Monday, July 6, 2015

Foundation of the Catholic Chaplaincy

The eventual establishment of the Catholic Chaplaincy in 1896 was the final result of a long process that occupied most of the 19th century, and involved the greatest figures of the Catholic Church at the time, namely Cardinal Manning and Cardinal Newman. These two men stood for opposing views concerning the suitability of Oxford and Cambridge as places of education for young Catholics.

Cardinal Manning, as newly received convert priest with an intimate knowledge of the British ruling class, persuaded Cardinal Wiseman, then Archbishop of Westminster, that young Catholic men would be corrupted at Oxford University with its predominant Anglicanism and/or rationalistic thought. In 1864 the bishops finally decided against the establishment of a Catholic college in the old universities. Instead Manning, now Archbishop of Westminster, wished to establish a Catholic University in Kensington. This institution only lasted from 1875 to 1882. Meanwhile Newman, at the Oratory in Birmingham, was receiving many letters from Catholic parents who wished to send their sons to the two ancient Universities, and he himself wished to establish an Oratory in Oxford to provide spiritual guidance and pastoral care for such undergraduates. Despite the ban, families did send their sons to Oxford, and some of these formed in 1878 the OU Catholic Club based in the Jesuit church of St Aloysius, now The Oratory. In 1888 the Catholic Club was renamed the Newman Society, and continues today as a speaker-meeting society.

Cardinal Manning remained implacably against the idea of opening the old Universities to Catholics, but after his death (1892) a group of Catholic laymen presented a memorandum to the Bishops in 1894 asking for a change. The following year, the Bishops of England and Wales sent a petition to the Holy See asking that the attendance of Catholics at the old Universities should be tolerated. This was granted by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, with the proviso that regular courses of lectures on philosophical, historical and religious subjects should be given to Catholic students by Catholic professors ‘with such exhaustiveness and soundness that the minds of the young men may be effectively fortified against errors.’

At the Low Week meeting of that year the Bishops set up a council of fifteen clerics and laity, who constituted the foundation members of what was to become the Oxford and Cambridge Catholic Education Board. The Board resolved to set up a house distinct from the existing parish of St Aloysius, with at least one resident priest paid by the Board.