Deacon Sullivan stays at Littlemore

Deacon Sullivan at Newman's desk

Deacon Sullivan at Newman's desk

During his trip to Oxford, Jack Sullivan and his wife Carol stayed at Littlemore, in the ‘College’ where Newman lived from 1842 to 1845. Littlemore was part of the parish of the Oxford University church, so Newman had pastoral responsibilities there too. He built a school, a new church, and finally converted some stables into what he called ‘the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Littlemore’. It was here that he was received into the Catholic Church in October 1845. The College is owned by the Birmingham Oratory and run on its behalf by the Spiritual Family of the Work.

Jack visited Newman’s library where he welcomed Blessed Dominic Barberi, kneeling before him and asking of him admission into the Catholic Church. Today, this room contains an extensive library of books by and about Newman. His Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was written here at Littlemore. In this work we can perceive the reasons for Newman’s gradual realisation that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church has developed her understanding of the Faith, in dogmas (such as Transubstantiation or Papal Infallibility) which over the passage of time she has defined.

For a long time, Newman had believed that many Catholic doctrines were corruptions of the original Faith. But as early as 4 May 1843 he wrote: “As far as I can analyze my own convictions, I consider the Roman Catholic Communion to be the Church of the Apostles, and that what grace is [in the Anglican Church] (which, through God’s mercy, is not little) is extraordinary, and from the over-flowings of His dispensation. I am very far more sure that England is in schism, than that the Roman additions to the Primitive Creed may not be developments, arising out of a keen and vivid realizing of the Divine Depositum of Faith.” When Newman became certain of these truths, he asked for admission into the Catholic Church.

Jack Sullivan visited Newman’s own room, and, sitting at Newman’s desk, read aloud Newman’s letter of 8th October 1845 to Charles Russell, an Irish Catholic priest who had influenced his thinking: “My dear Sir, you have felt that interest in me, that you will be glad to know that I am expecting this evening Father Dominic the Passionist, whom I shall ask to admit me into the bosom of the Catholic Church. I shall not send this to you till it is all over. Perhaps you will excuse my abruptness, on the score of the number of letters I have to write. Yours, My dear Sir, Most sincerely, John H Newman.”

Every Friday morning the local parish priest, Father John Hancock, celebrates Mass for his parishioners in Newman’s chapel at Littlemore, and at last Friday’s Mass Jack Sullivan assisted as deacon and in his homily recounted the story of his healing at Newman’s intercession. It was in this same chapel that Newman was received into the Church on 9th October 1845. After receiving Newman, Blessed Dominic celebrated Mass on Newman’s desk, still preserved at the College.

In the Anglican church of St Mary and St Nicholas, which Newman had had built, Jack Sullivan was welcomed by parishoners who showed him a memorial to Newman’s mother (it was she who laid the foundation stone) and a contemporary Newman icon. In a very moving and spontaneous gesture, Jack Sullivan mounted the pulpit of St Mary and St Nicholas and talked at length of his story. He said: “When I heard about Newman on television, I thought ‘Why don’t I pray to him?’ I said, ‘Please Cardinal Newman help me to be well so that I can return to classes and be ordained’. Now I call him “my intercessor and special friend”. Speaking from the pulpit in which Newman had delivered his final sermon as an Anglican (‘The Parting of Friends’ in 1843), Sullivan said: “This was Newman’s Anglican parish, and you are the descendants of his parishioners.”

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