newman’s Conversion gave added impetus. English reticence began to give way, with a 1952 article on ‘Newman’s Cause’ by the future Vice-Postulator, H. F. Davis.
In 1958 Archbishop Grimshaw of Birmingham constituted the Court needed for an Ordinary Process for Canonisation. It was not realised that the paucity of living witnesses made such a Process impossible. A year later the Cause was reintroduced as an Historical Cause, and a Commission of experts assembled to gather the necessary documentary proof. But there were delays. It was the cherished hope of Pope Paul VI that he would be able to mark the Holy Year of 1975 with the Beatification of John Henry Newman, but it was not in fact until 1980 that a newly reconstituted Historical Commission began the task of gathering all the necessary proofs to complete the Diocesan Process.
In May 1986, this task was completed and in the next month the findings were forwarded to the Holy See for examination by Apostolic Process. Father Vincent Blehl, S.J., who had hitherto served as Chairman of the Diocesan Commission, took on the role of Postulator and oversaw the composition of the official case (or ‘Positio’) by which the expert Consultors of the Holy See could judge the completeness and worthiness of the Cause. This Process was completed with unusual speed and unanimous endorsement. In January 1991 Pope John Paul II declared that John Henry Newman had exercised all of the Christian virtues in an heroic degree, and was henceforth to be known as ‘Venerable’.
On 3 July 2009 Pope Benedict XVI recognised the healing of Deacon Jack Sullivan in 2001 as a miraculous intervention by God through the intercession of John Henry Newman. This decision meant that Newman’s beatification could take place, and eventually the date for his beatification was fixed for 19 September 2010.
3. The miracle that made Cardinal Newman’s beatification possible
For a miracle to be accepted, it must be scrutinised by a panel of independent experts in the field and must be scientifically verifiable as ‘beyond human capability and inexplicable other than in terms of the miraculous’. Generally, medical cures are the easiest to verify according to scientific, measurable criteria.
Jack Sullivan, a 69-year old Permanent Deacon from Marshfield near Boston, Massachusetts, was suffering from an extremely serious spinal disorder when he first prayed through the intercession of Cardinal Newman.
Deacon Sullivan, who was healed of his spinal disorder on 15 August 2001, the Feast of the Assumption, made a special visit to England with his wife Carol in November 2009.
Reflecting on the importance of Cardinal Newman’s teaching as an inspiration to him, Deacon Sullivan said:
“Our holy and enduring Church lives and is constantly renewed in a very special way by those called by Christ as His servants to inspire and revitalise her. One such person, called for this purpose was the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. Although he died 120 years ago, Newman’s thoughts and insights have enjoyed lasting acceptance, because they reflect the enduring truth about mankind’s condition and his instinctive quest for his Creator.”
He went on to talk about his own experiences in 2001:
“I was tragically afflicted with a serious spinal condition causing intolerable pain with utterly no prospect of relief. One surgeon told me that I was on the brink of complete paralysis. I had recently undergone spinal surgery because my lumbar vertebrae and discs were literally squeezing the life out of my spinal cord. During the procedure the surgeons also encountered serious complications. My dura mater or protective lining surrounding the spinal cord was very badly torn. For days after the surgery, I was still suffering incredible pain with no end in sight…
“I was completely helpless and the situation seemed hopeless. But it was this state of mind that led me to prayer. I called upon my very special intercessor and faithful friend: “Please Cardinal Newman, help me to walk, so that I can return to my classes and be ordained.”
Almost immediately Deacon Sullivan was able to walk. His doctors were unable to provide any medical explanation for the change in his condition. The cure was deemed inexplicable and declared miraculous by Pope Benedict XVI on 3 August 2009, paving the way for Newman’s beatification.
4. The significance of Newman’s beatification
In common with other beatified or canonised men and women, Newman had a profound prayer life, a generous attitude to accepting sacrifice and a genuine and practical love for the poor. But above all these, Newman’s holiness was special in that it was a sanctity of mind: his love for God and the world expressed itself intellectually.
