Showing posts with label St. Philip Neri. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Philip Neri. Show all posts

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Pushkin, the Oratory Cat who met the Pope



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.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Beatification Report - J H Newman by his Biographers, Official Beatification Conference



Come and hear the most renowned scholars on Cardinal Newman assess the man, his career, his message and his enduring significance" was the billing for this event at Birmingham's International Convention Centre. Over a hundred people attended, those from further afield including a group from the Cardinal Newman Society of America and Oratorians from around the world.

The biographers in question speaking on the day were Father Ian Ker, Oxford University, Father Michael Lang of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Professor Sheridan Gilley of Durham University, who also gave the lecture on Newman and Birmingham earlier this week. They were joined by Father Keith Beaumont of the Oratory of France and the author of the official beatification biography which was launched at the conference.

The conference was opened by Father Richard Duffield, the Provost of the Birmingham Oratory who reminded us of the Holy Father’s comments on the plane about Newman’s awareness of the problems and culture of his own age. He went on to observe that the Holy Father may have chosen to beatify Newman personally as in him he may see a kindred spirit; a man who had messages in the nineteenth century that echo those that he himself wants to be heard today.

Professor Gilley was the first speaker, reflecting much of the content of his lecture earlier in the week. The Professor reminded us that Newman’s contemporary Cardinal Manning was often depicted as practical ‘Martha’ to Newman’s contemplative Mary. He concluded his session by saying "Newman’s strength as a master of the intellectual and spiritual life remains to inspire us."


Father Ian Ker reflected on the fact that Newman had anticipated much of the Second Vatican Council. He talked about Newman’s belief that Church Councils were times of great trial and that a living idea cannot be isolated from intercourse with the world around it. He reminded us of Newman’s words with a quote that later speakers also echoed "It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full."

Father Ker also talked about Newman being drawn to St Philip Neri’s Oratory with its more individualistic approach than other orders. Newman described St Philip Neri as having "the breadth of view of St. Dominic, the poetry of St. Benedict, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, and all recommended by an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness which were his own."



Father Michael Lang talked about Newman’s relationship with the early Fathers of the Church and the intimate connection between his study of them and his spiritual journey. He described Newman’s reflections on doctrinal development as one of his principle contributions to Catholic theology.


Our final speaker was Father Keith Beaumont who was launching his book on Newman, the official beatification biography. We discovered at this point that we had been joined by another distinguished visitor for the launch, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.

Father Beaumont who lives in France treated us to a whistle stop tour through the French perspective on Newman over the years. This included some amusing examples from the first (and unauthorised!) French translation of Newman’s work which was done by a lady with a limited grasp of both English and theology. My apologies but I was laughing too much to capture them! (Father Beaumont if by some chance you read this perhaps you will post them?) Some of his challenges in writing an official biography were shared with us as well as that of trying to write a short account without oversimplifying much about Newman.

Father Beaumont shared with us his belief that whilst Newman is the object of a great deal of devotion, fervour and piety but also his concern that few read and study his work thoroughly rather than focusing on extracts. Newman was said to be a thinker, theologian and spiritual guide but foremost a pastor of souls who would urge people not only to think about God but to seek him. He went on to tell us that Newman placed theology in the service of spirituality and renewed the concept of what it meant to be a Christian by returning to the Bible and early Church Fathers.

He told us that Newman’s approach was to speak to people and advise them with a view to deepening their relationship with God and that whatever honour Newman felt personally in being made a Cardinal he was more interested in the status it would give to his work.


Father Duffield thanked all the speakers and HRH Princess Michael. He complimented Father Beaumont on his deep understanding of Newman which came across in the book and his appreciation for that fact so many of Newman’s words were allowed to speak for themselves in the carefully chosen extracts. He closed the conference with an instruction to the delegates to both enjoy and pray hard at the beatification.


The conference was followed by a civic reception attended by Birmingham's Lord Mayor and a private viewing of the Newman Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum. You can see photos of the exhibits in my earlier post.

The conference was filmed by EWTN so do check their schedules if you would like listen to the speeches. All I have been able to do is capture a few scant snippets from the extensive sessions and these have been limited somewhat by poor understanding of some of aspects of the sessions on my part and also an inability to take accurate legible notes at speed!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Beatification Report - Cardinal Newman Exhibition

To coincide with the beatification Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is playing host to an exhibition of ”rarely seen items from the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman”. Amongst the exhibits are many not generally on public view. Most items are loaned from Birmingham Oratory’s own collection and were in Newman's rooms at the Oratory. Below are photographs of the exhibits.

Cardinal's robes, hat and shoes @ 1879. Newman reputedly complained that it was very expensive to be fitted out as a cardinal!




Pectoral cross and chain, silver gilt with garnets, 19th Century.


Crozier, 1860. Silver inset with semi precious stones and micro mosaic.



Jewelled mitre, 1879, presented to Newman when he became a cardinal. Silk and gold thread inset with semi precious stones. I can't even begin to tell you how incredible the workmanship is, but the photographs really don't do this justice!






Oil portrait on canvas of Newman by William Thomas Roden, 1879. This portrait was commissioned to celebrate his appointment as a Cardinal although Roden chose to depict him as an ordinary priest.


Shell engraved with the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 19th Century.


Metal pot with used and sharpened quill pens from Newman's study at the Birmingham Oratory. Also a letter from Newman to a printer dated 1840 concerning the production costs.


Statuette bust of St Phillip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. Ivory turned on wooden base.



Portrait of 'The Virgin in Glory' @ 1860. Oil paint on ivory in silver mount.


Portrait bust of Newman by Richard Westmacott, 1841. The sculptor was at school with Newman in Ealing.


The number of items included in the exhibition was less than I was expecting but it does offer a unique opportunity to view some beautiful relics one is not normally able to see.

For those that would like to visit, the exhibition runs until 6th January 2011, entry is free of charge and you can find more information about the venue here.