With the canonisation of Cardinal Newman, a congregation of Sisters who manage The College at Littlemore, in Oxford, where Newman famously converted to Catholicism, are reporting a significant increase in visitors. Sisters of the Spiritual Family, The Work, have looked after the property for over thirty years, hosting thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.
Newman lived there from 1842 - 46, making it a place of quiet reflection and study. He had originally come to Littlemore to minister at the nearby Anglican church – the location of his famous sermon, ‘The Parting of Friends.’
The College is a former stable block, just up the road from the church; Newman converted the property into a group of cells with a kitchen and library. On October 9th 1845 a visiting Italian missionary priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi arrived, soaked from the rain and stood by an open fire to dry off. Newman knelt and asked to be received into full communion with the Catholic church. The following day Newman’s writing desk was used as an altar for Blessed Dominic to celebrate Mass – the first Catholic Mass attended by Newman.
Pilgrims can visit Newman’s room and small Chapel which is similar to how it would have been when he and his companions prayed there as well as the library which includes a substantial collection of Newman-related literature, pictures, sculptures, original letters and objects.
One of the Religious Sisters who greets the growing numbers of pilgrims, Sr Ingrid reflected:
“To live and to serve at Littlemore, and more specifically at The College, is very interesting. At The College two Blesseds made history – Blessed Dominic Barberi and soon-to-be-saint Blessed John Henry Newman. To be able to walk where they walked, to pray where they prayed is almost overwhelming……
At Littlemore we experience how much Newman is known and loved all over the world. Visitors come from the five continents, alone or in groups. Many of them are Catholics, however not exclusively. They want to see the place where Newman lived for four years, where he made his confession to Father Dominic Barberi and where he became a Catholic……
At Littlemore Newman spent a very important period of his life. He made it ‘…a place of retirement for myself, so did I offer it to others…’ and he said of it ‘… there it has been, that I have both been taught my way and received an answer to my prayers…’
We, The Spiritual Family The Work, are here exactly for that same purpose, to offer the place to others as a place of retirement and of study. We open the place and welcome daily visitors. Littlemore offers in monastery-like buildings an atmosphere of silence, prayer, meditation for those who pass by and those who stay for a longer time. Manifold are the intentions people bring here to Newman asking for his intercession.
Often we, the Sisters, are inspired by visitors, by their enthusiasm, by their love of Newman - and this we want to pass on to others. If we look at Newman’s life, each one of us will find aspects we can relate easily to in our own lives and so his life becomes an inspiration for us.”
The many groups who visit express enormous gratitude for the commitment of the Sisters in preserving this unique place. A group which visited in September from a Catholic parish in Berkshire offered these reflections:
“It’s my first time here, it’s so peaceful. I’d actually never heard of Newman before. Like him though, I used to be an evangelical and came to Catholicism in my 50s. Like him, I have friends who no longer speak to me. It was obviously worse for him, in those days. When I entered the Chapel here, I didn’t want to leave.”
Another guest said: “I knew little about Newman before today. It’s so peaceful here, like a different world. It was an amazing feeling in the library, I could just imagine how it all happened.”
“To see the table where he wrote, which became an altar, it touches the soul. It is beautiful to see it and to hear what he went through to convert. I hadn’t thought about that pain before. His canonisation will help with Christian unity. He will spur us on.”
OPENING : Details of how to arrange a visit and opening times are available at : www.newmanfriendsinternational.org