Newman manifests exceptional intellectual gifts brought wholly into the service of exploring and defending Christian Truth. Doing this as Newman did it demands deep purification of the mind: for doubtless Newman’s mind, like everyone’s, was by nature a place of egoism, fantasy and disobedience.
People sometimes say that Catholic Faith, in particular, imposes a kind of mental slavery. Newman’s example suggests a different conclusion. His capacity for understanding the human condition (he would have made a great psychologist) expanded and deepened as his mind focussed upon the reality of God.
Even some Catholics think that intellectual freedom means maintaining a critical distance from the Church’s teaching. Again, Newman shows another way. By embracing Catholic Faith and morals, his mind both grew deeper and was made holy.
For this reason Newman’s theology, and articulation of the shape and meaning of the Christian life (especially in his sermons), retain contemporary power. They are not merely the writings of a holy man; they are Newman’s holiness in action.
Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) spoke of this aspect of Newman’s significance: ‘The characteristic of the great doctor [i.e teacher] of the Church…is that he teaches not only through his thought and speech, but rather by his life, because within him thought and life are interpenetrated and defined. If this is so, then Newman belongs to the great teachers of the Church, because at the same time he touches our hearts and enlightens our thinking.’
The Pope has a life-long devotion to Newman. He has told us why: ‘Truth is the central thought of Newman’s intellectual grappling.’
His passion for truth, at any cost, underlies Newman’s sanctity of mind. This passion shaped the great events of his life: teenage conversion to God in 1816, advocacy of renewal in the Church of England during the 1830s, and above all his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845.
In Newman’s own estimation, the question of truth was the heart of his life. When made a Cardinal in 1879, the address he gave focussed on one thing: his life-long opposition to ‘liberalism in religion…the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another.’ The same focus is apparent in Benedict XVI’s address to the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales during their recent visit to Rome: ‘Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary it serves their freedom by offering them the truth.’
Newman would refuse any suggestion that the Church must be reduced to a mere ‘interest group’, addressing only Catholics and compromising with the State, and with public opinion, out of respect for ‘democracy’. No one knew better than Newman that people cannot be forced to accept the truth. But he also believed they are entitled to have the truth proclaimed: to learn from (and perhaps even be converted by) the example of the Church’s witness.
In his address to the Bishops, Pope Benedict insisted that in ‘a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises’, the Church must act from the conviction that it is ‘the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s magisterium that sets us free.’
And he went on: ‘Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth…Great writers and communicators of his stature are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.’
This means renewing the ‘testimony of conscience’ of which Newman is perhaps the deepest and most eloquent exponent. Newman’s life and work, the Pope has said, ‘could be described as a single great commentary on the question of conscience.’
Newman’s conviction is that the light of conscience, a natural endowment disfigured by personal sin and the sins of society, must in our own time be retrieved and re-embraced. Only then can our minds’ relentless attraction to error be healed and overcome. For Newman, as for Pope Benedict, the Catholic Church shows herself as the authentic guardian of conscience, its true peace and security. Like Newman, Pope Benedict (so aware of Nazi and Stalinist barbarity) points to the chaos that lies, unavoidably, along the road upon which conscience is overthrown; and to Christ and His Church as, alone, able to turn us back.
Newman knew that this truth is ultimately uncontainable by the apparently well-ordered, but often seductive and morally ambiguous, procedures of secular politics. The significance of his Beatification lies in this realisation. As Pope Benedict has said in reflecting on Newman’s meaning: ‘A man of conscience is one who never acquires tolerance, well-being, success, public standing, and approval on the part of prevailing opinion, at the expense of truth.’
5. A short biography of Cardinal Newman
Born on 22 February 1801, baptised in the Church of England, Newman became a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford in 1822, an Anglican clergyman in 1825 and Vicar of the Oxford University Church in 1828.
The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. His studies were never purely theoretical. Informed by pastoral experience, they were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.
Newman’s point of reference was the Church of the Apostles and ‘the Fathers’, the great teachers of the first Christian centuries.
At school he experienced the attractions of atheism, and all his life showed unusual sympathy with religious doubt. But also at school he underwent a conversion granting him an abiding sense of God’s presence. At the same time, Newman acquired the conviction that Christianity is a doctrinal religion, and that doctrine and religious experience are in harmony, not opposed.
