BIRMINGHAM, England — A Te Deum rang out at the Birmingham Oratory. There is rejoicing in Oxford. On July 3, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the healing of Marshfield, Mass., Deacon Jack Sullivan of a severe spinal disorder in 2001 as a miracle, resulting from the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God John Henry Newman.
This declaration from the Holy See clears the way for Cardinal Newman’s beatification, though the exact date for beatification has not yet been formally announced.
As the news broke from Rome, e-mails flew, and the announcement was also made at Sunday Masses in the places most associated with Newman — notably the Oxford and Birmingham Oratories.
“This is wonderful news for the Church in the whole of England, and, of course, for Oxford in particular,” said Father Daniel Seward at The Oxford Oratory church of St. Aloysius. “Newman shows us that we should seek the truth at whatever the cost, and in seeking truth of God, we will also come closer to the great love of God.”
The Oxford Oratory — long a project of Cardinal Newman, but one that was never realized in his lifetime — was opened in the centenary of his death, when the Oratorians took over the church of St. Aloysius on Woodstock Road, which was for many years run by the Jesuits.
On first becoming a Catholic, Newman made his home at old Oscott House, now the Maryvale Institute. Maryvale is a Catholic study center specializing in distance-learning courses leading to a bachelor’s degree in divinity and the training of catechists for parish work.
In Newman’s day, the house — which has been in Catholic hands since Saxon times — stood in open parkland, but it is now surrounded by the busy Birmingham suburb of Kingstanding, and there is a parish church and Catholic schools alongside it.
“Although he isn’t officially yet a doctor of the church, he is for us here at Maryvale our own in-house doctor,” said Michael Hodgett, lecturer in ecclesiastical history at Maryvale, sharing in the general jubilation.
At The Oratory School near Reading in Berkshire — founded by Newman and now a leading boys’ boarding school — the news of the beatification came as the climax of a year of celebrations.
“It’s our 150th anniversary year, and we have just taken all the boys to Westminster Cathedral for a great Mass of thanksgiving,” said headmaster Clive Dytor, who became a Catholic when, as an Anglican clergyman, he read Newman’s writings. “We are all looking forward to going to Rome for the beatification. We’ve got a book coming out on the anniversary of Newman’s reception into the Church, telling the story of 150 years of the school. We’ve been taking the boys to various sites around England associated with Newman’s life.”
One question being raised is whether or not Pope Benedict might come to Britain for the beatification. Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited him to do so when he made a formal visit to Rome recently with his wife, Sara. It would be the first papal visit since the groundbreaking arrival of Pope John Paul in 1982.
But it seems more likely that the beatification will be in Rome; talk is of a mere six months before it takes place, which would not be long enough for the complex planning involved in a papal visit.
Costs of such a visit would also be prohibitive: Unless it were to be a formal state occasion, in which case taxpayers would fund the bill — which might prove unpopular at a time of economic hardship and with the London Olympics looming, too — Catholics will have to find the money themselves. The Catholic community in Britain is officially numbered at some 4 million, but actual Mass attendance is less than a quarter of that.
If the beatification is to take place in Rome, vast crowds of English Catholics can be expected to attend, led by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who incidentally was until recently archbishop of Birmingham and has just returned from Rome, where he received the pallium in his new capacity as archbishop of Westminster.
Joanna Bogle filed this story
from the Maryvale Institute
in Birmingham, England.