News Archive

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Cardinal Burke to celebrate St Philip's Day in Oxford

LISA JOHNSTON | .His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Leo Burke | Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura | Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis in front of the shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Cathedral Basilica of S

2015 is the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of St Philip Neri, in Florence in 1515. On St Philip's Day this year, Tuesday 26th May at 6pm, His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, will celebrate a Pontifical Mass.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Liszt's Via Crucis


On Wednesday 4th March at 8pm there will be a performance of Franz Liszt's Via Crucis together with Newman's meditations on the Stations of the Cross, as a way of following on the way to Calvary during Lent.

Via Crucis is perhaps the closest Liszt came to creating a new kind of church music through combining a new harmonic language with traditional liturgy. While the overall atmosphere is restrained and devout in feeling, the harmony underpinning the music is experimental, including an extensive use of the whole-tone scale. While the composer uses familiar chorale and hymn tunes, the overall impression aurally is of an unsettled tonal language. Three of the 15 numbers (an introduction along with depictions of the 14 Stations of the Cross) employ sliding chromatic lines and harmonies; and when those harmonies do come to rest, they are often diminished or unique. Other Stations use successive chromatic chords and may abruptly end on a single tone.

Monday 2 February 2015

Lent and Holy Week 2015

The attached download has details of special services and events in our church during Lent and Holy Week this year, as well as more information about our Lent project, SURVIVE-MIVA.

Lent and Holy Week 2015 Leaflet

Monday 2 February 2015

Parish Priest's Report 2014

First the statistics:

Baptisms: Infants 32
Adults 4
Total 36
Receptions of Converts: 2
First Holy Communions: 39
Confirmations: 16
Marriages: 26
Funerals: 7
Average Mass attendance:
(On Sundays in October)
Confessions heard in our church: 7,872

We are fortunate to have few funerals in our church. Nevertheless, I want to begin by saying quite a bit about those of the past year. Funerals have taken place 2014 of: Denis Lord, Victor Jatkowski, Oliver Wortley, Edith Saunders, Joan Lord, Stratford Caldecott and Anthony Breen. May they rest in peace.

There are also some additional names we should remember, and some from this list about whom I would like to say a little more:

  1. Mary Corbett was buried in Ireland, but had become much known and loved here. Her dedication and cheerfulness in manning the Porters’ Lodge is gratefully remembered.
  2. Stratford Caldecott is admired internationally for his writings and thought. He had a long and difficult illness, dying too young, but facing death with courage and good humour. His requiem Mass was celebrated by many priests, and even more friends assisted at a moving occasion.
  3. Elvet Thomas was buried from Kidlington, but was a faithful presence at the Solemn Mass, handing out hymn books for many years with a broad smile, and joining in the hymns themselves with characteristic Welsh gusto.
  4. Angela Clare (née Sloan) had been a pupil at St Aloysius’ Primary School, and returned there as a class teacher for eight years. Her death at the age of 39 last January was a huge blow to her family — and to the staff and pupils at the School. The whole School came to the Oratory for a Requiem Mass, and most of the staff were able to be present at her funeral and burial in Bicester, celebrated by Fr Daniel. In June, a new ‘Peace Garden’ was blessed at the School, featuring a tile of an angel painted by every single child.
  5. John Wall died just last week, already in 2015, and his Requiem is yet to take place. He was particularly rail in the past weeks and months, but many of us will remember his long and ever-courteous presence in this parish, and particularly his welcome addition to any trip or pilgrimage, when he had an unerring ability to identify the best restaurant!
  6. Audrey Brown, who died in December, but whose funeral took place in January 2015, was undoubtedly our longest-serving parishioner. She was a convert, first coming to St Aloysius’ in 1933 at the age of 16 — because she had her eye on one of the altar boys! He became a priest, but she went on to marry one of the others, and was a stalwart of parish life for decades. She and Laurie kept the Social Club going in a time of change, Audrey made the purple curtains that still hang on the sanctuary during Passiontide, and she was a mainstay of numerous dramatic productions over the years.

With Audrey’s death especially, we can see that an era in the life of St Aloysius’ Parish is coming to an end. Of those who come to Mass here, almost none remember the Jesuits, and very few remember before the Oratorians arrived in 1990. I personally treasure the knowledge and history that an older generation, now nearly disappeared, has passed on. We are part of a living tradition, going back to the foundation of this Mission in 1620. As part of the Communion of Saints, we also know that those who have gone before us still benefit from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered on our altars, and, please God, there are also not a few who are interceding for us in Heaven. But it is now our turn to run the race of the faith and to pass it on. I would like to invite every one of us to ask the simple question: how do I help this parish to become more effectively a community of missionary disciples of the Lord?

