Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources

Documents written about Father Dominic or related to his cause for canonisation;

Discourse of H.H. Pope Paul VI on the Occasion of the Beatification of Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God C.P.

He Was a Great Lover of England: Dominic Barberi and the Conversion of J.H. Newman by Father Gregor Lenzen C.P.

‘Their Courage Became Infectious’

Great Passionists in History: Blessed Dominic Barberi; missionary to England by Roger Mercurio

Remarks of Venerable Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman Cong. Orat. On Father Dominic

Remarks from the Press

Discourse of Pope Paul VI on Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, Passionist, on the occasion of his solemn beatification

Sunday, 27 October 1963     

The Church militant, after long and careful reflection, has today numbered amongst the elect of the Church triumphant this new Blessed soul, Father Dominic of the Mother of God, Passionist religious, who lived in the first half of the past century.

Blessed indeed, and rejoicing in the first place for the glory of He who comes first: single Deo honor et Gloria (1 Tim. 1, 17), always repeating: “gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam”. We rejoice then with the religious Family of the Discalced Clerks of the Holy Cross and of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the religious Congregation founded in the eighteenth century by S. Paul of the Cross, already fair mother of Saints and now this hour are you enriched of an other son elevated to the honour of the altars; we with all the Church rejoice in the same, which puts before us a new champion of holiness and we admire in him such signs of the sanctifying Spirit to deduce that his blessed spirit must already enjoy the beatific vision, and that its history and its activity are worthy of being remembered, being known and always being studied for training, edification and imitation of, us pilgrims today, who, like him yesterday, are on the paths of the temporal life, directed, God willing, to the same goal, eternal life.

In fact the intentions that move the Church to pay to one of its members that solemn exaltation, that we call ‘beatification’, is exactly to introduce its singular and victorious son, and to propose his cult to the faithful, he is a privileged soul, in which the action of grace has been deepened and made more manifest, and is an example, in which the effort virtues has been more vigorous and instructive.

The Church confers to one of its sons a public and official honour, on one side She honours the glory of God, and on the other this glory reflects on the Church too, to our common edification, like a candle, lit in honour of God, that finds the assembly of the faithful gathered for prayer.  And such luminous glare, this time, finds us almost by surprise, because, to the fury of the confreres of this new Blessed and of the small group of devout people and students, Father Dominic was not, amongst us, very well known. The common culture, which often has, for the heroes of the holiness, only erudite information, largely ignored him; and this figure of a master and an ascetic was not familiar in the precious circle of modern hagiography, and not even in the garden of religious fervour. He was not a well known figure. In the past few years he has become more well known thanks to Father Federico Menegazzo of Our Lady of Sorrows, who today offers us in his work a wide history of the Blessed soul, and on the part of some meritorious students, including Giuseppe De Luca, but also researchers and from specialist discovery of hidden documents and innumerable historical details. And thus this beatification brings to light a personage of great merit and not for one title alone.

We come therefore to know that Father Dominic is worthy of memory as a scholar and an author of great studies of theology and philosophy: his study, as an example, on the papal infallibility, anticipates, with sure vision, the doctrine that several years after it the First Vatican Council defined. We come to know that Father Dominic was a profound writer of mystic and ascetic books, amongst which is his autobiography, which remained, for the greater part, unpublished; the documents, although, not always satisfactory in a literary sense, are always remarkable in order to illustrate with dignity the religious life of our first eight hundred years, and always prayerful ones in order to enrich the thought and experience of the history of spirituality, fruit as they are of wide and deep studies, long reflections and inner elaborations, we must believe he dictated for himself the norm which he proposed for the writers of doctrinal books: “Not ever to write on paper the first line of a work, before the last line is written in the brain. Ten years of learning, twenty of meditation, and an hour of composition, if you want to make a work worthy of admiration” (Ms. VII, 1, c. 222).

This profile of a man of sacred letters will be rendered still more interesting for all when we see he was a man of both prayer and action: we know that Father Dominic was great master of asceticism, indefatigable preacher, apostle and expert apologist of the contemporary thought of his time, aware also then of ancient and new ideas and dangerous errors; and he was given over to correspondence with men of thought and action with a view that saw far beyond the cloister or local area. And here the action enters in his life: government of his religious family, travels, foundations.

The history of Father Dominic, which does not exceed fifty-six years, is made more intense and full in such a way of events, that they go from those most inner ones, combinable the mystical phenomena, to those most outer ones of debilitating apostolic work. It is not here that we must narrate such history.

Here we find a aspect and remember a fact, that seems to characterize faithfully the new Beatus. A worthy aspect of consideration is that one of his dedication to the Passion of Christ and of his devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. This devotion our celestial brother seems to repeat the words us of S. Paul to us, which synthesis and define of his life: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2, 2). Father Dominic not only preached the Cross of the Lord, but carried it. He was a patient, He was a sufferer. This grievous note emphasizes that his pilgrimage set offs on the end, and it leaves us to catch a glimpse of the dramatic side of his spirituality, that it would have to be, in the various measures of the divine will, that of every Christian. “If someone wants to come behind me, says the Lord, he must renounce himself, take his cross and follow me” (Matth. 16, 24). Father Dominic has made this divine voice resound, and now not to his devotees alone, it sounds again; until he will be a remembered, and perpetually, t will be repeated still.   