Some of Newman’s Anglican works retain startling relevance. In Arians of the Fourth Century (1833) he conveys through Christian history the very contemporary drama of the battle for orthodox Faith against politically-inspired compromise and apostasy.
In his Parochial and Plain Sermons (1834-1843), against a background of nominal, demoralised Christianity, he unfolds the Mysteries of Faith and awakens the depth and grandeur of the Christian life.
In the Tracts For The Times (1833-1841), Newman and his friends in the ‘Oxford Movement’ addressed the Church of England in the hope that it could be renewed in the Apostolic Faith. Gradually, it dawned on Newman that this was impossible.
He spent 1842-5 out of the public eye, secluded in prayer and study. At Littlemore, outside Oxford, he worked on the still deeply influential Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). The book studies the ways in which Faith has unfolded in history.
At last he was convinced that the Faith of the Apostles and Fathers was the Faith of Roman Catholicism. Newman was received into the Catholic Church at Littlemore by Blessed Dominic Barberi on 9th October 1845.
The Catholic Newman
Ordained a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847 Newman returned to England with a mission from the Pope to found Oratories of St Philip Neri, in Birmingham (where he lived until his death on August 11 1890) and then in London.
The Oratory discloses the heart of Newman: small and stable communities of priests, living together in charity, dedicated to prayer, to the liturgy, to preaching, teaching and the intellectual life.
In 1846, after he had been received into the Catholic Church, John Henry Newman’s first Catholic home was on the site which is now Maryvale Institute. It was Newman and his followers who gave it the name Maryvale after St Philip Neri’s church in Rome and it is specified in the Papal Brief as the location of the first English Oratory of St Philip in 1848. In fulfilment of Newman’s vision for an educated laity, Maryvale is now an international distance learning Catholic Theology College open to anyone who wishes to study the Catholic Faith at any level.
As an Oratorian Newman founded a Catholic University in Dublin (1851) and a Catholic School in Birmingham (1859).
He continued writing and publishing works which today are more profoundly influential than ever: his religious autobiography the Apologia pro vita sua (1864), the Grammar of Assent (1870) and the Idea of the University (1873).
Working tirelessly especially for the poor parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory, Newman also conducted an enormous correspondence, helping people all over the world with their religious difficulties.
Pastorally and educationally, in his published writings and in his correspondence, Newman’s aim was to describe and arouse the Christian mind. His vocation was to help modern people realise the demands of thinking and acting with the mind of Christ and His Church.
When he was made a Cardinal in 1879, Newman said that all his life he had opposed religious Liberalism. By ‘liberalism’ in religion, Newman meant preferring our own mind to the mind of the Church, manipulating God’s truth to suit our own judgement and will.
Newman died on 11 August 1890 and was buried in Rednal, the retreat house of the Birmingham Oratory, in a plot where his friend Fr Ambrose St John had been buried 15 years previously. Newman’s is one more of about 30 tombs of Fathers from the Birmingham Oratory who have died from 1848 to the present and who are buried in the same garden of the house in Rednal.
6. Quotes about Newman
Pope Benedict XVI
“May Cardinal Newman, whose love of truth was so deep and pure, remain a bridge between the various denominations and continue to inspire us to serve unity in a spirit of charity.”
Pope John Paul II
“Newman’s remarkable life, void of sham and ambition, but steeped in a prayerful communion with the Unseen, while it remained alive to the problems of his age in Church and society, continues to inspire, to uplift and to enlighten.”
Pope Paul VI
“Newman, in full consciousness of his mission – “I have a work to do” – and guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ, traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and of peace.”
William Barry, Catholic priest, theologian and writer and Professor of Divinity at Oscott College 1877-1880. Author of ‘Newman’ a biography first published in 1904
“…when Parliament had broken with the old English Constitution and entered on the path which leads to universal suffrage; when Premiers undertook to suppress bishoprics, and popular feeling was strong against the Established clergy, there appeared in Oriel, the centre of enlightenment, a figure which, at all times rare, was then almost unknown to Oxford and England, that of a religious genius, John Henry Newman.”
