The Oratory School came into being on 2nd May 1859. It was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman, at the request of a group of eminent Catholic laymen of the time, in order to provide a boarding school for boys run on English public school principles for the small English Catholic community.
It remained attached to the house of the Oratory Fathers in Birmingham until 1922, when it moved to what is now the BBC Monitoring Station at Caversham Park, Reading. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory handed over control of the School to a Governing Body in 1931, but links with the London and Oxford Oratories, as well as with the one at Birmingham, remain strong.
The School made a further move in 1942, to settle finally on its present site at Woodcote, South Oxfordshire, some 40 miles west of London. Over the last sixty years the Governing Body has developed a range of modern buildings in which to house Cardinal Newman’s idea of how to educate the young. The School now educates boys from all religious traditions.
In the 1850s Cardinal Newman was invited to establish a Catholic university in Dublin. He committed to paper his vision of education at university level in The Idea of a University. However, in setting up The Oratory School, in the day-to-day running of which he was closely involved for its first 30 years, he wrote no treatise on secondary education. The Oratory School is the organically evolving substitute for his ideas on secondary education. As the Catholic community has been absorbed into the mainstream of English society so the School now educates boys from within and outside the Catholic tradition.
In September 2010, thousands of pilgrims travelled from across the world to take part in the open-air Mass of Beatification that took place at Cofton Park, Birmingham. The Oratory School played a prominent role in the official state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, during which he beatified the school’s founder, John Henry Cardinal Newman. The School now awaits the official canonization of its Founder.
We embody and practise today our Founder’s spiritual, moral and educational principles, which are just as relevant at the beginning of the twenty-first century as they were when he imbued his School with them. Each individual is to be valued for his own sake; the system should be there to support the needs of the individual, not vice versa. In this way a person’s dignity and sense of self-worth are respected in the way that they should be; as a result they will be more at ease in the society in which they find themselves and more willing to accept the necessary constraints of that society. Furthermore if each individual is regarded as special, then his special needs and gifts will be given proper respect and attention.
The pastoral welfare of the boys in the School, the relationships with their families, the continuing contact with past pupils – all these, therefore, are central to the ethos of Newman’s educational vision.
We are proud to have as our Founder a great Christian thinker, but we are even more proud to be entrusted with his vision for the education of Christian young men to prepare them for the modern world.