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Pope appoints first Oratorian bishop in England for 140 years

By on Saturday, 15 March 2014

Bishop-elect Robert Byrne (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Bishop-elect Robert Byrne (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Pope Francis has appointed the first Oratorian bishop in England for 140 years.

Fr Robert Byrne, a founder of the Oxford Oratory, will serve as an auxiliary bishop in Birmingham.

He is the first Oratorian bishop in England since Fr Edward Bagshawe, who was appointed Bishop of Nottingham in 1874.

The 57-year-old bishop-elect has served for the past few years as national ecumenical officer for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He will succeed the 80-year-old Birmingham auxilary Bishop Philip Pargeter. As auxiliary bishop he will be responsible for six deanaries: Birmingham (Cathedral, North, South and East), Kidderminster and Worcester.

Fr Byrne will be ordained bishop on Tuesday May 13 at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. He will become the titular bishop of Cuncacestre

The bishop-elect said: “I am deeply honoured and humbled that the Holy Father, Pope Francis has appointed me as Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham. His example will continue to inspire and shape my ministry in Birmingham, especially to serve the poor, the marginalised and those who may feel alienated from God and society. In the spirit of St Philip Neri – the founder of the Oratory and a saint with a great sense of humour – I am committed to helping share the joy of the Gospel message with others.

“I began my priestly ministry in Birmingham twenty nine years ago and I look forward to renewing my friendships and to making my home once again in this great city. I have a great love for the Malvern Hills and the music of Elgar, so was particularly pleased when I learned that my ministry would include the pastoral care of the Worcestershire deaneries.

“I have been richly blessed in these years by the people that I have met and the work that I’ve been asked to do – as a parish priest, in prison chaplaincy, and latterly as the bishops’ conference’s national ecumenical officer. I look forward to building upon this experience and to working closely with other Christians and people of all faiths and none.

“I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my Oratorian community for their priestly example, friendship and support. I shall miss them greatly and also the parishioners of St Aloysius parish in Oxford.

“Blessed John Henry Newman, the founder of the English Oratory has inspired me as a priest. I hope in some way to be able to follow his example, particularly in the care and love that he showed for his priests and people.

“I know I can count on the prayer, co-operation and support of the people, the religious and the priests of the diocese. I look forward to working with and learning from Archbishop Bernard and Bishops William [Kenney] and David [McGough].

“I ask for the prayers of Mary Immaculate, patroness of the diocese, together with St Chad and Blessed John Henry Newman as I begin my new ministry as auxiliary bishop of Birmingham.”

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham said: “I am immensely grateful to Pope Francis for appointing Fr Robert Byrne auxiliary bishop of Birmingham. From his time at the Birmingham Oratory and as provost of the Oxford Oratory, Fr Robert has come to know our archdiocese well.

“Having worked alongside him in recent years as the bishops’ conference’s ecumenical officer, I know that he will bring considerable pastoral, theological and administrative skills to his new responsibilities as a bishop. Above all I am grateful that he brings the spirituality of St Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratory, to enrich his ministry among us.

“I know that everybody in the archdiocese, and especially in his pastoral area of Birmingham and Worcestershire, will join me in asking for the prayers of Fr Robert’s fellow Oratorian, Blessed John Henry Newman, as he now prepares for his episcopal ordination in May.

“I also wish to record my abiding gratitude to Bishop Philip Pargeter for continuing to serve the archdiocese with great dedication in recent years and for the support and friendship he has so generously given me.”

Robert Byrne was born in Manchester on September 22 1956, the youngest son of Sidney and Monica Byrne.

He was educated at St Bede’s College, Manchester, King’s College London and the Pontifical College of St Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome.

He initially considered becoming a Benedictine, but entered Birmingham Oratory in 1980 and was ordained priest by Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville in 1985. He served as chaplain at St Philip’s College, Edgbaston, from 1984 to 1988.

In 1990 he founded the Oxford Oratory, serving as provost from 1993 to 2011.

From 1990 to 1999, he was parish priest of St Aloysius, Oxford.

From 2000 to 2011, Fr Byrne was secretary of the Permanent Deputation of the International Federation of the Congregations of the Oratory.

Since 1996 he as been as trustee and governor of the Oratory School and since 1988 he has served as a prison chaplain.

You can watch an interview with Bishop-elect Robert Byrne here.