Founder of the London Oratory


Father Wilfrid Faber (1814-1863) was the founder, under Newman, of the London Oratory. Faber and a small group of Newman's disciples came from Birmingham to London in 1849. They began their community in premises variously described as a whisky-store, a gin-shop, a dance-hall, in King William Street (now William IV Street) just off the Strand.

After three years there a better property was found in a small village called Brompton, on the outskirts of London. The present Oratory house was built first. The present church was consecrated on the 16thApril 1884.

Faber the preacher, Faber the hymn-writer, Faber the spiritual author, must all give way to Faber the founder and first Provost of the London Oratory. Father Faber became an influential figure in the London of his day. His enthusiastic and, some might say, faintly flamboyant personality might lend itself to unsympathetic treatment by those who do not understand him, and by those who do not read his books. In the words of his early biographer, Fr. John Bowden, Faber's life was "from first to last religious". His character was not something fixed or static. His letters display a growing maturity of outlook. In this he may be fairly said to exemplify the wise insight of Newman himself who said that to be human is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. Faber described Newman as "the greatest scholar since St. Augustine" and referred to Newman as the one "who taught me all the good I know".

Faber's early religious training may have had a Calvinistic bias, but all his Catholicism was drawn from Italian sources. He felt naturally at home with the Italian temperament, and might perhaps have lived happily in Italy were it not for his burning zeal to save souls in England. The spiritual depths of this great servant of God may be glimpsed in his "Notes on Community Life in the Oratory". In 1849, Faber wrote of his vocation to the Oratory as follows:

"Why did I come here? Not to spend a lazy life, not to have pleasant companions, congenial duties, or a home without temptations. All these things I turned my back upon, when I turned my back upon the world. I came here that I might love God fervently, and  nothing but God - to rehearse now what I hope will be my blessed occupation in heaven for all eternity - to learn to mortify myself by continual mortifications and incessant prayer - to sanctify myself first of all, and then to try and save souls for Jesus.

May the grace of God preserve me from -
A comfort-loving life,
An unrestrained tongue,
A dissipated mind,
An unexamined conscience,
Slothful prayers,
Slovenly sacraments,
An esteem of myself, and
A love of anything short of God.
— Fr Faber