The fact then, which cause us to remember Father Dominic, which is most known, and was till now the main reason for his notoriety is the fact of the conversion of Newman; it was Father Dominic, who the evening of October 1845, came to Littlemore, and received the decisive profession of catholic faith of that most singular spirit. The extraordinary importance of that simple event and the increasing fame of the celebrated Englishman reflected upon this humble religious as a light streaming down. At length the question comes to mind: Was it Dominic who converted Newman? What was Father Dominic’s influence upon him?

These questions are still today of interest and if the answers cannot attribute to our Blessed soul the direct merit of that formidable conversion, after most laborious and dramatic meditations, there must still be recognised two other most remarkable merits: that one to have listened to mysterious, inexplicable vocation, clearly enunciated to his spirit, since from the first years of his religious life consecrating his apostolic ministry to England, where the Passionists had still not put their feet; he narrates the same, when still novice in 1814, “towards the end of September or the beginning of October at the noon, while he prayed ahead to the altar of the Virgin, it came to him as a revelation the day in which, as a professed cleric, he would have begun his ministry and the field of apostolate was between the schismatics: North-West Europe; especially England” (cfr. Father Federico, P. 48 and 474). And in one of his aesthetic works, now published, will put on lips of Jesus his singular vocation, when still it still had not come true for himself: “England, that England beloved, over which you (devout soul) many tears are poured, it is arranged now that I return again to my pen; and will see in a short time there blooming again the fervour of the faith” (Arch. it. for the History of the Mercy, 11, p. 142). Father Dominic will be the first Passionist to enter England, and, living there, will found four houses of his Congregation, than, in the human opinion, he would not have said himself answering to the English mentality.

Instead the ways of the Lord are various. Because we can ascribe to new merit of the new Beatus to have more brought the image adapted to attract the esteem and the admiration of Newman, that he will make of the humble figure of that Religious an impressive personage of his book (Loss and Gain), and that he will remember him in the famous “Apologia” with simple but eloquent words: “He is a simple and holy man and at the same time equipped of remarkable talents. He does not know my intentions, but I mean to seek admission in the Only Fold of Christ…” (Chapter 7, final verse) And he writes there: “Father Dominic was a marvellous missionary. A preacher full of zeal. He had a great part in my conversion and that of others. His look alone had something of saint. When his figure came to my sight, I was moved deeply in the strangest way. The gaiety and the affability of his figure, combined with all his holiness were already for me a Saint speech. No wonder therefore that I became his convert and his penitent. He had a great love for England…” (Deposition to the Card. Parrocchi, cfr. P. Fed. p. 474).

And this enough now for those.  But it is to believe and to wish that the combination of these two holy figures, the Blessed Father Dominic and the Cardinal John Henry Newman, will leave its mark upon our spirit, that We will continue to think of the mysterious sense of their meeting with great hope and with prolonged prayer. 

“He had a great love for England

Thus did Newman write of this new Beatus, Father Dominic of the Mother of God. This phrase would seem to define the figure of this humble but great follower of the Gospel of Christ; it seems to sum up the historical current of the sentiments of the Church of Rome, towards that island of high destiny; it seems to give expression to this present spiritual moment of the Apostolic See, which now raises to the glory of the Blessed this generous missionary, whose arms are open wide towards all that is most venerable and most significant in that blessed country’s present portion of its magnificent Christian heritage; and it seems today to rise up from the heart of the Ecumenical Council, being celebrated in this Basilica, like a sigh of still suffering, but always confident, Catholic brotherhood.

«He had a great love for England». D. Newman’s phrase, if properly meditated upon, means that the love of the pious Religious, the Roman missionary, was directed to Newman himself, the promoter and representative of the Oxford movement, which raised so many religious questions, and excited such great spiritual energies; to him who, in full consciousness of his mission -“I have a work to do” – and guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ, traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fullness of wisdom and of peace.

And if that phrase was true and salutary for so distinguished a representative of a great people, so high an authority of a time like ours, will it not be still true and salutary today, in heaven, in the heart of this beloved Beatus, and here below, in the hearts of all those who celebrate his glory, and wish to imitate his example?

In regard to this also, We shall nourish great hope, and raise long supplication in prayer.

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Dominic Barberi and the Conversion of J. H. Newman 


No account of the conversion of John Henry Newman, the great Christian thinker and future Cardinal, should be written without a reminder of the man who received him into the Catholic Church, namely the Passionist priest Dominic Barberi (1792-1849). Newman himself commemorated him in literature in “Loss and Gain”, his story of a convert, with the following words: “On the Apennines, near Viterbo, there dwelt a shepherd-boy, in the first years of this century, whose mind had early been drawn heavenward; and, one day, as he prayed before an image of the Madonna, he felt a vivid intimation that he was destined to preach the Gospel under the northern sky. There appeared no means by which a Roman peasant should be turned into a missionary; not did the prospect open, when this youth found himself, first a lay-brother, then a Father, in the Congregation of the Passion. Yet, though no external means appeared, the inward impression did not fade; on the contrary it became more definite, and, in process of time, instead of the dim north, England was engraven on his heart. And, strange to say, as years went on, without his seeking, for he was simply under obedience, our peasant found himself at length upon the very shore of the stormy northern sea, whence Caesar of old looked out for a new world to conquer; yet that he should cross the strait was still as little likely as before. However, it was as likely as that he should ever have got so near it; and he used to eye the restless, godless waves, and wonder with himself whether the day would ever come when he should be carried over them. And come it did, not however by any determination of his own, but by the same Providence which thirty years before had given him the anticipation of it.”1 Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God was a spiritual son of St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the founder of the Passionists, about whom Newman writes in the above-quoted novel, “…the thought of England came into his ordinary prayers; and in his last years, after a vision during Mass, as if he had been Augustine or Mellitus, he talked of his ‘sons’ in England.”2

