Fame can change a cat as much as it can a human, but Pushkin, the cat who met the Pope remains remarkably unchanged by his experience and the resulting media attention. However, perhaps remaining the same is easy for cat in residence at the Birmingham Oratory, who according to those with whom he has a longer acquaintance, has always known his worth.
As a great admirer of felines I was delighted and immensely flattered that Pushkin granted me an exclusive for the June edition of CHRISTVS REGNAT, his first interview since that meeting. This piece features just a few highlights from our discussion. Pushkin as I am sure readers will recall from the media coverage met the Holy Father in September last year when following the beatification of Cardinal Newman when he became to first person to pray at the newly instituted Shrine at the Birmingham Oratory.
An obviously stylish black Persian, Pushkin wanders leisurely through the elegant halls of the Birmingham Oratory taking in the classically proportioned surroundings and beautiful paintings with little more than a passing glance. Pushkin, I am convinced, sees these merely as minor earthly things and nothing more than his due being a cat of obvious quality. Indeed when I asked him about his move to the Oratory he told me that he found it, “much more suited to a cat of my calibre than my former residence, an ordinary house in Stoke on Trent.”
I was delighted that Pushkin shared with me his impression of encountering the Holy Father. He told me that he remembered, “with a particular fondness the greeting and the special exchange we had.” The Pope is of course well known as a cat lover and is credited with having spent time feeding many of Rome’s stray cats in his time as a Cardinal.
Pushkin’s daring evasion of the security surrounding the Pope and subsequent meeting with him has won him much acclaim in the cat world. He confided, “I received several letters of congratulations and have been credited with establishing the rights of all cats, at all times, in all places to be first and foremost. Just as it should be.”
He went on to tell me of the media coverage that resulted with television and radio interviews conducted with the humans of his house about his meeting. It seems it not just the English that have a fascination with animals as requests were received from media around the world to feature Pushkin and his staff.
Despite all the fame and attention Pushkin still does, as he assured me, take seriously his duties at the cat in residence at the Oratory. This includes rigorously inspecting visitors and ensuring the house is in good order and duties are properly carried out.
"If they [the guests] are visiting any of the special rooms in the building, such as Cardinal Newman’s room or the library, then I will often accompany them to supervise and ensure that the Priest who is giving the guided tour is doing so correctly.” In an era of transitory things such attention to detail and commitment to the development of one’s staff can only be considered admirable.
Speaking frankly to me about his daily life in the Oratory Pushkin described the routine of the house and his own personal daily routine. He emphasised the need for substantial amounts of rest and grooming with regular exercise up and down the stairs being highlighted as key parts of maintaining the stamina required for his critical role.
Whilst Pushkin spoke openly on many subjects ranging there was one on which this interviewer was regrettably unable to draw him; the rumours that he was invited to become Pontifical Cat-in-Ordinary at the Vatican. However, one feels his dignified refusal to comment must only add fuel to these...
Emphasising his approval of the traditional Latin Mass Pushkin expressed his pleasure that since Summorum Pontificum cats everywhere have had a greater opportunity to attend this. He was also keen to give advice to other Catholic cats,
“Always make sure you are treated as you deserve and never allow yourself to be put outside when guests are calling, who knows, one day it could be the Pope.”
My time sadly was up all too quickly and I was dismissed with a narrowing of Pushkin’s stunning eyes as the appeal of a well earned snooze clearly began to outweigh any attentions I might provide. He surveyed my exit from the gallery of the stairs with his usual attention to detail before turning on heels and departing with a swish of his long tail. I was left with the impression that Pushkin remembers when cats were regarded as Gods in Egypt and does not appear to have taken on board what, if anything, has changed.
Before I left the Oratory I was however allowed to have a few words with Puskin’s part time PR agent and general assistant Father Anton Guziel who assisted at our interview. Pushkin is clearly very fond of “his human” and indeed all the Fathers of the Oratory. Though as he made clear with some of the non verbal signals which added considerable depth to our meeting, he does find rather tiresome on occasion the demands of Father Anton’s other work which clearly can interfere with his primary role.
Father Anton outlined for me some of the changes that have taken place since the Newman’s beatification and the Papal visit. Clearly he has been delighted at the increasing devotion to Newman since the event. He that told me, “Life has never really been quite the same since the Papal visit and of course, the day was packed with excitement and all sorts of hopes and fears. One of the changes has been the institution of a Pilgrims Mass at 11am every Saturday at Newman’s Shrine.” Some pilgrims have even been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the cat who met the Pope... On occasion the really privileged, who display proper respect, have even been allowed to greet him in person.
If this taster has whet your appetite you can read the full interview published in the June, 2011, issue of CHRISTVS REGNAT, which can be downloaded HERE.
The interview covers a wide range of topics including Pushkin's kittenhood, hobbies, how he became the cat in residence at the Birmingham Oratory, the role and the daily routine of an Oratory Cat, memories of his audience with the Pope, his liturgical preferences and his assessment of the impact of Summorum Pontificum, the origin of his name, his literary tastes, his favourite Saint, Cardinal Newman on cats, and cats who have inspired him.
My thanks go to Father Anton Guziel and of course to Pushkin both for the interview and for permission to publish these extracts on this blog.
Born: 8 May 1861, Received into the Catholic Church: 21 December 1896, Received into the Sodality of Our Lady: 22 December 1896, Entered Society of Jesus: 7 September 1900, Ordained Priest: 28 July 1900, Died 19 February 1933.