St. Anne's ; the Convert Cardinal ; the Canon with " the grey-green coat
To the holocaust of historical churches being sacrificed to the senseless fury of German air bombing there is now added the Church of St. Anne, I Birmingham. Cardinal Newman's first church in the Midland city, it was also the parish where the saintly Canon Villiers laboured and suffered. St. Anne's was extensively damaged some weeks ago.
From Our Own Correspondent
A visual reminder of what is perhaps one of the most outstanding phases of Catholic history during the Victorian era is tragically shattered by enemy action in Birmingham. There is, however, some possibility of repair.
The Church and environs so hit and scarred comprise the spiritual home of Newman before he finally established himself at Edgbaston. It will be recalled that a mission was formed at Maryvale in the first month of 1848, and the Oratorians, who were then constituted into a Congregation, decided to admit to their numbers those gentlemen who were then at Cotton under Mr. Faber, as he was then called. They were known as Brothers of the Will of God, who were building a church designed by Pugin. Those at Maryvale moved to Cotton, where Newman and Faber then became associated. Later Fr. Faber went to London and founded the Oratory there, while Newman came to Birmingham and established in 1849 the mission at St. Anne's, which has been the recent scene of so much destruction.
NEWMAN'S CHURCH WAS A DISTILLERY
Newrnan's " church," later used as a school, actually at one time was a distillery. In one of his letters, the future Cardinal in fact, described it as " a gloomy gin distillery." Nevertheless, it became an historical pile, and from a little pulpit, the famous prelate delivered some of his most inspiring orations. The Oratorians resided in an adjoining house until 1852, when they left for Edgbaston. The building was then used as a temporary convert, by the Sisters of Mercy. Then came Fr. Dowling, who has a special niche in Birmingham history. He decided to build a new church, which, eventually, was erected in the Early English style of architecture. It was opened in 1884 by Cardinal Manning.
Up to recent times, the parish had only two rectors, for Fr. Dowling was succeeded by the late Canon Villiers. known and revered beyond the confines of the Arch diocese. But gradually, the parish around which there once resided an affluent community ready to help priest and home, fell into financial decay, and it was not until 1936 that it became possible to have the consecration ceremony.
On October 19, 1938, Canon Villiers died after a long period of suffering. That date was a sad one in the life of the Archdiocese. The wonderful life of this pious and erudite priest cannot be estimated in a paragraph. His virtues were hidden behind a grey-green coat aged hecaus-e his pence went into the pockets of the poor. He would go home bare rather than a man should be hungry. No wonder that the Archbishop became perplexed when he had to consider a successor. But Mgr. Williams has found his consultations at the Shrine of Lourdes, and while there he so chanced to meet the Very Rev. Fr. M. O'Rian, the Provincial of the Oblates. To him the position of Si. Anne's was discussed with inspiring results.
THE OBLATES ARRIVE The Oblates came to historical St. Anne's, and there followed a period of great spirituality. Fr. O'Rian had built the famous school and church at Norris Green, Liverpool, and he decided to send to Birm ingham Fr. P. Danaher as Superior. He had not been in Birmingham long before he started various confraiernities and there followed a magnificent revival of sodalities for men, women and children,
Even in tragedy there is a joke. For years they used to say to Canon Villiers that a blast of wind would blow away his grimy old home. Such persons did not realise how they built in the good old days, but, as proof should follow argument, let it be said that St. Anne's presbytery stands up in all its glory in the centre of debris.
The despised and ancient gin distillery CORMS into use again as a place for Mass, and the upper storey is now the schools.