Dominic Barberi turned his founder’s vision into action when he set off from Rome for Belgium in 1840 with three of his confrères to make preparations for founding a community in England. At this time he could already look back on decades of fruitful work in the service of his Congregation in Italy. In 1814 as a young man he had joined the Passionist Community, newly reinstated following its abolition at the hands of Napoleon. The spiritual illumination described by Newman about Dominic’s future apostolate amongst the English occurred in these early days. The Superiors soon recognised the young priest’s spiritual gifts and intellectual abilities and appointed him lecturer in  Philosophy and Theology at the Order’s training establishments. During these years as a teacher, from 1821 to 1831, he wrote several works, amongst them a Mariology, a handbook of philosophy and a refutation of the writings of de Lamennais, one of the most famous Catholic writers of his age.

In 1830, when Fr. Dominic was teaching at the Passionist Generalate in Rome, he made his first acquaintance with representatives of the nation that had long been so dear to his heart. He had been chosen to introduce Sir Henry Trelawney, a convert who was preparing for the priesthood, to the rubrics of  Holy Mass. The latter’s daughter in turn introduced Dominic to the English nobleman and former Anglican clergyman George Spencer (1799-1864), who had  been received into the Catholic Church in 1830 and had recently arrived in Rome to begin his studies for the priesthood at the English College. This marked the beginning of a life-long friendship. Through Spencer he also became acquainted with Ambrose Lisle Phillipps (1809-1878) who was likewise to play an important part in the renewal process of Catholic life in England. In 1839 Spencer sent a petition to the General Chapter of the Passionists requesting the establishment of a foundation in England. Then in 1848, as Fr. Ignatius, he made his profession as a Passionist. During this time in Rome, these and other contacts with Englishmen brought Dominic Barberi’s longed for mission to England a little closer.

But first of all in the years that followed between 1831 and 1840 he had to fulfil various duties in his Order. He was the first Superior of the newly founded monastery of L’Angelo near Lucca and the Provincial Consultor. In 1833 he was elected Passionist Provincial for the region south of Rome. At the same time he devoted himself to the apostolate of popular missions and spiritual exercises. During a cholera epidemic in 1837 he gave himself up wholeheartedly to helping the sick. But in spite of all these many tasks and commitments, he never allowed himself to lose touch with his English friends. A wealth of correspondence bears testimony to this.

When the question of a new foundation in England was being discussed at the Passionist General Chapter in 1839, an intellectual movement was reaching its climax in the English university town of Oxford, a movement “that was called after its place of origin, Oxford, but characterised also by Anglo-Catholicism”.3 The point of departure for the Oxford Movement was the battle against state intervention in the life of the Anglican Church. Newman later always regarded the sermon by John Keble (1792-1866) on “National Apostasy” on 14 July 1833 as the beginning of the Oxford Movement, of which he was soon to become its acknowledged leader. Alongside Newman, John Keble and R. H. Froude, E. B. Pusey (1800-1882) was also one of the leading figures of this movement which strove “to show the Church to be a divine institution: with apostolic succession (bishops), binding doctrine from scripture and tradition (Church Fathers), sacramental principle and traditional liturgy” (Günther Biemer in LThK, Vol.7, 1239). In the publication series “Tracts for the Times” (1833-1841) Newman and his fellow campaigners put their thoughts up for discussion, so that they became known as “Tractarians”. When Newman and other prominent supporters converted to Catholicism the movement became less significant.

The initial phase of the Passionist foundation in England (1841-1845) coincided with Newman’s final decisive stage on his journey towards the Catholic Church. After the decision had been taken in favour of a foundation in England and they had finally appointed Dominic as leader of the small band of pioneers – although at first this had not seemed likely – in June 1840 the Passionists initially opened a monastery in Belgium in the Château d’Ère near Tournai. It was from there that Dominic Barberi set out on his first exploratory trip to England in November 1840. His stopping places were London, Birmingham and Oscott. Spencer and Wiseman received him with open arms.

Against a background of arguments about Tract 90, published by Newman, there appeared in April 1841, in the Paris journal “Univers”, an article about the attitude of the Oxford Movement towards the Catholic Church. The author hid behind the formulation, “a young member of the University of Oxford”. He was in fact John Dobrée Dalgairns (1818-1876), one of Newman’s supporters. This article fell into the hands of Dominic in Belgium who felt deeply moved on reading it. On 5 May 1841 he replied to it with a long letter in Latin directed “to the professors of the University of Oxford” which was also later published in the “Univers”. As a result of this he came into contact for the first time with the main representatives of the “Tractarians”. A deep love for his separated brothers can be discerned in his letter and at the same time he shows himself to be an expert in the fields of theology and sacred scripture. Dalgairns for his part wrote to Fr. Dominic in July 1841 thanking him for his kindness and at the same time he set out his reasons why he and his friends could not leave the Anglican Church. The two were in correspondence from then on.

