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