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Cardinal Wiseman
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Nicholas Patrick Stephen Cardinal Wiseman (1802-65)

Cardinal Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster, was born at Seville, Spain, on the 2nd of  August, 1802. He was the younger son of James Wiseman, a Waterford merchant then resident in Seville, by his second wife, Xaviera Strange, also from Waterford. The Stranges were an old Norman family, very much involved with the administrative affairs of the city. Ten of the family have been Mayors of the city; Peter Strange, 1432-33; Pierce, 1449-50; Richard, 1484-85; Peter, 1560-61; Richard, 1581-82; Paul, 1597-98; Thomas, 1607-08; Richard, 1634-35; Thomas, 1853-54 and Laurence, 1899-1900. On his father's death in 1805 the young Wiseman was taken home to Waterford by his mother and in 1810, after some years at school in Waterford he was, with his brother, placed at Ushaw College, Durham, where the distinguished historian John Lingard, Wiseman's lifelong friend, was then vice-president. This school had been founded seventeen years previously. At Ushaw, Nicholas resolved to embrace the life of a priest, and in 1818 he was chosen as one of the first batch of students for the English College in Rome, which had just been revived after having been closed for twenty years owing to the French occupation. 


Soon after his arrival he was received in audience, with five other English students, by Pius VII, who made them a kind and encouraging address; and his next six years were devoted to hard and regular study, under the strict discipline of the college. He attained distinction in the natural sciences as well as in dogmatic and scholastic theology, and in July, 1824, took his degree of Doctor of Divinity, after successfully sustaining a public disputation before a great audience of learned men, including at least one future pope. By the pope's wish he undertook at this time a course of English sermons for the benefit of English visitors to Rome, and in June, 1828, while still only in his twenty-sixth year, he became Rector of the English College. This position gave him the status of official representative of the English Catholics in Rome, and brought many external duties into his life, hitherto devoted chiefly to study, lecturing, and preaching. Fr. Ignatius Spencer, afterwards the famous Passionist, who entered the English College in 1830, had much to do with the turning of Wiseman's thoughts towards the possible return of England to Catholic unity; and this was deepened by his conversations with Newman and Hurrell Froude when they visited Rome in 1833.

 

In the autumn of 1835 Wiseman returned to England for a year's sojourn, full of fervent hopes for the future of Catholicism in that country. But he had never lived there himself under the numbing pressure of the penal laws; and it was a shock to him to realize that the long down-trodden "English papists", from whom that oppression had only recently been removed by the Emancipation Act of 1829, were not in the least ripe for any vigorous forward movement or prominent participation in public life. Nor was any particular encouragement in this direction given to them in the exhortations or pastoral letters of their ecclesiastical superiors, whose chief anxiety seemed to be lest the piety of their flocks might be adversely affected by their new-born liberty of action. Wiseman's enthusiasm, however, was not damped by the somewhat chilly atmosphere of English Catholicism. He began without delay a course of lectures, addressed alike to Catholics and Protestants, which at once attracted large audiences, and from which, wrote a well-qualified critic, dated "the beginning of a serious revival of Catholicism in England." The lectures were resumed in the following year, in the largest Catholic church in London, with even greater success. Some distinguished converts - among them the eminent architect Welby Pugin - were received into the Church: Wiseman was presented with a costly testimonial, and was invited to write an article (on the Catholic Church) for a popular encyclopedia. In the autumn of 1836, three months after the publication of this momentous article, Wiseman returned to Rome and for four more years held his post of rector of the English College but he felt himself, as his letters show, that the future of his life's work was to be not in Rome but in England.

            

In 1840 Gregory XVI raised the number of English vicars Apostolic from four to eight; and Wiseman was nominated coadjutor to Bishop Walsh of the Central District, and President of Oscott College. Other distinguished men visited Wiseman there, such as Lords Spencer and Lyttelton, Daniel O'Connell, the Duc de Bordeaux, and many more; and though not interested in the routine of college life, and a great bishop rather than a successful president, he gave a prestige and distinction to Oscott which no one else could have done. 