On 17 February 1842, after overcoming many difficulties, Dominic Barberi was able to found the first Passionist monastery in England, in Aston Hall near Stone. In the same year Newman finally withdrew from Oxford to Littlemore with the idea amongst other things of “building a monastic house in the place”(Apologia, 159). After a period of relative seclusion in which Dominic had devoted himself more to regular pastoral care and to building up his monastic community he began to give spiritual exercises again and to preach popular missions. He gained many conversions as a result of this apostolic work.

Thus in June 1844 he also wanted to start a mission in a town near Oxford. “There I hope to have an opportunity of seeing someone of these so-called Puseyites, particularly the one (Dalgairns) with whom I correspond, without ever having seen him”,4 he wrote to the general of his order. Dominic in fact made a short visit to Littlemore on 24 June 1844 where he met Newman personally. In a letter of 15 July 1844 to the superior general he described his impressions of this. “When I was in the vicinity of Oxford I paid a visit to Littlemore to see the new monastery of Anglican ‘monks’, and was received with every token of cordiality and sincere regard by Dr. Newman, the founder, and by his disciples. Among them was the one who wrote to me the Latin letter of which I sent you a copy whilst still in Belgium. (…) One thing I can say is that these Oxford men work like martyrs for a good cause. Let us pray much, much.” 5

In the same letter Dominic also described the effect that the appearance of the Passionists had on the public. “You could not believe the impression our habit makes when we go to preach anywhere. The people kneel down in crowds just to receive my blessing. We do more preaching here with the bare feet and religious restraint and modesty than with the tongue. Somebody told me once that they had been converted at my first sermon, although they did not understand a word I said.”6

But it was precisely this holiness and authenticity in their lives for which Newman and his followers were striving. So it was not surprising that Dalgairns wrote to the Superior of the Passionists in England, “You are, I am sure, taking the right way to win the English heart; the English Roman Catholics seem to fancy that they can do a great deal by copes and chasubles and beautiful music. They are, however, mistaken; (…) let them preach barefoot in the streets of our great towns, and, depend upon it, they will force England, or at least all who are worth having in England, to look upon them in a very different light from what they do now.”7 The members of the community in Littlemore were convinced of the effectiveness of personal holiness for the growth in unity. The following request that Dalgairns made of Dominic in a letter of 3 October 1844 also speaks for this. “But I must leave off with a request which perhaps will make you smile. Several persons among us are anxious to lead a more mortified life than is common among us; they have been trying in vain to procure shirts or girdles of haircloth. They have only succeeded in getting one from abroad. Could you manage to put us in the way of getting a dozen of such implements? They will be put into the hands of a person who guides many souls among us, so you need not fear their being indiscreetly used.”8

Through his correspondence with Dalgairns, Dominic Barberi was in regular even if not direct contact with Newman. The latter was – as Dalgairns once stressed to Dominic – always happy to hear news of him. Dalgairns was finally received into the Catholic Church by Dominic on 29 September 1845 in Aston Hall.

On this occasion Dominic suggested making a further visit to Littlemore on his forthcoming journey to Belgium. Dalgairns later informed Newman about it and was surprised to hear him remark that he would then be received into the Catholic Church. Newman felt that he was merely keeping all his friends in a state of indecision. There were also certain things connected with the Passionist Order which made Fr. Dominic’s arrival in Littlemore at that moment appear providential to him. The Order had always prayed for England in a special way and during Mass its founder had once had a vision of his religious as preachers in England.

On 5 October 1845 Newman withdrew to his room for the whole day in preparation for his general confession. On 7 October he wrote to his former pupil Henry Wilberforce, “Father Dominic the Passionist is passing this way on his way from Aston in Staffordshire to Belgium (…). He is to come to Littlemore for the night as a guest of one of us whom he has admitted at Aston. He does not know of my intentions, but I shall ask of him admission into the one true fold of the Redeemer.”9

On the eve of his conversion Newman wrote several more letters such as this in which he informed various friends of his decision. In so doing he always spoke of Dominic as a “simple and holy man”, in whose coming to Littlemore he recognised an “external call” from God.

During the night of 8th to 9th October Fr. Dominic, completely soaked through with rain, first arrived in Oxford in a carriage and was received there by Dalgairns and St. John. When he heard the good news he cried out, “God be praised!” After arriving at Littlemore he tried in vain to dry off his clothes by an open fire. Then Newman came into the room, knelt at his feet and begged him to hear his confession. The following evening, along with his two colleagues Bowles and Stanton, he made his profession of faith, Dominic gave them absolution and administered conditional baptism. On 10 October Newman received Holy Communion along with the others. From Belgium Dominic wrote to his general about the joyful events in Littlemore and in so doing described Newman as “one of the most humble and lovable men”10 he had ever met.

Since then there have been many discussions about the role Dominic Barberi played in Newman’s development. Had he simply been an instrument in the hand of God, like Ananias in the case of Saul of Tarsus? Let us leave the final comment on this matter to Newman himself. On 2 October 1889, in connection with Dominic’s beatification process that had just begun, Newman wrote to Cardinal Parocchi in Rome that Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God was certainly, “a marvellous missioner and preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He was a great lover of England.”11

Dominic Barberi suffered a heart attack on 27 August 1849 on a train journey from London to Woodchester and died in a room at the railway hotel in Reading where he had been taken. On 27 October 1963 he was beatified by Pope Paul VI.  His tomb is in St Anne’s Church in Sutton, St Helens, England.

The author is Provincial of the South German–Austrian Vice-Province of the Passionists with its seat in Munich.

