The possibility of an Oratory of St Philip Neri in Australia was first raised in the early 2000’s when a small group of priests from Victoria and NSW seriously discussed the idea of an Oratory being established. For various reasons, that project did not progress. In the following post Fr. Andrew Wise reflects on the earliest history of the Brisbane Oratory project and the surprising ways of Divine providence that can be seen at times in its origins.
The earliest beginnings of the Brisbane Oratory in Formation goes back to a seed sown in 2010 when I was visiting Rome and praying before the Altar of St Philip Neri in the Chiesa Nuova. I had already met and befriended Fr Uwe Michael Lang of the London Oratory on a previous visit to Rome during a Sabbatical in 2008 and had taken an interest in the Congregation of the Oratory ever since. Now there began a slow and gradual process of reading, prayer and spiritual direction that led me to a growing devotion to St Philip and an eventual discernment of a call to explore the possibility of a first foundation of the Congregation of the Oratory in Australia. This fragile seed of a possible ‘vocation within a vocation’ was supported and encouraged by certain priest friends especially Fr. Glen Tattersall of the Melbourne Archdiocese whose support and advice was particularly significant at this time.
A key step forward occurred in mid-2011 when I shared my vision for the formation of an Australian Oratory Community with my then Bishop, now Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Archbishop Prowse responded with characteristic openness, generosity and encouragement. He gave me his support and approval to actively approach other Bishops and Priests about this proposal for the Church in Australia. Archbishop Prowse’s concluding words at this time were particularly significant. He said: “If this project is inspired by the Holy Spirit the doors will gradually open up for you, if not you will find it will all come to nothing before long.”
After much thought, prayer and consultation I confidentially approached a small number of priests well known to me through the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. I shared my Oratorian vision and invited them, if interested, to begin an open ended process of discernment about a possible call from the Lord and St Philip to an Australian Oratory. I provided resources for prayer and reading to some to assist in this process and assured them of my continuing prayers and support.
The first priest to share a growing commitment to this project in early 2012 was Fr Scot Armstrong from Wagga Wagga Diocese. Br. Shawn Murphy also joined us as a seminarian from this earliest period. Subsequently, by the grace and call of God through St Philip our community slowly emerged and was publically announced as this website joyfully testifies.
During this earliest period supportive links were also established with the London, Toronto and Oxford Congregations of the Oratory and with the Procurator General of the Oratory, Fr. Mario Aviles.
Once we had the beginnings of a viable community, it was decided that I should meet with the Archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and personally present an initial document outlining our shared vision for an Oratory Community in Australia and to seek their support for this initiative. All three Archbishops were supportive and encouraging. Archbishop Coleridge however, made it clear that he would be willing to begin work with us immediately to explore the possibility of establishing a Brisbane Oratory. I had a further meeting with the Archbishop on the 19th September 2012 and during the following week he wrote to invite us to work with him to begin the process of establishing a Brisbane Oratory in Formation.
Some months later by the grace and providence of God, Fr Paul Chandler and later Fr Adrian Sharp both of the Brisbane Archdiocese completed their process of prayerful discernment and came to commit themselves to the Brisbane Oratory project.
Fr. Uwe Michael Lang was subsequently appointed by the Procurator General as his delegate for the formation of the Brisbane Oratory. Fr. Michael flew to Australia for three days of meetings with us at Cowwarr in Gippsland in September 2013. He has been an invaluable help and support to us since his appointment.
Br. Francis King was accepted as a member of our community in formation to begin his studies as a seminarian in Toronto in September 2014 and thus our foundational community was complete.
God has blessed us wonderfully up to now and we joyfully trust in His continuing Divine help and blessing into the future.
We also express our profound confidence in our beloved heavenly patrons – Our Lady Help of Christians, St Philip Neri, Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Pier Giogio Frassati as we continue the journey towards establishing the first Australian Congregation of the Oratory. We are also very grateful for the marvellous support we are continuing to receive, both spiritually and materially, from so many of the Catholic faithful from both near and far. Deo Gratias!