    

Meanwhile he had himself been appointed pro-vicar Apostolic of the London District, and had (in July, 1847) visited Rome on business of the utmost importance in relation to English Catholicism. In the changed circumstances of English Catholicism some new code of laws was imperatively called for to supplement the obsolete constitution of 1753; but the project of creating a hierarchy, which Wiseman favoured as the true solution of the question, was strongly opposed by many English Catholics, headed by Cardinal Acton, the only English member of the Sacred College. Wiseman returned to England charged with the duty of appealing to the British Government for support of the Papacy in carrying out its policy of Liberalism. Bishop Ullathorne was sent out to Rome early in 1848 to continue in Wiseman's place the negotiations on the question of the hierarchy for England; and he left on record his admiration of the calm and detailed consideration given to the subject by the authorities, at a time when revolution and disorder were almost at their height. Soon after Wiseman's return to England he succeeded Dr. Walsh as vicar Apostolic of the London District, and threw himself into his episcopal work with characteristic activity and zeal. A notable event in the annals of the London Catholics was the opening, at which Wiseman assisted, of the great Gothic Church of St. George's, Southwark, designed by Pugin, in July 1848. A function on this scale in the capital of England indicated, as was said at the time, that the English Catholic Church had indeed "come out of the catacombs"; but Wiseman had still much to content with in the shape of strong opposition, on the part of both clergy and laity of the old school, to what was called the "Romanising" and "innovating" spirit of the new bishop.  Deeply as he regretted the prospect of a lifelong severance from his work in England, he loyally submitted to the pope's behest, and left England, as he thought forever, on 16th August, 1848. At a consistory held on 30th September, Nicholas Wiseman was named a cardinal. The papal Brief re-establishing the English hierarchy had been issued on the previous day; and on 7th October the newly-created cardinal Archbishop of Westminster announced the event to English Catholics in his famous pastoral "from outside the Flaminian Gate."

            

His appointment as Bishop of Westminster let loose a storm of anti-Catholic speeches and actions and was the reason for the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill in the English Parliament. When the anti-Catholic storm was lulled, Wiseman made it his business to endeavour to restore those amicable relations between Catholics and Protestants which had inevitably been somewhat disturbed by the recent outburst. He had many personal friends outside Catholic circles, and his wide range of knowledge on many neutral subjects such as natural science, archaeology, and Oriental studies, made him welcome in general society. Not only by personal intercourse with his fellow-countrymen, but also by his frequent appearances on the lecture-platform, he did much to influence public opinion in favour of Catholics. Wiseman met these difficulties with his usual courage, moderation, and tact, steadfastly refusing to be drawn in to party controversies or to allow any public manifestation of party spirit.  

 

Wiseman returned to Waterford on September 13th 1858 where he stayed with his cousin Peter Strange in Aylwardstown, near the city. There was great pride among the citizens at his elevation to the cardinalate because they regarded Wiseman as a native son. There was a huge crowd at the North Railway Station to meet the cardinal and he was greeted officially by the Mayor. The following day the cardinal returned to the city where he was to receive an address from the citizens and to attend a banquet in his honour at the Town Hall. At half past four o'clock the cardinal's carriage arrived and the citizens unyoked the horses so that they could draw the carriage themselves. An immense crowd was gathered, including a number of bands and the procession proceeded down the Quay, passed Reginald's Tower from which the city flag was flying and up the Mall. It turned up Colbeck Street to the residence of Rev. Father Kent, where the cardinal rested and prepared for the meeting in the Town Hall. He returned to the Town Hall where the Mayor addressed him on behalf of the citizens and the cardinal replied, suitably. They then attended the grand banquet in his honour. Before the cardinal left the city he was presented with a bound missal imprinted with his likeness and also a photographic portrait. 

 

The increasing pressure of episcopal and metropolitan duties, as well as his greatly impaired health, had induced Wiseman in 1855 to petition Rome for a coadjutor, and Rt. Rev. George Errington, Bishop of Plymouth, was appointed (with right of succession as archbishop) in April of that year. Cardinal Wiseman died in London on 15th of February, 1865.   

 

- Extracted, in part, from the Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. XV  and from the files of the Waterford News.
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Picture courtesy of Cardinal Wiseman Catholic Technology College
see website http://www.cardinalwiseman.bham.sch.uk/

 

 

Copyright 2007 Waterford Ireland
Last modified: June 29, 2007