About the Oratory

The Idea of the Oratory

The Congregation of the Oratory is a group of priests living in community without vows. The Oratorian vocation is an unusual one in the Church, where most priests are either secular (diocesan) priests, or religious priests, who normally live in community, and are bound by vows.

An Oratorian lives in his own community, and cannot be moved around from one house to another, so unless he leaves the Oratory, or makes a new foundation, he will spend his entire life as a priest living in the same place.

The Oratory was founded by St Philip Neri in Rome in the sixteenth century. He sent many of his followers to join religious orders, but never himself felt called to it. Instead, he founded an institute where the bond between members is not a formal canonical vow, but a bond of charity. The ideal of St Philip, after which the members of the Oratory strive, is one of community life and priestly service lived in a spirit of prayer, and where obedience is offered out of fraternal love, and not any external compulsion.

The Oratorian vocation allows for a degree of flexibility in pastoral work, provided that it is not incompatible with the demands of the duties of the Congregation. Internationally, Oratorians are involved in ministries as diverse as school, hospital, prison and university chaplaincies, seminary teaching, and work in Rome, as well as the more traditional parish ministries.

Each Oratorian house is fully independent and autnomous. However, since 1944, there has been a loose Confederation of Oratories, whose main purposes are to provide a central point of contact for Oratorians with the Holy See in Rome, and the oversight of new houses seeking to become independent Oratorian Congregations.

The Oratory in Oxford

The Oratory in England was founded by John Henry Cardinal Newman in 1848 in Birmingham. The London house started soon after, and quickly gained independence.

For almost 150 years, these were the only two Oratories in England. However, Newman had always wanted to establish a house in Oxford, and had indeed considered no fewer than three sites in the city for the purpose; at the time, though, his ideas came to nothing.

In 1990, the Archbishop of Birmingham, Maurice Couve de Murville, asked the Birmingham Oratory if it could spare some of its members to take over the running of the Church of St Aloysius in Oxford. Two priests arrived in September 1990, soon to be joined by a student for the priesthood.

Numbers increased sufficiently that in 1993, the Oxford Oratory was established as an independent Congregation in its own right.

Our priests are involved in a variety of works, including the running of the parish, and school, hospital, and prison chaplaincy.