Translated from the German by Sandra Harper

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“Their courage became infectious”


Sermon preached by Father Antony F.M. Conlon at a Solemn High Mass, in St Joseph‘s Church, Bunhill Row on Aug. 27th, 1999 to commemorate 150th anniversary of the death of Blessed Dominic Barberi.


ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS over many years, I have passed the site of the Railway Hotel in Reading, without giving the matter a second thought. Only recently have I discovered that it was there, on this day in 1849, that Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, passed from this life. It would seem to us an odd place to die, associated as it is, in our minds, with secular pursuits, the Victorian age of the railways and the expansion of industry and communication. But in Fr Dominic’s case, it was not an inappropriate location from which to have departed this world. It was while travelling in the pursuit of his missionary endeavours, that God called him home to his eternal reward, at the comparatively young age of 57. After only seven years in which he had dedicated himself to evangelisation in this country, he was already worn out by his efforts. But he had left a wonderful example to those who would come after him and a legacy of a Catholic community on the road to recovery, in so many places in England.

No wonder that I became his convert

It might seem unusual to us, that an Italian priest member of the Passionist Order, born near Viterbo in 1792, should end his days as a missionary priest seeking to restore the people of England to their ancient religious obedience. The extraordinary truth is that he had from an early age felt a great urge to undertake this apostolate. Without any request on his part, or choice in the matter, he had been sent to England by his superiors in 1841 to engage in missionary activity. Providence had granted him what he had long wished for. One of his chief claims to fame is, of course, having been the priest who received John Henry Cardinal Newman into the Church. That alone, would ensure him renown. But there is much more to him than this. One writer has said of him that he holds a greater claim to fame than any other foreign priest who adopted England as his country. Newman himself wrote of Fr Dominic that:

“… he was a marvellous missioner and a preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He had a great love for England.”

Thus was one of the finest intellects in nineteenth century England captivated by the simplicity of a holy priest. But although of humble origin and by nature self-effacing, Dominic’s academic abilities were not inconsiderable. He was learned in both philosophy and theology. He was later the author of two manuals of study, which impressed Newman when he read them.

A state of massive apostasy

As it was, at the time when Newman asked to be received by him, Fr Dominic was not even seeking conversions but fully engaged in looking after a flock of disparate and impoverished Catholics. It was his kind and thoughtful disposition, which drew Newman to him. There were but few such distinguished converts to create a stir at that time. Those who made the transition from Protestantism to Catholicism were joining a Church of mostly poor and substantially immigrant people. It is true that here and there a few of the ancient nobility of the land still protected and maintained the practice of the faith on their estates. Their private chapels acted as parish churches for Catholics on their estates and in the neighbourhood. But these were not sufficient in number to make any real inroad into the state of massive apostasy and abandonment of religion, which had characterised the nation for a very long time.

Blessed Dominic came to a country with very little in the way of Catholic church buildings and resources. Many of his would-be flock were desperately poor and prone to epidemics of disease. Hostility to Catholicism was rife throughout the country. Just before crossing the Channel to arrive in England he changed out of his habit, into secular dress. Travelling up from Dover, on November 5, he witnessed the burning in effigy of the Pope in virtually every place he passed, from Folkestone to London. That was the extent of the bigotry and contempt for the Church, which had persisted in this country for so long. None of this deterred him but rather increased his desire to begin his task. With the active support and approval of Archbishop, later Cardinal Wiseman, and Bishop Walsh of the Midland District, he set up his first mission at Aston Hall near Stone in Staffordshire. At the time of his arrival, there were only about 500 priests in England and the Church was struggling to survive.

“My hope is,” he wrote, “that the little building at Stone will be the grain of mustard seed, which blessed by God, will become a great tree.”

Indifference to their salvation

There were in fact fifty conversions a year at Stone and numerous missions and retreats were given all over the Midlands. Of the people, he observed “The real obstacles to be overcome are the extreme ignorance and even indifference to their salvation, which they display.” Those words could have been written yesterday of the situation in the country at the present time. When he began his preaching in Staffordshire, the local Protestant clergy were obliged to start house-to-house visiting, with the sole object, as Fr Dominic explained of “exhorting the people not to come near me.” But his zeal, and that of his fellow Passionists, such as Fr Ignatius Spencer, bore abundant fruit. They soon revived Catholic customs and practices, which had died out since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Missions and retreats, the public wearing of the religious habit and religious processions in the streets became again a visible feature of religion in this country. Writing in 1882, Fr Pius Devine, a spiritual son of the Passionists, gave testimony of their courage and devotion: “They gloried in the disgrace of the Cross, were laughed at by Protestants, warned by timid Catholics, but encouraged always by Cardinal Wiseman.” “Their courage became infectious, so that in a short time almost every order now in England followed their exampleˆthe memory of their labours is not yet dead.” A member of the Passionist Order has written more recently of Blessed Dominic that, “To read the account of Dominic’s apostolate in England is to be astounded by the sheer volume of the work he undertook …missions, retreats, writings, spiritual direction, service of the victims of cholera, and all this superimposed on a life of prayer, penance and solitude.”

Fr Dominic was beatified by Pope Paul VI, in October 1963, while the Second Vatican Council was in session. One hundred and fifty years after his death we are commemorating his saintliness and seeking to draw both lessons and inspiration from his spiritual heritage.

