Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Visit to Littlemore

on Saturday 30th July 2011, The Portal hosted the first “Newman at Littlemore Day” Caroline Sykes recalls her experiences of that occasion.

Did I know much about The Blessed John Henry Newman’s life, I thought, particularly his all important connection with what, in his time, was a thoroughly insignificant area of his parish? I refer to Littlemore, and the years 1842-45. As an Ordinariate member, I ask the prayers of Blessed John Henry, so I thought the opportunity of making a visit was not to be missed. Hence, I found myself one morning recently, along with two others from the North Birmingham Ordinariate, travelling down the M40, sat-nav primed. Arriving, we soon found The Blessed Dominic Barberi Church and centre building, behind which, was a capacious car park.

Along a neatly-cultivated drive, we found a warm and animated welcome from the organisers of this day’s pilgrimage – Ronald Crane and Jackie Ottaway. Others like ourselves, but from other Midland Ordinariate groups, were arriving. We were treated to coffee, which we could take outside to a sunny, flower-bordered patio.

Among the twenty-five people gathered was a young woman – Sister Katie (left) – who was one of the sisters of The Work.

At 11 o’clock she told us about what she and her fellow sisters did here and abroad. Then she spoke very informatively of how the Reverend Mr Newman came to know the small, impoverished village of Littlemore when vicar of the University Church in Oxford, and saw the need for a local church.

He had the Parish Church of St Mary and St Nicholas built subsequently; also, he bought a row of stabling, which was converted into frugally furnished “cells”, where his friends, academics and others could stay on retreat. This was called The College. Newman had a tiny room and tiny chapel at one end; at the other was his library.

It was in this latter that his momentous decision to be received into the Catholic Church took place, and where he knelt before the visiting Italian Passionist friar. Dominic Barberi. In 1987 The Spiritual Family of The Work accepted the Birmingham Oratory’s offer to act as custodians of the place of which Newman wrote, “There it has been that I have both taught my way and received an answer to my prayers.”

At noon we attended Mass in The Blessed Dominic Barberi Church next door. This highlight of the day was celebrated by Father Paul Berrett, and con-celebrated by Father Paul Burch, in a very pleasing, modern and intriguing designed setting. Sister Josephine joined us.

A delicious and plentiful buffet lunch then followed.

In the early afternoon we split into two groups for a guided tour of The College, which is mere yards from the church. Here the tranquillity of the courtyard garden was remarkable, and to see The Blessed John Henry Newman’s artefacts, photographs and original writings here was deeply affecting.

Finally, we visited the Anglican Parish Church that Newman had built – again only a short distance away. Its foundation stone had been laid by his mother in 1835. We saw the memorial to her, and also the pulpit from which Newman preached his famous valedictory sermon.

Returning to the hall and its garden, we found afternoon tea awaiting us, courtesy of Jackie. Soon it was time to set off home, after a little more exploring. It had been a wonderful day. I’m so glad I went.

For more about The Society of The Work and Littlemore, click here.