“During the whole period of my personal acquaintance and communication with Newman, I never had any other thought than that he was more thoroughly in earnest, and more entirely convinced of the truth of what he was saying, than any other man I had come across yet.”
“Newman’s whole life had been a struggle for truth,”
“I do not believe there has been anything like his influence in Oxford, when it was at its height, since Abelard lectured in Paris.”
“I have been reading Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua with such absorbing interest that I found it impossible to forsake the book until I had finished it……the Apology now mainly affects me as the revelation of a life – how different in form from one’s own, yet with how close a relationship in its needs and burthens – I mean spiritual needs and burthens.”
“The history of our land will hereafter record the name of John Henry Newman among the greatest of our people, as a confessor for the faith, a great teacher of men, a preacher of justice, of piety, and of compassion.”
“Of one thing we may be sure, that the memory of this pure and noble life, untouched by worldliness, will endure and that whether Rome canonizes him or not he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England. The saint in him will survive.”
Obituary in the Guardian Published Aug. 13, 1890, two days after Newman’s death by R. W. Church, dean of St. Paul’s and a close friend since their days together as Fellows of Oriel College, Oxford
“Cardinal Newman is dead, and we lose in him not only one of the very greatest masters of English style, not only a man of singular beauty and purity of character, not only an eminent example of personal sanctity, but the founder, we may almost say, of the Church of England as we see it. What the Church of England would have become without the Tractarian movement we can faintly guess, and of the Tractarian movement Newman was the living soul and the inspiring genius. Great as his services have been to the communion in which he died, they are as nothing by the side of those he rendered to the communion in which the most eventful years of his life were spent…. He will be mourned by many in the Roman Church, but their sorrow will be less than ours, because they have not the same paramount reason to be grateful to him.”
“The dead churchman (Cardinal Newman) was generally regarded by Englishmen as their most distinguished countryman…..Cardinal Newman is revered by his countrymen regardless of religious belief.”
“Let Newman mould the Church and Gladstone stamp the State”
“I have dreams of a visit to Newman, of the holy sacrament in a new Church, and of a quiet and peace afterwards in my soul. I need not say, though, that I shift with every breath of thought and am weaker and more self-deceiving than ever. If I could hope that the Church would wake in me some earnestness and purity I would go over as a luxury, if for no better reasons. But I can hardly hope it would, and to go over to Rome would be to sacrifice and give up my two great gods ‘Money and Ambition.’ Still I get so wretched and low and troubled that in some desperate mood I would seek the shelter of a church which simply enthrals me by its fascination.”
PUBLIC FIGURES OF TODAY
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Independent Crossbench Peer and Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University
“Newman warned against using the excuse of our own inadequacy as a reason for avoiding life’s quest or for sloughing off our responsibility and leaving it to someone else. We’ll wait for ever if we wait until we think we are perfect: ‘A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.’ “
“Newman was a man whose example reaches across the generations, both through his teachings and his life. His passion for education is as important today as it was in his lifetime. Newman’s beatification is a source of hope and gratitude to many people in the 21st century, showing that a man who thinks deeply and fiercely about his faith can still make waves in the modern world.”
“Newman’s beatification will recognize what many of us have long known: that he deserves to be venerated alongside the greatest figures of the medieval English Church: with Augustine and Anselm, with Bede and Boniface, with Thomas Becket and Thomas More. Newman is our guide in these perplexing times, showing us by example how to withstand the ordeal of remaining true to our beliefs in a time when the Church is vilified and ridiculed.”
“Much that we most admire in Newman, much that makes him seem prophetic of the things that the Catholic Church sought to recover and achieve at the Second Vatican Council, are gifts he brought us from the Church of England-from Tractarian Oxford.”
“Newman understood – and expressed in peerless language – how the freedom of conscience and of the human spirit could be fulfilled, rather than denied, by Christian orthodoxy. He brought this message to England, but also to the world.”