The struggle for the religious soul of the nation

As we think of these things, and reflect on the struggle for the religious soul of this nation over many centuries, we arrive at an inevitable conclusion. Many of the gains that had been made in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the earlier part of this century have, since the sixties, been either lost or dissipated. The church we love and wish to see triumphant, has for decades exhausted itself, in fruitless and extravagant expense and effort, seeking to be rid of much of the beauty and creativity set up and donated by both rich and poor alike in times of expansion of the faith. It is with heavy hearts that we now contemplate images and memorials of Catholicism lying broken and neglected in so many scrap yards or forming the paraphernalia of so many bric-a-brac stalls. And, at the same time centuries-old expressions of worship and prayer despised and denigrated in the name of progress and false ecumenism. But, it is still not too late to think again. How much might yet be achieved by a renewed call to holiness of life, for both clergy and laity. Following the witness of Blessed Dominic, we should seek to construct a contemporary lay-apostolate on the sound and valuable foundations of past spirituality. We must learn again the hard lessons of the past, which many of our spiritual leaders have forgotten or chosen to ignore. The doctrine and worship of the divinely revealed truth, which we profess, is unlikely to gain acceptance and improvement from adaptation to secular models or presentation. The degrading interests that have informed the politics and organisation of so much of human society in this age, have nothing whatever to teach us of love, truth and beauty. They hardly contribute to the dignity of man as a child of God and a reflection of His love and creativity. Traditional Catholic piety and religious observance speak eloquently of the majesty of God and the mysteries of redemption. We are all sinful by inclination but with an infinite potential for sanctity. The hallowed customs and devotions of all the ages of our past do continue to inspire the faithful today. New branches of piety and devotion are continuing to grow from the ancient vine of Eucharistic sacrifice and propitiation. In much the same way as the Passionists, led by Blessed Dominic, re-discovered and put to use the old, forgotten channels of grace and compassion, repentance and reparation, we also need to keep alive the vigour of these same conduits of faith and devotion. They continue to have the capacity to re-invigorate our Holy Church. They form the spokes that hold together the ever-turning wheel of Catholic belief and practice that finds its central axis in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is an ever-pressing need to keep the remembrance of past glories and triumphs over adversity fresh and green in these difficult times of loss and confusion. The living memories of generations old enough to remember, can enlighten those who are still young and inexperienced. With the energy of youthful enthusiasm on the one hand and the advantage of wise counsel on the other, nothing need be lost, except the sense of desperation and the culture of destruction of the memorials of our Catholic heritage.

Everything from our spiritual tradition, which the Church has blessed and hallowed by ancient use may once again be profitably employed, in a new century, to deepen and expand the faith of our people and give inspiration to their engagement in works of charity and devotion. As we celebrate the memory of those who made so full a contribution to the restoration of the ancient faith in England lest us resolve and pray, through their intercession, to seek similar remedies for revival, that our efforts may indeed be worthy of the sacrifices they made.

Father Antony F.M. Conlon.

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Blessed Dominic Barberi
Missionary to England


Dominic had been born to a poor family of farmers in 1792. Both his parents were dead by the time he was a youngster of eight. An uncle and aunt raised him in the town of Merlano. They sent him out into the pasture land to shepherd sheep. Since schooling was not necessary to become a shepherd, young Dominic did not attend school.

Dominic found time to pray as he tended the sheep. He also taught himself to read and write. When Napoleon closed all the religious houses in Italy, Dominic became acquainted with several Passionists living in exile at Merlano. Among them was Father Joseph Mary Molajoni. Father Joseph invited Dominic to pray in the family chapel on his family’s estate. In that chapel (now a shrine) Dominic experienced mystical attractions to join the Passionists and one day to go to far-away England.

Dominic had promised God that if he were not drafted into the army he would become a Passionist. But when he escaped the draft at the public lottery he forgot his promise. Dominic’s uncle and aunt had planned a marriage for him. Actually he tells us he found the girl quite attractive. Just being near her drove away all thought of the religious life. Dominic could not tell the young woman about God’s call and his own plans. In fact he never did really face up to her. He just slipped away one day and entered the nearby Passionist monastery at Vetralla!

A few days after Dominic entered the Vetralla monastery he was kneeling in prayer before the altar of the Blessed Virgin. All at once he received an interior communication that assured him that one day he would be a priest and would go to England.

Dominic entered the novitiate, took his vows and began his studies. Dominic studied eagerly, for he had a brilliant mind. Philosophy and theology came quite easily for him. During these years he had as his director, Father Anthony Testa. Over the years both men influenced each other very much. Dominic was ordained in Rome on March 1, 1821. For the next nineteen years he shared the life and ministries of the Passionists in Italy, but his heart was in England.

After ordination, Dominic became involved in the renewal of the congregation. He was assigned the task of teaching philosophy and theology to the young students. He was a good teacher for he also remained a diligent student. He read widely and intelligently. The superiors asked him to write a manual of philosophy for use in the schools of the congregation.

Dominic felt that the students should be formed into thinkers and philosophers, that they should be acquainted with the errors of the day and not simply those of the medieval period. He insisted that philosophy should take into account modern scientific advances. These were the goals he wanted to achieve in his manual.

The censors read his book and “condemned” it for not following St. Thomas closely enough and for departing from the “traditional” methods used in the seminaries. Today Dominic’s book is seen as preparing for the Thomistic revival of Leo XIII.

During all these years Dominic was ever aware of the earlier call to work for the return of England to the Church. Wherever he went he would encourage people to pray for the conversion of that country. He began to study the English language.