Many of the ways in which we act as disciples may seem very humble, but they are nonetheless vital. In the first place, I would like to commend all those who help to provide a welcome here, whether handing out hymn books at the back of church, being a presence in the Porters’ Lodge, serving behind the bar, or running events and parties, which are so important in providing a happy home here to so many. In the past year we have experimented with having the Parish Centre open three days a week after the ten o’clock Mass, and from small beginnings this is gradually becoming an important part of our lives. The cleanliness and beauty of our church is also a sign we give of our love for God, and I thank all those who contribute in this way.

Talking of parties, there have been quite a few of these this year. To single out just a couple: Sian Stevens and others ran an extraordinarily successful Epiphany Ball for young people; and we had for the first time a pancake party on Shrove Tuesday. Many such events have been made possible by the existence of the refurbished Parish Centre, which has certainly fulfilled its promise of revitalising our social life. A highlight for many was the Murder Mystery Evening in November. Fifty-six guests sat down to a highly enjoyable black tie dinner, and in between courses they were entertained by Clare Thomas’s script, in which the sacristan died in suspicious circumstances during a parish finance committee meeting. The new rooms for the Oratorian community have also been put to good use, enabling us to welcome many visitors and to host Br Gregory Davies O.Praem. during term time, while he studies at Blackfriars. Br Gregory has already become a familiar figure, lending a variety of colour with his white biretta and habit.

Considerable sums still need to be raised to pay for our new building — and it remains a commitment to expansion and growth in the future. Many events this past year have had a fundraising focus: the Camerata of Curiosities put on an excellent concert, Freddie Quartley ran an art and calligraphy afternoon, over sixty singers enjoyed starring in a scratch Messiah, there was a children’s Easter Fair, and most recently, commemorative mugs have gone on sale in honour of the five-hundredth birthday of St Philip.

2015 will indeed be a year of celebration: not only our Holy Father’s fifth centenary, but also the silver jubilee of the Oratorian community in Oxford. There is much to be thankful for in the past twenty-five years. Fr Robert and Fr Dominic arrived on Our Lady’s birthday in 1990, and invited the parishioners of St Aloysius to their funerals. It was a bold statement of Philippine stability after a decade of uncertainty for this place, after the departure of the Society of Jesus in 1981. Oratorians, as you know, usually stay in one place, although the generous sacrifice that the Birmingham Oratory made in sending men to Oxford has now been replicated in York, Pope Francis, it seems, had other ideas this year, when he named Fr Robert as the first English Oratorian bishop in well over a century. This, I suppose, has been the major excitement of 2014! The parish bought the bishop-elect a crosier, which two ‘bus-loads of us were able to see placed into his hands at the episcopal consecration in St Chad’s Cathedral on 13th May. Bishop Robert returned to celebrate a Pontifical High Mass on St Philip’s Day, and since then, we have all grown quite used to unexpected flashes of purple in the courtyard or on the sanctuary. We are fortunate that the new bishop is in our own diocese, and living at Oscott College in Birmingham, so that he is still a frequent visitor.

The other Father who arrived in September 1990 was of course Fr Dominic, and in 2014 he celebrated his own silver jubilee of priesthood. The Solemn Mass in July, and a huge throng at the party afterwards all bore witness to the great affection in which Fr Dominic is held by so many, and the way in which he has become a part of so many lives through his inimitable priestly ministry.

The community in York continues to be a part of the Oxford Oratory until such time as it may have the members to flourish alone, so the Fathers here have often been making the journey to and from St Wilfrid’s. Br Adam Fairbairn spent some time in Oxford before he was clothed in July as our very first novice for York. We shall be seeing much more of him, especially when he begins his priestly studies. Our Triennial Elections took place in February, and Fr Daniel was re-elected as Provost, with Fr Dominic and Fr Jerome as Deputies. In April Br Oliver was made a Lector, the first of the ministries on the way to ordination, and in October he was aggregated as a triennial member of the community. Fr Anton has moved on to discern his vocation as a diocesan priest, and we wish him well, especially in his chaplaincy to prisoners, for which he has such a gift.