“Cardinal John Henry Newman is important for today’s world because of his sanctity, his patience and his constancy during the many trials and tribulations he experienced in his long life. A key message of his life and teaching that is particularly pertinent for today is his complete belief in the indefectibility of the Catholic Church. He was asked once why did he think the Catholic Church would never fail or be overcome and he replied, ‘because it has been tried through the ages’. The trials and challenges of the Church today are not totally dissimilar to those experienced by the Church in the 19th century. But Newman’s message and witness remain the same. In that sense, he is a prophet and a saint, not only for the Church in England and Wales but for the Universal Church.”
“John Henry Newman appeals to me, above all else, as a parish priest. For 30 years or so he served the people of his parish in Birmingham with great practical kindness, thoughtfulness and self-sacrifice. He was esteemed by the priests of the diocese (an accolade not easily won) and loved by his people. They turned out in their thousands on the day of his burial. In all probability, they had not read his books or letters, although they had heard his sermons. But they knew his way of life and his love for them. What a marvelous gift: that an English parish priest is to be beatified! How much encouragement we can take from this!”
“There is the mistaken assumption that Newman was attracted to Roman Catholicism by liturgical mystery ‘smells and bells’. However anyone who has read his writings like ‘Grammar of Assent’ will identify his profound belief in the rationality of faith that lies at the heart of Catholic spirituality. A saint in the mould of Aquinas and Augustine is perhaps what we most need today”
“The exceptional importance of Newman was recognised and acknowledged by John Paul II in his letter addressed to Bishop Dwyer on the centenary of Newman’s being created Cardinal by Leo XIII. As the key figure in the reestablishment of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Newman was a modern figure at the time and yet one who foresaw the aims of the Second Vatican Council. His life was sacrificed to the Church and the miracles that speak for his beatification are to be seen in the very soul of the English and Welsh Church. We are Newman’s children and his intellectual legacy our national treasure as his life of faith is our inspiration.”
“Cardinal Newman was a huge figure in 19th century English society but is little known today. We have much to learn from this great figure. The trials and challenges of society in the 19th century are not so dissimilar to the challenges facing society today and so Cardinal Newman’s message remains relevant. His works on conscience and morality, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue and education are still as relevant today to the debate about Church and society as they were in the 19th century.”
7. Background on Cofton Park
Birmingham has 490 parks and open spaces (8,000 acres) and is one of the greenest cities in Europe, including six parks which have been designated country parks, with Sutton Park a National Nature Reserve and Site of Scientific Interest (SSI). There are also seven Green Flag awarded parks.
Cofton Park is 135 acres of rolling fields and trees and is situated on the slopes adjoining the Lickey Hills Country Park. It is mostly open grassland with a few football pitches. There are areas of small woodland and in the centre of the park sits the old farmhouse as it has done for around 200 years. There are also rows of oak and ash trees flourishing in straight lines where once there were the farmland boundaries of Lowhill Farm.
The land was initially acquired by Birmingham City Council in 1933 for the amount of £10,640 from trustees for William Walter Hinde, a longstanding Birmingham manufacturer. By his will, Mr Hinde bequeathed the residue of his estate “for the purchase of land…to be kept for ever as an open space for the benefit of the people of Birmingham.”
Cofton Park is also home to Birmingham Park’s Cofton nursery. The nursery provides displays of thousands of plants for bedding-out in the parks all over the City, civic occasions, the city centre floral display, Heart of England in Bloom and gardening shows such the Chelsea Flower Show and BBC Gardeners’ World Live.
Near Cofton Park is the Oratorian House in Rednal where Newman is buried, alongside the 30 or so members of the Birmingham Oratory who have died since it was founded in 1848. Newman’s headstone is just one more among those of his brethren.
8. Background on the Birmingham Oratory
Newman’s journey into the Catholic Church was not a solitary one. As an Anglican clergyman and as a University teacher at Oxford, he made many friends and influenced lots of people. Some of these wanted to remain close to him and to work with him. While they were still in the Church of England, Newman and a group of friends refurbished an old stable block in the village of Littlemore outside Oxford. They had rooms, a chapel and a library. They worked together, prayed and studied. They continued to do parish work. All the while their common life was drawing them closer to the Catholic Church.