While teaching in Rome, Father Dominic would be called to the parlor to meet English visitors. He spoke to them of his prayers for their country. They in turn would tell him about the religious situation in England and the possibilities of its conversion to Rome. Dominic developed several close friendships with English Catholics in Rome. He waited for the day when he could fulfill his mission in England.

In 1833 Dominic was a delegate to the general chapter. He requested the chapter to send missionaries to England. The request was not granted but the idea had been planted. Even when Dominic was made rector of the new monastery at Lucca and then provincial, he and others kept in close contact with the “new” Catholics in England.

By the time of the 1839 general chapter the congregation was ready to move. There had been an increase of vocations during the past twenty five years. Some of the capitulars, especially Father Anthony Testa, remembered Dominic’s suggestion at the previous chapter. The chapter recommended that the new general send several religious to England.

The new general superior was the energetic, charismatic Father Anthony Testa. He had been Dominic’s vice-master and student director. He knew Dominic well, but he hesitated at first to send him to England because of Dominic’s health.

By April of 1840 Father Anthony Testa decided that Dominic should go. He sent him with three companions to Belgium to make a foundation in that country with the hope that from Belgium the mission to England could be realized. The three companions were Father Peter Magagnotto, Father Seraphim Giammaria, and Brother Crispin Cotta.

The four missionaries had hardly arrived in Belgium when Brother Crispin died. Dominic wrote to the General: “Before he died, he assured me that in heaven he would intercede earnestly for the congregation and in particular for this foundation…He was scarcely dead when we began to experience marked effects of the loving providence of God”.

Dominic established the first Passionist monastery outside of Italy in 1840 at Ere in Belgium. In November of that year he made a brief visit to England to survey the situation. He wrote on November 26: “Here I am on the eve of my first visit to England, if God should allow me to get there. A few moments ago I saw for the first time the coast of the island from the top of a lofty church. If I die now, it will be the death of Moses – but no! I shall not die but live to narrate the works of the Lord. Amen.

Dominic’s visit to England was brief. He still had work to do in Belgium before he could return to England for good. One of the first problems confronting Dominic was the type of formation to provide for candidates from northern Europe. Dominic insisted that the conditions in north Europe called for adaptations. The novice master, Father Seraphim Giammaria, wanted to form them by means of the Italian practices he and Dominic and all Passionists had been formed by. Thus from almost the very first year the question of adapting Passionist life outside of Italy was raised, and demanded an answer.

The response of the general, Father Anthony Testa, deserves our attention if we are to understand a problem that would vex the Passionists for more than a century. “He (Paul of the Cross) intended that there should be French Passionists, English Passionists, Flemish Passionists, Russian and even Laplander….Those who intend to keep the Order inside Italy are opposed to the mind of the founder and do not have the Spirit of God.” The general continues: “Intending that there be Passionists in every country in the world, did he intend that in each nation they adopt Italian ways and customs? That they eat Italian foods? Think like Italians? Speak Italian? Act like Italians? Certainly not!…You will fail if you intend to make only Italian Passionists. You will never make them Passionists at all!”

Finally, the time came to establish the first Passionist residence in England. Father Dominic and a companion went over to England and obtained a house at Aston Hall in Staffordshire. One of his first ministries was the celebration of the 1842 Holy Week services.

When in June of 1844 Dominic was near Littlemore he called on John Dalgairns and met John Henry Newman for the first time. He spent about a half hour with Newman. Neither man ever forgot this first visit. In July Dominic wrote to the general: “I was received with every token of cordiality and sincere regards by Dr. Newman and by his disciples. We talked of various matters of religion. I left them several of my polemical tracts” Newman mentioned this brief visit to his friends when he later wrote of his reception by Father Dominic.

John Dalgairns continue to keep in touch with Dominic and in mid- September of the following year wrote to Dominic that he wanted to be received at Aston Hall. Afterwards, Dalgairns invited Dominic to stop at Littlemore on his way to Belgium. When Newman heard that Father Dominic would be stopping at Littlemore he felt that this was the external sign he was looking for. He would ask Father Dominic to receive him into the church.

Dominic arrived late at night, dripping-wet for he had been sitting on the top of the coach exposed to the continual rain. On entering the house he went at once to the fireplace to dry himself. The door opened quietly and Newman entered. In a moment he was at Dominic’s feet, praying for admission into the Catholic and Roman Church! That very night he began his confession.

“What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.” Thus did the humble, joyous Dominic write to Father Anthony in Rome.

On the following Sunday Newman and four companions went to the Catholic Chapel of St. Clement’s at Oxford for Mass. All England soon knew that they were now Roman Catholics.

Father Anthony Testa reminded Dominic that if they are to fulfill their mission in England they needed, not Italians, but English vocations: “I am more and more convinced that success requires nationals, who have a command of the language. Foreigners will be able to do something, if they have a good reputation; but they cannot gain or win the people by their speech. This reason, together with the fact that it would not be easy to send many Italian subjects, makes it desirable that God should send us English vocations.”

English vocations were few, but Dominic was deeply consoled by the arrival of Father George Spencer who received the habit on January 5, 1847. Spencer was a convert of some years and already ordained when Dominic came to England in 1841. Now as a fellow Passionist, known as Ignatius Spencer, he proved a great comfort to Dominic and the Passionists.

