Monday, November 18, 2002

The Pittsburgh Oratory
Well, I blogged on the life of the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, St. Philip Neri. However, I am a Secular Oratorian at a particular Oratory..the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Pittsburgh. I'm going to blog on the history of this particular community, by posting an article which, in revised form, may be on the still-being-constructed new Pittsburgh Oratory website. (Don't worry. It's a lot shorter than the St. Philip Neri article !)

The Pittsburgh Oratory

While the history of the Congregation of the Oratory goes back more than 400 years, and the history of the Oratory in the English-speaking world began almost 150 years ago, the history of the Congregation of the Oratory in Pittsburgh begins less than 50 years ago. This makes it a young Congregation, but by no means the youngest, as about 20 Oratories have been founded more recently than Pittsburgh, and there are more communities in formation.

The Beginning

It began with John Wright, then the Bishop of Pittsburgh, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. (He later became John Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Clergy.) He was aware that many Catholic students were attending secular colleges, where their faith was sure to be challenged. The bishop also realized that while there were already Newman Clubs on Pittsburgh campuses, it would be a great help to students to have an actual community of priests, which would minister to the students.

Bishop Wright was familiar with the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman (now Venerable), who had written so eloquently on education, and thus had been taken as the ‘patron’ of Catholic campus ministry. Putting together the need for ministry and his knowledge of Newman, he came up with an idea: why not have a Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, Newman’s own community, in Pittsburgh, with its members working as chaplains to the students of secular universities? This would be especially helpful because Oratorians would stay in one place for life, giving the ministry a measure of stability, which would be particularly needed by college communities, which are transient, by their very nature.

This was not an entirely new idea. Newman himself had, at one point, hoped, and even taken steps to begin an Oratory at Oxford. However, this had not come about, due to opposition to such a measure by various people in the hierarchy. Pittsburgh was not Oxford, but now followers of St. Philip would be serving Catholic students at secular universities, as Newman himself had dreamed so long ago. (Oxford now has an Oratory as well, which was established in 1993.)


Bishop Wright was a man of great vision; however he knew that having an idea is quite different from implementing an idea. Much labor was needed to make his vision a reality. Bishop Wright contacted the Rock Hill Oratory in South Carolina for help in getting this fledgling community started. He was also in communication with the Birmingham Oratory in England, Newman’s own community, and they were also most helpful, sending one of their priests to assist the new foundation for six months.

By 1961, a community was established at 4040 Bigelow Boulevard, in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, close to three of the secular universities in Pittsburgh: the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham College.
When all of the formation was completed, and the requirements for a fully established Oratory met, the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Pittsburgh was canonically erected April 15, 1968. In the years to come, the apostolate to students continued to grow and thrive, and as hoped by the founders, the Oratory provided stability and strength to students trying to live their faith in troubled times.


During this time, the Oratory acquired a large farmhouse in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, along with about 90 acres of the surrounding countryside, to be a retreat house for the Oratorians and their ministry. This house was named ‘Rednal’, after the retreat house of the Birmingham Oratory, as a tribute to the community that had played an important part in the formation of the Pittsburgh Oratory. Through the years, the house has been enlarged and improved a great deal, but its purpose has remained constant: to give those who visit there the ability to build up their faith in a quiet and beautiful setting, in a respite from the hectic life of the urban university campuses.

Building and Growth

In 1994, the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Pittsburgh moved to its current location, at 4450 Bayard Street. This building, unlike the community’s previous home, had been built specifically for the Oratory and its ministry, with funds raised by the Oratory itself. The new building, which has more spacious facilities for the ministry to students, also includes room for the housing of new members. If it be God’s will, the Congregation of the Oratory in Pittsburgh will continue its ministries, in the spirit of St. Philip, serving and strengthening the life of faith in the university communities in this new millennium.


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