‘A Moment of Great Joy’: English Cardinal Ordains Former Anglican Bishop as Catholic Priest

Michael Nazir-Ali was ordained at an Oct. 30 Mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, Warwick Street, London.

The ordination of Michael Nazir-Ali to the Catholic priesthood takes place in London on Oct. 30.
The ordination of Michael Nazir-Ali to the Catholic priesthood takes place in London on Oct. 30. (photo: Screenshot from the UK Ordinariate Twitter account; last visited 10/30/21)

English Cardinal Vincent Nichols on Saturday ordained a former Anglican bishop as a Catholic priest.

The archbishop of Westminster described the ordination of Michael Nazir-Ali at an Oct. 30 Mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, Warwick Street, London, as “a moment of great joy.”

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

“The Church places such trust and confidence in the effectiveness of the ordained ministry. So that is why this ordination is a moment of great joy,” the cardinal said in his homily at the livestreamed Mass.

“It is a moment in which we ask the Lord to effect in you, Michael, a full inclusion into the ordained ministry of the Catholic Church. As the prayer we have just offered stated, here we seek to build on the fruitfulness of the priestly ministry you have faithfully exercised for so many years now.”

Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, England, entered into full communion with Rome within the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Sept. 29.

The personal ordinariate was created by Benedict XVI in 2011 for groups of former Anglicans seeking to preserve elements of their patrimony.

The 72-year-old who was once considered a possible future archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world’s 85 million Anglicans, was ordained as a Catholic deacon on Oct. 28 by Archbishop Kevin McDonald, the emeritus archbishop of Southwark.


“For you, Michael, this journey has been rich indeed, in its geography, in your journey of learning, of prayer, of public ministry, and of decision,” Cardinal Nichols said. 

“We welcome you most warmly on this day, especially into the very unique company of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.” 

Nazir-Ali was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1949, and attended Catholic schools. He has both a Christian and a Muslim family background and holds British and Pakistani citizenship. 

He was ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1976, working in Karachi and Lahore. He became provost of Lahore Cathedral and was consecrated the first bishop of Raiwind in West Punjab.

Nazir-Ali was appointed bishop of Rochester, southeast England, in 1994. 

Married with two children, he served as a member of the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house of Parliament, from 1999.

He took part in the second phase of the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC-II) and was a member of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

In 2002, the U.K. media identified him as one of the favorites to succeed the retiring archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. He was quoted at the time as saying that he was the target of a racist smear campaign, and he remained as bishop of Rochester until 2009.

He has served as president of the Oxford Center for Training, Research, Advocacy, and Dialogue (OXTRAD) since stepping down as bishop of Rochester.

In his homily, Cardinal Nichols reflected on “two key characteristics of the Church: its cohesion and its mission.” He said that neither quality was “easy to put into practice and sustain.”

“Indeed, we read in the Acts of the Apostles the first practical problems emerge immediately for the infant Church. The first: how to replace Judas, whose heart had been totally corrupted by greed?” the 75-year-old cardinal said.  

“It is not without consequence that the first words spoken on this matter were the words of Peter, leading decisively to the course to be taken. The Petrine ministry is part of the gift given to the Church to sustain its cohesion of life and action.”

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

He went on: “So, too, in its mission. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after the great event of Pentecost, as the mission of the Church explodes into life, it is Peter who ‘stood up with the Eleven and addressed them [the crowd] in a loud voice’ (Acts 2:14). Already the challenge of the mission of the Church is clear, for that crowd consisted of people ‘from every nation under heaven.’” 

“Our mission is always shaped, then, by the interface between the joy of the Gospel truth and the history and cultures of those to whom it is being addressed. And that dynamic, too, comes under the guidance of the Successor of Peter and those around him, and one with him, in the ministry of oversight.”

Looking toward Nazir-Ali, he said: “Michael, you have so much experience in this interface, and I am confident that your insight and learning will enrich this mission from within the visible unity of the Catholic Church.”

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, Warwick Street, is the central church of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

Msgr. Keith Newton, the ordinariate’s leader, who is based at the parish, took part in the Mass, which was also attended by Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, as well as several Anglican bishops.

The ordinariate-use Mass featured the famous “Prayer of Humble Access,” composed by Thomas Cranmer, a leading figure in the English Reformation.

Speaking at the end of the Mass, Msgr. Newton said: “Let me congratulate Father Michael on his ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. We welcome you particularly to the presbyterate of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady Walsingham.”

“Know, Michael, that you are amongst friends here, because all of us have made the journey that you’ve made. It’s not always easy. But we’ve done it in the pursuit of truth and the unity of the Church for which we prayed for so long.”

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

Addressing the congregation, Father Nazir-Ali reflected on his decision to become a Catholic. 

He said: “There are many reasons, of course, I don’t want to give them all, but first of all, to belong to a Church where decisions that affect everyone are actually made effective in the whole Church, where decisions stick.” 

“Secondly, where there is a clear body of teaching to which appeal can be made when that is necessary to do.” 

“And, thirdly, where there is an adequate, sufficient teaching authority to guide the faithful in matters that are contentious in this culture ... Cardinal Nichols, of course, alluded to this in his homily.”

Explaining why he chose to become a Catholic in “the ordinariate way,” he suggested that the Anglican and Catholic traditions could be mutually enriching.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

“Whatever else Archbishop Cranmer’s gifts may or may not have been, I think beauty of language was certainly one of them. And I commend such beauty to liturgists today. It is not always a gift that is found among them in recent years, may I say,” he joked.

“Secondly, an approach to the study of the Bible that is inductive, historical and devotional at the same time.

“Thirdly, an approach to ministry that recognizes the wider community and is not simply restricted to the congregation.”

He concluded: “So that is why I’ve done it, and that is why I have done it in this way. Thank you for your love and your prayers and your patience. God bless you.”

The ordinariate priest Fr. James Bradley noted on his Twitter account on Sept. 5 that the following Anglican bishops have been received into the Catholic Church since 1992: Graham Leonard (London); Conrad Meyer; John Klyberg (Fulham); Richard Rutt (Leicester); John Broadhurst (Fulham); Edwin Barnes (Richborough); Keith Newton (Richborough); Andrew Burnham (Ebbsfleet); David Silk; Paul Richardson; John Goddard (Burnley); and Jonathan Goodall (Ebbsfleet).

Many converts come from the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England, which stresses Anglicanism’s Catholic heritage, but Nazir-Ali has long been associated with the evangelical wing.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel.

Screenshot from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church YouTube channel

In an article for the Daily Mail newspaper on Oct. 17, Nazir-Ali said he hoped that by becoming a Catholic he could help the persecuted worldwide and Christians in Britain.

“Hopefully, becoming an Ordinariate Catholic will enable me to support Christians closer to home who are marginalized and hounded by a liberal totalitarianism that demands total consensus,” he wrote. 

Nazir-Ali told the Register on Oct. 25 that he would continue his “work of supporting and developing leadership among persecuted Christian communities” as he waits for ​“guidance from the ordinariate and Vatican authorities about the next steps.”

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