In August, 1849, Dominic was returning to Aston Hall from London. He was accompanied by his cousin, Father Louis Pesciaroli, who has just returned from the disastrous Australian venture. About five miles from Reading, Dominic got desperately sick. He was taken off the train to be attended by a doctor. There was not a room for him at the small station of Pangbourne. Father Louis put him back on the train for Reading. There he expired from violent heart spasms at 3:00 p.m., August 27, 1849.

Dominic had dreamed a dream. Only part of it was fulfilled, for he did come to England. But even the conversion of Newman did not bring about the reunion of Canterbury with Rome. The reunion of Christians would require a long, painful journey on the part of many. Dominic had paid the price of the first steps.

In the tradition of Blessed Dominic (he was beatified by Pope Paul VI), Passionists would be aware that ecumenism is an essential part of their heritage. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, Passionists would accept with joy the call to engage in ecumenical ministries. The “renewal” of the congregation in the spirit of Vatican II would challenge the modern Passionist to this ecumenical mission.

(text adapted from The Story of the Passionists by Roger Mercurio, C.P.)


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Remarks of Venerable Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman Cong. Orat. On Father Dominic



From ‘Loss and Gain’

(Part the Third, Chapter 10)

Two centuries after the memorable era when St. Philip and St. Ignatius, making light of those bodily austerities of which they were personally so great masters, preached mortification of will and reason as more necessary for a civilised age—in the lukewarm and self-indulgent eighteenth century, Father Paul of the Cross was divinely moved to found a Congregation in some respects more ascetic than the primitive hermits and the orders of the middle age. It was not fast, or silence, or poverty which distinguished it, though here too it is not wanting in strictness; but in the cell of its venerable founder, on the Celian Hill, hangs an iron discipline or scourge, studded with nails, which is a memorial, not only of his own self-inflicted sufferings, but of those of his Italian family. The object of those sufferings was as remarkable as their intensity; penance, indeed, is in one respect the end of all self-chastisement, but in the instance of the Passionists the use of the scourge was specially directed to the benefit of their neighbour. They applied the pain to the benefit of the holy souls in Purgatory, or they underwent it to rouse a careless audience. On their missions, when their words seemed uttered in vain, they have been known suddenly to undo their habit, and to scourge themselves with sharp knives or razors, crying out to the horrified people, that they would not show mercy to their flesh till they whom they were addressing took pity on their own perishing souls. Nor was it to their own countrymen alone that this self-consuming charity extended; how it so happened does not appear; perhaps a certain momento close to their house was the earthly cause; but so it was, that for many years the heart of Father Paul was expanded towards a northern nation, with which, humanly speaking, he had nothing to do. Over against St. John and St. Paul, the home of the Passionists on the Celian, rises the old church and monastery of San Gregorio, the womb, as it may be called, of English Christianity. There had lived that great Saint, who is named our Apostle, who was afterwards called to the chair of St. Peter; and thence went forth, in and after his pontificate, Augustine, Paulinus, Justus, and the other Saints by whom our barbarous ancestors were converted. Their names, which are now written up upon the pillars of the portico, would almost seem to have issued forth, and crossed over, and confronted the venerable Paul; for, strange to say, the thought of England came into his ordinary prayers; and in his last years, after a vision during Mass, as if he had been Augustine or Mellitus, he talked of his “Sons” in England.

It was strange enough that even one Italian in the heart of Rome should at that time have ambitious thoughts of making novices or converts in this country; {423} but, after the venerable Founder’s death, his special interest in our distant isle showed itself in another member of his institute.

            On the Apennines, near Viterbo, there dwelt a shepherd-boy, in the first years of this century, whose mind had early been drawn heavenward; and, one day, as he prayed before an image of the Madonna, he felt a vivid intimation that he was destined to preach the Gospel under the northern sky. There appeared no means by which a Roman peasant should be turned into a missionary; nor did the prospect open, when this youth found himself, first a lay-brother, then a Father, in the Congregation of the Passion. Yet, though no external means appeared, the inward impression did not fade; on the contrary, it became more definite, and in process of time, instead of the dim north, England was engraven on his heart. And, strange to say, as years went on, without his seeking, for he was simply under obedience, our peasant found himself at length upon the very shore of the stormy northern sea, whence Cæsar of old looked out for a new world to conquer: yet that he should cross the strait was still as little likely as before. However, it was as likely as that he should ever have got so near it; and he used to eye the restless, godless, waves, and wonder with himself whether the day would ever come when he should be carried over them. And come it did, not however by any determination of his own, but by the same Providence which thirty years before had given him the anticipation of it.

From the Apologia

On October the 8th I wrote to a number of friends the following letter:—

“Littlemore, October 8th, 1845. I am this night expecting Father Dominic, the Passionist, who, from his youth, has been led to have distinct and direct thoughts, first of the countries of the North, then of England. After thirty years’ (almost) waiting, he was without his own act sent here. But he has had little to do with conversions. I saw him here for a few minutes on St. John Baptist’s day last year. He is a simple, holy man; and withal gifted with remarkable powers. He does not know of my intention; but I mean to ask of him admission into the one Fold of Christ …”

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Remarks from the Press


from the ‘Freethinker’ upon the death of Newman


When NEWMAN flung himself at the feet of Father Dominic, the Passionist, and was received into the communion of Rome, he showed his conversion was a matter of temperament. The Father was greatly his inferior, but he represented the Catholic Church, and only within that Church could NEWMAN find rest for his soul. Protestantism acknowledged in theory, though never in practice, the sovereignty of reason.


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