When Newman became a Catholic in 1845, many of his friends became Catholics at about the same time. They wanted to remain together, living and working under the same roof. What were they to do? As diocesan priests they might be sent to different parts of a large diocese; in an order they could be dispersed to the four corners of the world. A monastery would have kept them together, but they were pastors and not monks. They did not want to withdraw from the world.
An Oratory is a stable community in which priests and brothers live together in one place, usually in a city, engaged in whatever works their individual talents dictate. Some may be scholars, others teachers, some chaplains to schools, hospitals or prisons. If the Oratory has a parish, one or two will be parish priests. An Oratorian is always free to leave his community, finding a diocese if he is a priest or returning to ordinary life in the world if he is a layman. For Newman and his friends, this flexible institution was the perfect answer to their unique situation.
But why did he establish the Oratory in Birmingham? Newman became a Catholic at Oxford which was then in the Midland District whose centre was at Birmingham. (Oxford is still in the Archdiocese of Birmingham.) Newman put himself and his friends at the service of the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Wiseman and followed his advice. It was Wiseman who saw at once the aptness of the Oratory and of St Philip’s spirit for Newman and his friends.
The need at Birmingham was very great. It was a growing city with few churches and a great opportunity for apostolate among different groups of people: there were Irish Catholics who had come to the Midlands in search of work; unchurched masses in the industrial city; and wealthy and influential individuals who controlled all this. Birmingham in Newman’s time was the boom city of the age. Perhaps Newman was also able to bring some sense of a higher purpose to its wealth-creating and utilitarian spirit.
In the end, it was Bishop Wiseman who advised Pope Pius IX to send Newman back to Birmingham.
In 1848 the community was established in Maryvale on the outskirts to the city, moving then to a disused gin factory in Alcester Street in the centre of the city and finally to Edgbaston in 1852 where a purpose built house was built which is occupied by the community today. Newman only knew a temporary church and it was not until 1909 that the present fine church in the Roman basilica style was opened as a memorial to the Cardinal.
Newman established an independent parish for Edgbaston and Ladywood, which the Oratorians have served since his time. The school Newman founded moved to a rural site near Reading in the 1920s, but the Oratorians have continued to work in education in the city, most notably in St Philip’s Grammar School, now closed but which served the Catholic boys of the city for many generations.
The Fathers continue to work as chaplains to schools, hospitals and prisons, to write and teach, and to conserve and promote the legacy of their venerable founder. Above all they live an Oratorian community life of prayer, private and public, and many come form all over the Midlands for the beautiful music and liturgy.
The Birmingham Oratory has made two foundations, London in 1849 and Oxford in 1990. But many more Oratories owe their foundation directly or indirectly to the influence of Newman’s house, particularly the Oratories in Germany, Austria, the United States, Canada and South Africa. In a very real way Newman can be said to be the modern refounder of the Oratory.
9. The Newman shrines
The London Oratory has commissioned a new chapel to be dedicated to Newman, designed by Russell Taylor. It is to be situated beneath the organ loft, in the south aisle, and replaces the Calvary chapel.
The Oxford Oratory is to include a new chapel dedicated to Newman, designed by Anthony Delarue, as part of its long-term extension plans. In the meanwhile, a temporary shrine in the relic chapel in the south aisle is planned to coincide with the beatification, the main feature of which is a copy of the portrait of Newman by Walter Ouless at the Birmingham Oratory.
In the Birmingham Oratory, St Philip Neri’s chapel on the south side of the high altar is to be re-dedicated to Newman and contain his relics. These consist of a lock of hair, a drop of blood and secondary relics retrieved from his grave. A new floor is to be laid and the chapel re-decorated by the International Fine Art Conservation Studios (IFACS), of Bristol; a copy of Ouless’s portrait will replace one of St Philip above the altar.
After the ceremony of Newman’s Beatification at Cofton Park on Sunday 19 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to the Birmingham Oratory and become the first pilgrim to visit the newly restored Newman Chapel. After that he will also visit Newman’s rooms and library.