On Newman Beatification and Restoring the Catholic Church in England to Its Former Glory

There is much talk of John Henry Newman among Catholics in Britain. The big question: “When will he be beatified?” is sometimes linked to: “And will Pope Benedict come to Britain for the ceremony?” The answer to the first question appears to be “fairly soon – this year or next” and “probably not.”

A beatification in Britain would pose problems. Where to have the ceremony? Newman was most associated with Birmingham and the Oratory church he founded there, but it would be necessary to find a venue that was huge enough for all who wanted to attend, and suitable for such a ceremony – not easy if you restrict the search to Birmingham alone instead of looking nationwide. And a Papal visit is a major undertaking which has to be discussed separately from the beatification. Better to separate the two topics, especially since Newman is venerated worldwide and a ceremony in Rome would be hugely popular and suitable for one for whom the city held such significance.

Catholics in England are proud of Newman, and his beatification will be cause for great enthusiasm. At the start of May, a glorious Mass was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral to mark the 150 anniversary of the school he founded – The Oratory School. It opened originally in a house near the Birmingham Oratory, with just seven boys. Now based in beautiful surroundings near Reading, it has some 400-plus pupils, an associated preparatory school, and a fine reputation.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols – until recently Archbishop of Birmingham, and now Archbishop-elect of Westminster – celebrated the Mass, and the school choir sang. We opened with Newman’s beautiful hymn, “Praise to the Holiest in the height.” Children from the preparatory school brought up the offertory gifts, a sermon by Bishop Philip Boyce focused on Newman’s inspirational writings, and the Bidding Prayers concluded with Newman’s lovely “May he support us all the day long…”

It is said that when Bishop Ullathorne went to see the Cure of Ars, the famed confessor told him that some day the Catholic Church in England would be restored to its former glory. St John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, was very close to God and had the gift of healing and of insight into the future. He has been chosen by Pope Benedict XVI as a patron of the forthcoming “Year of the Priesthood.” We can ponder his prediction to Ullathorne – who became in due course Archbishop of Birmingham – as we follow the progress of Newman’s cause, and give thanks for all that has been achieved for the Church in England since the 19th century.