At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this new year 2022 got off to a rocky start, with two of the Fathers contracting COVID and having to isolate. But, while we are entering the third year of the pandemic, thanks be to God it seems to be burning itself out. This is evident in the return to something approaching normality in our lives in general: our national life, our work, family, and social lives, but especially in the life of the Oratory and our parish. A new year is always an opportunity to reflect on the past year, and give thanks to God for the many blessings and graces he has bestowed on us. It is also a time when we have to submit our annual pastoral statistics to the Archdiocese — so we thought we would share these with you too.
In 2021 we baptised 32 new Christians and welcomed Julia, Alfred, Sara, Jemima, Beatrice, Catherine, Jayron, Gala, Francisco, Lyra, Michael, Aoife, Tulia, Theodore, Claudia, Emanuel, Nicolas, Billie, Amelia, Isabelle, Edward, Elva, Helena, Stephane, Alexandre, Jessica, Olivia, Eloise, Leo, Aubrey, Arthur, and Leo into the family of the Church. Axel, Dominic, Simon, Alexander, and the Wells family were received into full communion in the One Fold of the Redeemer. The Oratory has always been a popular church for weddings, and last year 16 couples began their married lives together in our church: please pray for Henry and Caroline, Sesismundo and Augusta, Robert and Philippa, Dominic and Iona, Donato and Agnese, Daniel and Amy, David and Patricia, Thomas and Jessica, Lewis and Katrina, John-Joseph and Emily, Jamie and Anna, Stephen and Gemma, James and Stephanie, David and Regina, Sebastian and Eden, and James and Anna.
With the lessening of the coronavirus restrictions over the summer, we were able to restart two of our groups for young people, Young Oratory and Gaeta. To great popular acclaim, Cafe Neri reopened after two of the Sunday morning Masses, and we are grateful to the 15 parishioners who helped make this possible. Unfortunately Cafe Neri has fallen victim to the latest COVID wave, but we hope to restart it again in the coming weeks. Our Lodge and Bookshop continued to provide an important ministry to the parish and to Catholics in the City, with thanks to Fr Benedict, Christine Johnson and the team of 20 Porters for their hard work and dedication in this regard.
The reduction of restrictions also allowed us to welcome guest preachers again, and celebrate some of the feasts of the year with more solemnity than in 2020. Bishop Robert Byrne came home to preach and celebrate Mass on St Philip’s Day, and we were very pleased to welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. An old friend of the community’s, Cardinal George Pell, visited the Oratory and celebrated a special Mass of the Sacred Heart with us. In his homily, the Cardinal spoke of his time in prison and how he was encouraged and strengthened by the support and prayers of Catholics all over the world. Cardinal Pell was last in Oxford in 2009, when he said Mass for the intention of Newman’s beatification — how much has changed since then! Fr Benedict celebrated his first anniversary of ordination in September, and Fr Nicholas was ten years a priest in October. Please do continue to pray for vocations to the Oratory.
We were delighted to appoint Mr Rory Moules as Director of Music this year, after a competitive interview and audition process. Rory had been Acting Director for eighteen months or so, and we are immensely proud of him and our Oratory Choir. 2021 saw many musical highlights in our church, but I don’t imagine that any Catholic church in the country had more splendid music for the Paschal Triduum than us.
There was much to be thankful for in the wider community too. Like schools around the country, our parish school, St Aloysius, had to contend with online-learning, social distancing, class bubbles, and staggered start-times. The staff, led by Acting-Headteacher Hannah Duncan, must be commended for the amazing work they have done in keeping things going. This work was recognised and applauded in very successful Ofsted and Section 48 (Religious Education) inspections.
Our little Oratory and parish family here in Oxford was able to help a number of charities in Oxford and throughout the world through the generosity of parishioners. In total we were able to give £6,380 of “poor box” donations to the Oxford Food Bank, the Port Elizabeth Oratory’s township apostolate, Let the Children Live, the Father Hudson’s Society, Oxford Poverty Action Trust, the Santa Maria Eduction Fund, the Community Emergency Food Bank, Sobell House, and the Gatehouse. In addition, our crib collection raised £545 for Aid to the Church in Need, and the Lent Project for Mary’s Meals totalled £864. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.
Our parish has always been unusual in that we have far fewer funerals than most. There can’t be many churches in the country in which more babies are baptised and couples married than parishioners are laid to rest. But we did say farewell to a number of familiar faces, members of our parish for many years, commending to the mercy of God: Charles Grant, Kathleen Batten, Eileen Healy, Christopher Adam, Michael Kaser, and Anthony (Tony) Cockshut. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
And so the life of the Church of God goes on. This year we will be celebrating 400 years since the canonisation of our Holy Father St Philip, along with St Ignatius, St Francis Xavier, St Theresa of Avila and St Isidore the Farmer — “four Spaniards and a saint”, as the Romans joked on the occasion — and we hope to organise a suitable way of marking this anniversary, together with the Jesuits and Carmelites in Oxford. We will also be progressing with the next exciting stages of our renovation project, with more news and information to follow. 2022 will be another Year of Grace, dedicated to the Lord and under the protection and intercession of Our Blessed Mother, St Philip and St Aloysius.
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