Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Beatification Report - Newman and Birmingham Lecture

Newman and Birmingham was the title of the first of a series of events taking place in Birmingham leading up the beatification of John Henry Newman. Around 300 people attended the lecture, on Monday 14th September, hosted by Birmingham University's Barber Institute and organised in conjunction with Birmingham Oratory. The speaker was Professor Sheridan Gilley, former lecture in theology at the University of Durham and author of ‘Newman and His Age’ This biography was written whilst the Professor was an Anglican though he has since followed Newman to the Catholic Church.

The lecture touched on many aspects of Newman’s life and that of his contemporaries as well as his links with Birmingham. The Professor’s words painted a vision of the city of Newman’s age, one in which he spent a significant portion of his later life as a Catholic.

He told us that, being close to the centre of the industrial revolution, Birmingham was the heart of the ‘Workshop of the World’. The population of the city grew rapidly during this period with the need for labour being fed both from surrounding areas and further afield. In 1851 just one quarter of its population were regular churchgoers.

Birmingham was at the centre of the Catholic revival thanks at least in part to the charismatic Cardinal Wiseman (founder of the Dublin Review) and to Oscott College which was within easy reach of the city. Indeed St Chads, built between 1839 and 1841, was the first cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation.

The Catholic population of the city was largely made up of Irish immigrants, many of who fled the hardships of Ireland during the potato famine to seek work in England’s increasingly industrialised cities

Newman’s original city location for his Oratory was in Alcester Street. It opened on February 2 1849 in a former gin distillery and here he taught Sunday school and classes in the evening. Funds were scarce with the community living on a frugal diet of salt beef and salt cod; poor Irish immigrants would have made up much of Newman’s early congregations. All of this was a far cry from his life as an Anglican Minister eating at High Table in the colleges of Oxford.

Despite this Newman seems to have developed a love for the city and its people. Indeed he famously declined an invitation to preach in Rome:

'The Oratory, Birmingham: July 25, 1864.
'Dear Monsignore Talbot,—I have received your letter, inviting me to preach next Lent in your Church at Rome to "an audience of Protestants more educated than could ever be the case in England."

However, Birmingham people have souls; and I have neither taste nor talent for the sort of work which you cut out for me. And I beg to decline your offer.
'I am, yours truly,

What stood out for me from this lecture and my other reading is that Newman was clearly a man who thrived in a diverse range of environments gaining respect and affection from people of all backgrounds and beliefs; from the slums of an industrial city to Oxford’s Colleges, from the more affluent environs of the London Oratory to Dublin society. Surely to be able to do so in his time was a greater achievement than even it would be in our own?

Father Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, thanked Professor Gilley for such an interesting opening to the week of events leading up to the beatification. He left the audience with the thought that in these times we should follow Newman’s words and have “clear heads and holy hearts” and St Paul's guidance ”to hold fast to that which is good”.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this. We get so little of the preparations for the beatification ceremony in the news. It's good to have someone attending on our behalf. God bless you! Jane F

Just a Girl said...

Thanks Jane. I will be posting about all of events taking place in the run up to the day as well as the beatification itself. So keep reading!

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Thanks ..I took notes but you saved me the job! We were at the back..I can relate to St anne's a lot having grown up in the Parish. Are you going to Saturday's Conference?

Anonymous said...

Is there a full text of this lecture? It sounds really interesting.

Just a Girl said...

Hi Jackie - Yes I will be at the conference on Saturday, will you? Really looking forward to it!

Anonymous - I don't know if there is a full text but I will enquire and post here. It covered so much I sadly missed in my notes.

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Yes I will be there! C u then I hope..whoever u r??

Anonymous said...

It's really amazing when you think of the contribution of Newman and the Oratory to the revival of Catholicism in Victorian England. Everything that we think of as the Catholic Church in England has the touch of his influence. What an amazing period and what an amazing man. Thank you so much for keeping us in contact with it.

Shandon Belle said...

Congratulations JAG! Great posts! Welcome to the team! Looking forward to the posts over the next week!

Just a Girl said...

Thanks Shandon. I've really enjoyed reading the posts on this blog over recent months; hope I can do justice to the high standard that you have all set!

Anonymous said...

Well done! Please keep us informed! We love Cardinal Newman!

Anonymous said...

How is the spirit in the Birmingham Oratory at the moment? We should pray hard that the visit of the Pope will be a huge succsss. The Priests of the Oratory are the keystone of the whole visit. The Holy Father is a white martyr before our very eyes. Please be a consolation to him and bring him all our love.

God bless our Pope, the great, the good!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

Just a Girl said...

Thanks for your feedback :)

Anonymous said...

Nice one!