Dr Michael Straiton has presented the Birmingham Oratory with a fine painting of Blessed Pope Pius IX on behalf of the Friends of the Holy Father.
The portrait will hang in the new shrine of Blessed John Henry Newman in the Birmingham Oratory church. Pope Benedict XVI will be the first pilgrim to pray at the new shrine when he visits the Oratory immediately after beatifying John Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham on September 19.
Blessed Pius IX was one of two beati closely associated with Newman during his life.
Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Italian Passionist missionary, famously received the former Anglican clergyman into the Church at Littlemore, Oxford, on October 9 1845, the date which will become Blessed John Henry’s feast day.
Less well known is the close interest Pope Pius IX took in Newman’s own vocation, encouraging him towards the Oratorians and establishing the first English Oratory at Birmingham by papal brief in 1848. Pius IX was one of the first and greatest promoters of missionary action in the modern Church. This explains the decision to send Newman to Birmingham rather than Oxford or London.
Birmingham was a new and fast-growing city, the centre of a Catholic revival. It was an industrial centre with a huge population short of priests and eager for religious instruction.
Pope Pius also believed the factory owners would benefit from some religious answers to materialism and the profit motive. Newman amply fulfilled the Pope’s intentions by founding three parishes in the city, an orphanage and schools.
He was also able to write, from his own experience, of the devastating effects on British culture of political and industrial life cut off from religious truth.
Pope Benedict will see the portrait as he leaves the chapel to visit Newman’s room and library.
It will hang together with a silk image of Our Lady given to Newman by Pius IX which has attached to it a note in Newman’s own hand describing his gratitude to Pope Pius.