In October 2019 St John Henry Newman was raised to the altar when he was canonised in Rome by Pope Francis. This was the first English saint not to be a martyr since the Fourteenth Century, and made The Oratory School the first English school to be founded by a saint in a thousand years. Although a small party from the school was able to be in Rome for the canonisation, most of us celebrated at school. Our celebrations turned to sadness when, six months later, we learned of the death of Fr Antony Conlon, our former Chaplain, 2001-14. Fr Antony had for those thirteen years led the spiritual life of The Oratory School and in the process forged close relationships with pupils, staff, and parents. In his early years he re-established the old chapel (St Joseph’s) as a place of worship, renovating it to become the beautiful place of prayer it is today. He also, in his later years, set about improving the aesthetics of the main chapel, commissioning a new high altar to assist the dignity of worship in our whole school masses and vespers.
The Oratory School would like to establish a permanent shrine to St John Henry Newman in our main chapel on the north side of the sanctuary (left as you look at the altar), which we hope will be followed by a shrine on the south side to our Patron, St Philip Neri. This was part of the vision Fr Antony had for the chapel but was unable to complete before he left to become the local parish priest in 2014. We would like to be able to dedicate this shrine to the memory of Fr Antony, thus appropriately commemorating our founder in memory of a much loved chaplain.
Part of our inspiration for these shrines is the Newman chapel at The Birmingham Oratory, the mother church to the School. The shrine will comprise a large canvas portrait of St John Henry as used at his canonisation. We have chosen this as it is how those first generations of students at The Oratory School would have seen him, rather than in his cardinal’s regalia, portraits of which can be found elsewhere in the school. This will be framed to closely resemble the large picture of St Philip Neri, currently neglected at the back of the chapel, which we hope to become the focus for the St Philip shrine.
Above St John Henry’s portrait a plaque reading ‘Sancte Ioannes Henrice Newman’, and below, ‘Ora pro nobis’. At Ground level a small altar and gradine (shelf for candles) matching the high altar commissioned by Fr Antony will bear the personal arms of St John Henry. Either side of the portrait oval plaques like the ones in The Birmingham Oratory chapel will bear the saint’s famous words ‘Cor ad cor Loquitur’ and ‘Ex umbris imaginibus in veritatem’. Crowning the shrine we hope to have a canopy made of tapestry.
Each shrine would cost in the region of £10,000. We have secured some funding to make a start but would welcome donations in memory of Fr Antony in order to complete the first phase of this project which, we hope, will bring students, staff, and parents closer to devotion to both our founder and our patron. If you are able to pledge any support for this project please respond directly to the school. Should you have any questions about the project please contact Fr David Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fr David Elliott, Chaplain & Head of Theology