Cardinal Nc man preached his famous "Second Spring" sermon in St Mary's College, Oscott, near Birmingham, on July 13, 1852, on the occasion of the First Provincial. Synod of Westminster, before Cardinal Wiseman and the Bishops of England.
Describing the college, Newman said: "I see a bleak mount, looking upon an open country. over against that huge town, to whose inhabitants Catholicism is of so little account. I see the ground marked out. and an ample enclosure made; and plantations are rising there. clothing and circling in the space.
"And there on that high spot, far from the haunts of men. yet in thc very centre of the island. a large edifice. or rather pile of edifices. appears, with many fronts and courts. and long cloisters and corridors, and storey upon storey, And there it rises. under the invocation of the same sweet and powerful name which has been our strength and consolation in the valley." Just at the edge of the Birmingham boundary where it borders with Sutton Coldfield, at the end of a lovely tree-lined drive. one comes upon this imposing "castle-like' red brick building which Newman so vividly described in his sermon.
Looking out of a college window. how different is the scene which Newman wrote about all those years ago. Today. huge concrete tower blocks of flats and offices dominate the skyline of sprawling industrial Birmingham.
Od Oscott house was built in 1794 and given to the Church by a Catholic Family, while New
On Easter Monday, six Beda College students were ordained to the priesthood in a simple but very moving two-hour ceremony in the magnificent splendour of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. The golden mosaics dazzled in the bright afternoon sunshine.
Just a few yards away on the other side of the street is the modern, white walled, red tiled, Beda college. Dealing only with late vocations, the present building was opened in 1963 by Pope John.
Among those ordained by Bishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Vatican bank, were 45-yearold Mervyn Ilavard-Brown. a former school teacher, for the diocese of Clifton; Jeremy Davies, 39. a former missionary doctor, for the diocese of Westminster; and Andrew Hunkin. 5 I. a former Anglican clergyman, for the diocese of Aberdeen.
Also ordained were three externs. These are students from Religious orders who just come into the college for lectures. Over 60 priests concelebrated at :he ceremony which was all in English apart from the singing of the "Veni, Creator Spiritus. The scores of relatives and friends of the ne,A priests were entertained to tea at the college afterwards. Oscott• opened in 1838 was a school for boys until 1889, when it became one of the country's leading seminaries.
Mgr Francis Thomas. Rector of Oscott since Easter 1968, talked to me about life at the college :is we sat together at a huge oak table in the Professor's Dining Room. Looking down on us from the oils round the walls were former college rectors. Mgr Thomas, who lectures in liturgy. has been on the college staff for 15 years, This year there are 80 students at the college and they come mainly from the five dioceses round the Midlands — Birmingham. Nottingham, Northampton, Shrewsbury and Clifton. "Students come to us about 18 after, they have completed their 'A' levels,— Mgr Thomas told me. "Generally speaking we like them to have two. though a boy will not be turned down if we feel he can cope with the studies." he added.
"At the moment we have 10 resident priests, members of staff and several laymen and women also come in and give lectures. A course in public speaking is included because we think it is most important for a priest to he able to communicate clearly." said Mgr Thomas.
What sort of course would a young man entering Oscott expect? I asked. "Well. during his first year a student would be given an introduction to scripture and liturgy as well as a course in sociology and psychology," Mgr Thomas replied.
The following year a student begins his philosophy and theology courses. "It is at the end of this second year after they have sampled seminary life for a while that students tend to leave us," Mgr Thomas said. During the third year there are courses in moral theology and Canon law and at the end of this year there is a formal admission of a candidate for the priesthood, when a man commits himself to his vocation in a public liturgical service in the college chapel.
In his fifth year a candidate will he made a deacon and normally ordination will follow in the sixth year. "Fic will he ordained by his own bishop in his
own diocese " Mgr Thomas explained. "This year we have ten ordinations," he said with a slight smile on his face, "We do not attempt to give a student a complete 'package deal U °semi but we do cover certain basic ground in thought and reflection which will leave the priest in good stead for the rest of his life," Mgr Thomas added.
During his discourse on May 31, 1838. at the solemn dediva
lion of the college and Church the Rector. Rev Henry Weedall svid: "Here sheltered from the 'world, and its seductive temptations, passing his soul in peace. he will imbue his mind with wisdom. and train his heart to virtue."
Mgr Thomas commented: "No longer are students here sheltered from the world, rather they get involved in parishes of the city where they will he working as priests in order to prepare them for their future ministry to a needy modern world."
Finally. what do you think about the trend in vocations generally? Mgr Thomas paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. "The downward trend has stopped and there is no clear trend now but we are most certainly not replacing the number of priests that we need."