Changes and movement in the Church at large has been of great interest in the past year too — and in this case I mean the Church Triumphant. John Paul II and John XXIII were both canonized and Paul VI was beatified — a cause of rejoicing for us in all three cases. Pope St John and Blessed Pope Paul in particular had a great love for St Philip and a closeness and reverence for the Oratory. Father Raimondo Calcagno of the Chioggia Oratory, who died in 1964, was declared Venerable, and most spectacularly, it was announce that the Holy Father would canonize Fr Joseph Vaz of the Goa Oratory, this having now taken place earlier in January 2015.

Growing in holiness is the whole point of why the Oratory exists, and ultimately all that we do here should be to that end. Coming to know the beauty of our faith better is one means — and it is good to see that the numbers at our Saturday morning catechetical sessions have kept up. In 2014 we heard talks on the Book of Genesis, we watched Fr Robert Barron’s excellent Catholicism series, heard another series of talks on the Last Things, and finally watched the new film by St Anthony Communications on Blessed John Henry Newman, some of which was shot here.
Care for others is also vital to our Christian vocation and this has been demonstrated by our Lent Project in aid of the Oxford Food Bank, started by our parishioner Robin Aitken, by a good response to an appeal for new members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, by the energy of many young Catholics in volunteering with the Companions of the Order of Malta, and by others who help by making soup for the homeless. Of special note was the Christmas lunch prepared here and served over the road at St Giles’ Church Hall. I know that others of our people are involved in the Gatehouse, OXPAT, and other projects.

The parish has ventured forth into the wider world. There was a trip to see the stained glass at Fairford, and the annual visit to the London Oratory for the Carol Service proved to have a rather more exciting return journey than we had anticipated. Fr Dominic led the bi-annual pilgrimage to Lourdes in August, and Fr Daniel took a group of young people walking from Altötting to Salzburg, along the St Rupert’s Way. Some of the participants had earlier in the year won the Oxford round of the Rotary Club Youth Speaks competition — they have done so again this year, and we hope that they do well in the second round in Witney on Wednesday.

Several teachers with many years of service retired from St Aloysius’ School this year. Louise Frith-Powell, who did so much work on our innovative Creative Catholic Curriculum, has gone to St Joseph’s, and Sue Bateman, Maxine Baker and Bernie McCabe have come to the end of distinguished careers inspiring our children. Iain Johnson has also stepped down as Chair of Governors — and Eddie Murphy stood in his shoes briefly, before Felicity Staveley-Taylor, who is now the Chair. The Ofsted inspection last term proved challenging, but I have complete confidence in the more recent judgement of Her Majesty’s Inspector that the School leadership, with Tom Walker as Head, is taking effective action to move the School forward. The baton is being handed on here as well, and it’s ever important to keep our eyes on the school motto: “Be ambitious for the higher gifts.”

So, at the beginning of 2015 we face many challenges and opportunities. I hope that during this coming year we can put the lid on this stage of our fundraising campaign, finish paying for the new building, and concentrate on using it for the glory of God. I also hope that we can beautify the space to the side of the church with a more attractive fire escape and something more resembling a garden, that will be an asset to us all. These practical ambitions are part of a wider goal: to fulfil our mission of preaching the Gospel, helping our people to grow in holiness and interceding for the needs of the world. And so I return to the question which we can all ask ourselves: How can I play my part in the is mission in this place?


Very Reverend Fr Daniel Seward, Cong. Orat.

Provost & Parish Priest

26th January 2015

Thursday 22 January 2015

Two Missionary Saints

The following article was written by Fr Richard on his return from the Canonisation of St Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka.


Two recent events in India and Sri Lanka have focussed the minds of Catholics on the Church's missionary activity.

From the beginning of December until early January hundred of thousands of people came to Goa from all over India, and further afield, to show their devotion to the relics of St Francis Xavier, exposed every ten years for the veneration of the faithful. The queues in the blazing sun lasted up to four hours. At the concluding Mass and Procession on 4th January Pope Francis was represented by Archbishop Salvatore Penacchio, the Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal. The Archbishop Patriarch of Goa, Filipe Neri Ferrão presided and many bishops from India and Africa concelebrated.

Ten days later, on 14th January, Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka, became the Church's most recent saint when he was canonised at a Mass in Colombo that was the highlight of Pope Francis' visit to that country.

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Fr Vaz was beatified by St John Paul II, on 21st January 1995. ‘Holy Father,’ the Sri Lankan bishops are reported to have said on that occasion, ‘if it were not for Fr Vaz we would not be here and you would not be here. He saved the Church in our land.’

