POPE BENEDICT XVI
The Beatification of John Henry Newman
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
10. Press contacts
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.
The Cause itself
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
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
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
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
The Anglican 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
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
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
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
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.”
Thomas Mozeley, of the Oxford Movement
“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.”
James Anthony Froude, Newman’s friend
“Newman’s whole life had been a struggle for truth,”
William E Gladstone
“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
Obituary in ‘The Times’ published August 12, 1890
“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.”
Cardinal Gibbons, American Cardinal and Archbishop of Baltimore 1877-1921
“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.”
Archbishop Alexander’s poem, Oxford in 1845.
“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
PUBLIC FIGURES OF TODAY
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Independent Crossbench Peer and Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John
“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.’ ”
Damian Green MP
“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.”
Daniel Johnson, Editor of Standpoint Magazine
“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
Prof Nicholas Lash, Theologian
“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.”
Charles Moore, Journalist
“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 Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster
“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.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster
“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!”
John Pugh MP
“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”
Stephen Pound MP
“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
Keith Vaz MP
“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
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.
10. Press contacts
Catholic Communications Network (CCN)
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
CCN tel: 0207 901 4800
CCN email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Papal Visit News Coordination Centre (NCC) Operation contact details are as follows. The telephone
numbers are being monitored from Weds 15 September:
The generic email address which all in the NCC will have access to is
020 7276 3300
020 7276 5001
Interview Requests, Briefing and Media Monitoring
020 7276 6606