Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. 10th anniversary

Father Jonathan Redvers Harris recalls the occasion ten years ago. He writes:- “The 15th January 2011 was a cold Saturday, and small group of us from the Island went up to Westminster Cathedral for the ordination, as Catholic priests, of three former bishops of the Church of England: John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton. It had all been very fast. Only a fortnight earlier had all three been received into full communion with the Catholic Church, and were confirmed, and only two days before had they been ordained as deacons.

There was an atmosphere of expectancy at this historic event, and we weren’t disappointed. Just before the Mass began, Archbishop Vincent Nichols (he wasn’t Cardinal then), read a decree from Rome, announcing the establishment that very day of the first Personal Ordinariate for those from the Anglican tradition in England and Wales: it was dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham, and placed under the patronage of Blessed (now Saint) Cardinal John Henry Newman, and the first Ordinary (like a bishop) appointed by the Holy Father would be Monsignor (as he was about to become) Keith Newton, (seen below with Fr. Jonathan and Fr. Anthony Glaysher) one of these three candidates for the priesthood.

There was a personal message too, from Cardinal Levada, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican dicastery which has direct oversight of these Ordinariates. Only it wasn’t all so very fast at all. At various times, over the years, other Anglican bishops had also approached Rome about a possible corporate reunion with the See of Peter (individual conversions had long been possible, of course). In response to these Anglican requests, Pope Benedict XVI issued, in November 2009, an Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus , enabling the setting up of diocesan-like structures which would be fully part of the Catholic Church while retaining some Anglican “patrimony” (parts of our liturgy, for example). “United, but not absorbed”, is the phrase. And now, on 15th January 2011, it was these three suffragan Anglican bishops, who had had a particular responsibility for Church of England laity and clergy concerned about changes in the CofE which were making Christian unity much more difficult, if not impossible, who had made the journey. There was thunderous applause for this brave trio as they processed out of the packed Cathedral. On that day I was still the Anglican Vicar of Ryde, although like other potential “converting clerics” I’d been involved in secret meetings in London, as well as taking soundings locally on the Island (with the then Archdeacon’s support). I announced my resignation in March, and from then on, a large group of us began intensive formation at Allen Hall seminary in London, one day a week, with much reading and essaywriting. Nearly all of us had been to Anglican theological colleges, but there were obviously gaps which needed addressing; it wasn’t just a quick “re-spray”. The young diocesan seminarians there referred to us as “Dad’s Army”, as few of us were very youthful! Although our ordinations as Catholic priests followed within a matter of months, our formation continued for two years, and in my case I went on to study for three or four years at the Catholic University of Leuven (in Belgium) for two Master’s degrees, resulting in my being awarded a Licentiate in Canon Law, a qualification which enables me to help in the work of the diocesan tribunal, and in my duties as Chancellor of the Ordinariate). At the Easter Vigil on 23rd April 2011, in St Mary’s Ryde, a small group, 17 of us, (see picture below) after local catechesis and preparation, were received into full communion with the Catholic Church, at the hands of Fr Anthony Glaysher, who also conferred the sacrament of Confirmation upon us. His generous hospitality in those early years enabled us both to participate in the life of the parish of Ryde, while also to foster the celebration of our own distinctive liturgy and way of doing things.

Of course, it wasn’t all plain-sailing. Apart from comments, some meant light- heartedly, like “traitor” and “turncoat” (reflecting a residual anti-papist aspect to the English psyche), there was misunderstanding. We weren’t “proper Catholics”, in the eyes of some! The process of education continues. Some of our clergy are pastors to large Ordinariate communities. Others, like me, have been used also to “plug gaps” in local dioceses, just as some of the clergy working in the diocese have come from other dioceses overseas, or may belong to a religious community. Nor had the word “Ordinariate” been heard before by many, although it is not a new term, as we have the military Ordinariates for those serving in the Armed forces and often on the move, and we have Ordinariates for dispersed Eastern Catholics — all structures, like ours, that are fully part and parcel of the Catholic Church. After the Personal Ordinariate for England and Wales (since extended to Scotland), came those for North America (dedicated to the Chair of St Peter) and for Australia (our Lady of the Southern Cross). Although we’re in effect a diocese, we aren’t huge. I look after our membership details, and as of today we have 1,507 lay members, 98 priests, 6 permanent deacons and 12 religious. But, through our continuing patrimony, we have much to give, and to receive from, the wider Catholic Church”!