What is is about these two saints that attract the fervent support of the Pope, the bishops and the people of India and Sri Lanka? What can we learn from them?

St Francis Xavier is well known. Pope Francis mentioned him at the start of his pontificate as his secondary patron after St Francis of Assisi. St Joseph Vaz is hardly known at all in Europe. But the lives and the background of both saints have important lessons for the Church today wherever there is mission - which means they have something for us all.

From the early 1500s the city of Goa on the west coast of India was the centre for the evangelisation for the subcontinent and the lands to the east. To this day the Archbishop of Goa holds the honorary title Patriarch of the Orient since all the oldest missions, especially those in Japan and China, were launched from his diocese.

The Jesuit, St Francis Xavier, is in some ways the model for all missionaries. Goa was his first port of call in the East and became the base from which he worked.

It is easy to miss the real significance of Xavier's work if we only think of him as sent to evangelise those who had never heard the Gospel at all. His mission was more complex and far richer. To understand the ministry of St Joseph Vaz we need to be aware of the range of St Francis Xavier's achievements.

The rise of the Ottoman Empire in the late fifteenth century closed the lucrative trade routes from Europe to the East causing economic crisis. When the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama opened up a route to India round the Cape of Good Hope Pope Leo X was prompted to support further Portuguese voyages. In 1514 he gave the King of Portugal the power of Padroado, the right to establish all the new dioceses in the East together with their privileges and revenues in return for his royal support for the missions.

This was a successful policy in so far as many priests and religious accompanied the voyagers as new trade routes were opened up. New churches and religious houses were founded. But the policy contained within it the cause of its own decline since mission was always subordinate to worldly ends. Compromise and decline were inevitable.

When St Francis Xavier landed in Goa in 1542 he was not arriving in a land that had never heard the Gospel but among people who had known Christianity and had been shown a very poor example of it in practice. Portuguese soldiers, sailors and merchants were drunken and debauched, lacked respect for the local women and enslaved some elements of the population. There was a gap between the Gospel as preached and the Gospel as lived that was fatal to mission. Before he could begin to work among those who had never heard the Gospel preached, Francis Xavier's first concern was the re-evangelisation of people who had heard it and ought to have known better.

The Pope and the King of Portugal had given Francis Xavier a further aim. It was well known that Christianity had been preached in India in apostolic times by St Thomas and St Bartholomew. These churches had been cut off from the main body of Christianity by distance and the rise of Islam. Among Xavier's tasks was to make contact with these Christians and encourage them to return to full communion with Rome.

St Francis Xavier was charged with three tasks: to reform the lives of the Portuguese colonists; to contact and if possible reconcile the Christians already in India; and to preach the Gospel to those who had as yet not heard it. We might say that he made goodness and unity the ambassadors for truth.

As with every endeavour the results of Xavier's mission were mixed. Some of the colonials reformed; others did not. Some of the Indian Christians were reconciled with Rome and remain so today; others did not. And while many thousands became Catholics as a result of St Francis Xavier's preaching (including many in Sri Lanka), he died within sight of mainland China at the age of only 46. He did not achieve what he himself had considered his main goal. But his work thrived. In the years between his death in 1552 and the birth of St Joseph Vaz in 1651, the church in Goa grew with many young native men wishing to become priests. Xavier's converts in Sri Lanka also grew and prospered.

From these mixed results new divisions emerged in the intervening hundred years. The failure of many of the Portuguese colonists to reform their way of life (and the resulting damage to the Catholic missionary endeavour) prompted Rome to find better ways to pursue its aims in the East. The renewed confidence of the Counter-Reformation Papacy made the Church less dependent on the resources of European monarchs. New dioceses were established and bishops were appointed independently of the King of Portugal through the newly established Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Sometimes these Propaganda bishops were appointed to the same territory as the Portuguese Padroado bishops. Their refusal to recognise each other's authority caused great scandal to the newly-converted faithful and further undermined the Church's mission.

Meanwhile the balance of power in Europe had moved from the south to the north. The initiative in trade and exploration passed from Catholic Spain and Portugal to Protestant England and the Netherlands. The control of Sri Lanka by the Dutch East India Company was one result of this and brought Calvinist religion to the island. The Catholic Church established by St Francis Xavier was ruthlessly persecuted and driven underground.

