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Brisbane Oratory rejoices over canonisation of St John Henry Newman

Special prayer: Melissa Villalobos, of Chicago, lights a candle during a vigil on October 12 in advance of the canonisation of St John Henry Newman, at the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. Mrs Villalobos’ healing through the intercession of St John Henry Newman was accepted as the miracle needed for the British cardinal’s canonisation. He was canonised in Rome on October 13. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

THE life of newly declared St John Henry Newman holds a special significance for one Brisbane congregation – the Brisbane Oratory in Formation.

Among the throng at the canonisation ceremony in Rome’s St Peter’s Square last Sunday was Brisbane Oratory’s Italian-speaking Fr Scot Armstrong. 

He was selected to witness the event on behalf of his congregation, while others celebrated the canonisation in their Annerley-Ekibin parish. 

“We had a celebration in the parish for the event; it’s special for us, because Cardinal Newman’s path to sanctity lay in the Oratory – not just the priests and brothers, but also the laity who are part of it too,” Brisbane Oratory in Formation moderator Fr Adrian Sharp said.

“The Oratory is meant to be our path to sanctity as well.”

Founded in Rome in 1575 by St Philip Neri, Oratory communities have spread around the world, with more than 70 Oratories and 500 priests. 

St John Henry Newman, regarded as one of the most influential figures from 19th-century Britain, founded an Oratory community in Birmingham in 1849 – the first in the English-speaking world.

“It was Cardinal Newman who brought St Philip’s Oratory into the English-speaking world,” Fr Sharp told Annerley-Ekibin parishioners during his homily last Sunday. 

“It was as an Oratorian that Cardinal Newman reached the sanctity that is now being recognised for the whole Church.

“And that was St Philip Neri’s goal in founding the Oratory as well, that all those who are part of it would become saints, and that becomes our baptism.”

St John Henry Newman defied boundaries. 

Nearly two centuries ago he was England’s most well-known Anglican priest, an Oxford academic and public intellectual, until he risked everything to become a Catholic.

The controversial conversion resulted in the loss of many friends, including his own sister who never spoke to him again.

He became a priest in 1847 and founded the Oratory in England. 

He was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland. 

“Cardinal Newman stressed the importance of the Church having a well-educated laity,” Fr Sharp said.  

“He had a vision for education in which he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together.”

His “Idea is a University” became a foundational text on Catholic higher education. 

He was a prolific author and letter writer. 

Cardinal Newman died in Birmingham in 1890 at 89.

“It was through his work in showing how the doctrines of Christianity had developed through the great Church councils to the present day that he came to be convinced that the truth resided in the Catholic Church, and so he entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, coming as he himself asked to be engraved on his tombstone: Out of shadows and images into the fullness of truth,” Fr Sharp said.

In 2010, on a visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict XVI declared Cardinal Newman “blessed”.

The pontiff said Cardinal Newman applied “his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing subjects of the day”. 

Cardinal Newman continued “to inspire and enlighten many all over the world”, Pope Benedict said.

A second miracle attributed to Cardinal Newman – the healing in 2013 of a woman with life-threatening complications during her pregnancy – was approved by Pope Francis this year, paving the way to his canonisation.

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