BETWEEN them, the dioceses eomprised in the Province of Birmingham play a considerable part in the work of Catholic higher education. The Archdiocese itself, it will be seen, holds a number of important schools, while famous centres are to be found also in the West.
Cotton and Oscott In the matter of antiquity among the boys' schools, pride of place belongs to Cotton College ; because there one has a foundation going back, in its histoiT, to the penal
times. Established by Dr. Richard Chalioner in 1763, at Sedgley, this school removed in 1873 to Cotton. As Cotton i College it carries on its work to-day, after a period in which its title was St. Wilfrid's College, Oakamoor. Priests of the secular clergy are its conductors.
Oscott, too, the ancient Auscott, strikes its root into the eighteenth century; for Old Oscott, the subsequent Maryvale of local history, had educated many boys before the present stately pile was begun, from Joseph Potter's design, on the plan of Wadhani College at Oxford.
Great names, a long string of them, come into Oscott's story. Dr. Wiseman, the future Cardinal, was among its presidents; Augustus Pugin taught there; in its chapel John Henry Newman preached his celebrated sermon on the Second Spring. St. Mary's College now keeps its education for seminarists, but the list of Old Oscotians includes also many laymen, in witness to the years when lay students found wisdom and knowledge within its walls.
Newman's Foundation The Oratory School went long ago from the Metropolitan city to Its spacious home by the Thames at Caversham ; the humbler St. Philip's Grammar School in Hagley Road reminds Birmingham's citizens, however, of the Oratorian Fathers' active interest in education. Many famous alumni are on the roll of the Oratory School, both in its Edgbaston days and since. This fine seat of learning now has a constitution by which a Board of Governors is the controlling power. It is eighty years since Cardinal Newman founded the school in its first home.
The West's Awake
Passing into the diocese of Clifton, we find in Downside and in Prior Park two colleges which may almost be called neighbours. and in one way they are connected in history.
The great abbey school of St. Gregory at Downside, tracing its history to a foundation hi Flanders long upwards of three centuries ago, began its English life towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the monks, compelled to leave the Continent by the French Revolution, resumed their teaching work at Acton Burnell, near Shrewsbury. From there they removed, in 1814, to Downside, where is now one of the country's leading Catholic schools, and a magnificent abbey church.
Prior Park College occupies Ralph Allen's great house on a hill above Bath, where now the Christian Brothers are in charge of a flourishing school. This centre began its scholastic career, a career more than once broken by the vicissitudes of events, when Bishop Baines bought the property and prepared to make a school. It is a long story. The Bishop had hoped to prevail upon Downside to migrate. In this he did not succeed; so he turned to Ampleforth and drew a nucleus, in 1830, from that house.
Several times, and under various auspices, the spreading halls of the Prior Park have been used for school purposes. It is enough for this present chronicle to point to the College as it stands to-day, a fine and dignified piece of the Church's educational machinery in the West Country.
The Smaller Scale
Plymouth and Shrewsbury are dioceses laying no claim to boys' schools of the rank and importance of those mentioned; yet each can point to good and valuable educational work in its own way.
In St. Boniface's College at Beaconfield, Plymouth, the Irish Christian Brothers come again into the story of work in the West.
Shrewsbury's schools include, besides the Missionary College conducted by the Salesians at Shrigley Park, the secondary school, St. Anselm's, which the Christian Brothers teach at Birkenhead.
The foregoing are all boys' schools. Girls are more abundantly served, thanks to the many religious congregations whose foundations dot the map. To attempt here a list of the convent schools, however, would be to enter upon a long and space-absorbing task. The pages of the Catholic Directory contain references to upwards of thirty such centres in the Birmingham Province, each with its own attraction and some of them with a long record of service to religion and culture.