Oratory School Anniversary Mass at Westminster Cathedral

The Oratory School, founded by Cardinal Newman on 2 May 1859, celebrated its 150th anniversary with a Mass in a packed Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 2 May 2009, that concluded with the reading of a Papal Blessing from Pope Benedict XVI.

Fr Newman began his school for Catholic boys on Sunday 1 May 1859. Nine boys started lessons the following day, 2 May, in a building at 97 Hagley Road in Edgbaston, a short distance from the Oratory House in Birmingham that Fr Newman had opened seven years earlier in 1852.

The Anniversary Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, still presently Archbishop of Birmingham but who will be Installed as Archbishop of Westminster, on Thursday 21 May. It was the first time that he had celebrated Mass in Westminster Cathedral since the announcement of his

After the Te Deum was sung and before the solemn blessing, Fr Antony Conlon, Chaplain to the Oratory School Association, read the special Papal Blessing received from Rome:

"The Holy Father Benedict XVI, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the foundation of the Oratory School by John Henry Cardinal Newman cordially imparts the requested Apostolic Blessing to Staff and Students and through the intercession of the servant of God, entrusts the life and the spirit of
the school which he founded and invokes an abundance of heavenly graces and the continued protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

In his welcome at the start of Mass, the newly elected President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales spoke about the importance of Cardinal Newman and Catholic Education.

Archbishop Nichols said: "Today we celebrate not only this important anniversary of the Oratory School, but also Cardinal Newman's entire vision of education."

"Never has it been more important to have a positive and integrated vision of the true purposes and priorities for education centred on the person and on the spiritual dimension of every human being. Without such a vision, education becomes no more than a political or an economic football."

Among the concelebrants at the Mass of St Athanasius, were Fr Antony Conlon, Chaplain at The Oratory School, situated in Woodcote on the Berkshire-Oxfordshire border; and Fr Robert Byrne, Provost of the Oxford, and Fr John Saward, Priest in Charge, SS Gregory and Augustine's, members of The Oratory School Association.

The Guest Preacher, Bishop Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe, County Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland, a distinguished Newman scholar, centred his sermon on Newman's vision for Catholic education, highlighting the inspiration that Cardinal Newman drew from St Athanasius.

Bishop Boyce stressed: "The Venerable John Henry Newman, your founder, was also one of those renowned educationalists and defenders of the faith who, like St Athanasius, received the sacred flame of truth and passed it on. It still burns brightly until the present day.

"The young boys at the School are being trained to enter a world where truth is often ridiculed and faith is ignored. Newman was keenly aware of the dangers that face them in a world, today more than ever, 'with its polluting, withering, debasing, deadening influence'.

"Therefore, Newman firmly believed that boys and young men are being prepared for the world, so that they can manage to live in it without being deceived by its ways, and to influence it by the convinced conduct of their lives."

"The Oratory School has stamped upon it the educational ideal of Newman himself. Much depends on the personal influence for good that is exercised upon the young."

Bishop Philip Boyce, who received a doctorate in theology in 1977 with a dissertation on the "Spirituality of Cardinal John Henry Newman", concluded his homily by wishing the Oratory School prosperity in its next 150 years, to keep alive Newman's dream for Catholic education.

Talking afterwards the Head Master, Clive Dytor, said: "The Mass in Westminster Cathedral, Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Westminster, attended by so many people involved with the Oratory School, followed by a reception in Westminster Cathedral Hall, was a truly fitting way to celebrate this 150th Anniversary Day."

Mr Dytor, a former Church of England clergyman who, like Cardinal Newman, converted to Roman Catholicism, added: "Cardinal Newman is a great inspiration to the Oratory School and we hope and pray for his early beatification so that his vision for Catholic education will become better known and understood."

The Oratory is one of only seven all-boys' boarding schools in the UK and has its own equally thriving co-ed prep school. The Oratory Association is the country's largest Catholic boarding/day organisation.

For further information about The Oratory School and the special events to celebrate its 150th Anniversary see: www.oratory.co.uk

Picture shows:
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop-elect of Westminster, pictured in the sacristy at Westminster Cathedral, on 2 May, with (left to right): The Bursar to the Oratory Association, Mr Alec Bradshaw; The Headmaster of The Oratory Preparatory School, Dr Richard Hillier; Guest Preacher, Bishop Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe, County Donegal; The Chairman of the Oratory School Association; Mr Michael Hasslacher; The Head Master of The Oratory School, Mr Clive Dytor; The Chaplain to the Oratory School Association, Father Antony Conlon.

Picture by Peter Jennings

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