This was the world into which St Joseph Vaz was born, at Benaulim, a fishing village at the southern end of Goa. His family along with many others had enthusiastically embraced the Catholic faith. For Joseph Vaz, this enthusiasm took shape in a vocation to the priesthood and to the religious life. The first of these was possible. Native Goans could be ordained as diocesan priests; but they were only permitted to serve as curates to European priests who alone were free to become Parish Priests. But none of the religious orders would accept native vocations. Goa by that time was known as the Rome of the East. Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans among many other orders, had made foundations there. Fr Vaz was not allowed admission to any of these.

In 1682 a Goan secular priest, Fr Pascoal da Costa Jeremias, together with another priest and a lay brother, began to live the religious life anyway. They retired to a hut in a hill outside their home city of Margao in southern Goa, close to the birthplace of Joseph Vaz. There they lived a life of prayer and asceticism while they waited for guidance about what to do next. Their first answer to prayer took the form of a disaster. Their hut was washed away by the monsoon rains. The fledgling community was given sanctuary in the sacristy of the Church of the Cross of Miracles on a hill just outside the city of Goa. It was here that they were joined in 1685 by Fr Joseph Vaz.

Almost at once they elected Fr Vaz as their superior. With advice from his spiritual director and the Archbishop of Goa, Vaz wrote to the superior of the Oratory of St Philip Neri in Lisbon, Fr Bartolomeu do Quental asking for a copy of the Constitutions of the Oratory. Finding the rule suited their purpose well the group began the process of establishing an Oratory in Goa.

Those who know anything of the life of St Philip Neri, the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, will know that in his early life he longed to be a missionary. When he was a young priest Francis Xavier's letters from the East would circulate around Rome. Fr Philip read them on his knees. He went out to the Cistercian monastery of Tre Fontane to see his spiritual director. ‘No,’ he was told, ‘Rome is to be your Indies.’ The home mission is as vital as the dramatic life of the missionary far away as St Philip's life was to prove. But the saints have a habit of getting their way with God. St Philip was to have a whole community of his Oratorian sons engaged in the mission he longed for within a hundred years of his death.

But the process of the foundation of the Goa Oratory was a fraught one in the divided loyalties of the Church of the time. It was not until 1706 that final approval of the community was received from Rome. Meanwhile Fr Vaz and some of the other priests wanted to fulfil a second strand in their vocation, the call to the missionary apostolate, especially among the persecuted Catholics of Sri Lanka.

It was at this point that their status as a community of native priests came into its own. They could pass unnoticed among the native population. Trading relations up and down the west coast of India made the languages more or less familiar and certainly easier to learn. They would be Asians ministering to Asians.

In 1686 the Goan Oratorians were formally entrusted with mission to Sri Lanka. While pursuing the more usual Oratorian apostolates of prayer, preaching and the sacraments in the city of Goa, the Fathers and Brothers sent on the mission patiently went about rebuilding St Francis Xavier's work in Sri Lanka. In time missionaries also went to Madagascar and Mozambique and the Oratory took over the formation of the native clergy in the Diocesan Seminary until an anti-clerical Portuguese government suppressed all the religious orders in Portugal and its possessions in 1835.

Other Fathers came and went from the missions but Fr Vaz himself never returned to Goa. An Oratorian Father is usually called to remain in one place as St Philip Neri did in Rome. But in spite of the unconventional fulfilment of his vocation, St Joseph Vaz displays striking similarities with his patron St Philip Neri. Space does not permit a detailed account of the excitement and the inspiration of Fr Vaz's mission in Sri Lanka, which is more than a match for similar tales of heroism in the persecuted Church in the British Isles at about the same time. Like St Philip, St Joseph Vaz's holiness drew souls for Christ from every rank, and from other faiths and from many different sides in a divided Church. In his pastoral charity, his individual care for every person from the King to the meanest beggar, and above all in the miracles worked both in and after his life, St Joseph Vaz's life has much in common with that of St Philip, and not least in the spontaneous calls for his canonisation which began immediately after his death. Finally, after three hundred years, it has been achieved supported by the three most recent Popes.

In his speech to the Synod for Asia in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI, while still Cardinal Ratzinger, proposed Bd Joseph Vaz as a model for missionaries in the modern age and the present Patriarch of Goa, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão, has expanded the point. St Francis Xavier's mission was indeed extraordinary. But he had the might of the Pope, the King of Portugal and the Jesuits behind him. Fr Vaz had nothing. He went as a simple priest, a poor man among poor men, an Asian to Asians, and he achieved a lasting legacy of faith and love in both India and Sri Lanka.

We can learn much about mission from St Joseph Vaz however we have been called to serve the Lord.