In an atmosphere of great warmth but much sadness, and in defiance of the drizzle outside, Father Paul Chavasse was the principal celebrant at the Requiem Mass for Father Gregory Winterton, at the Birmingham Oratory, Edgbaston on Tuesday, 24 January 2012, the Feast of St Francis de Sales. Father Guy Nicholls was Deacon and Brother Richard Duncan Sub-Deacon. Father Anton Guziel, Parish Priest, was Master of Ceremonies.
Bishop Terence Brain, Bishop of Salford and Bishop Philip Pargeter, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, were present on the sanctuary, together with Fathers from the London and Oxford Oratories including the Oxford Provost, Father Daniel Seward.
Father Robert Byrne, Father Dominic Jacob and Father Richard Duffield, who left the Birmingham Oratory in September 1990 to found the Oxford house, were also here to say a last goodbye to their former Provost.
The Oratory Church is also the parish church and it was packed to its doors for the sung Latin Mass. Members of Father Gregory Winterton’s family, including his nephew Michael Winterton, parishioners, and former parishioners, and priests from the Archdiocese of Birmingham were among the great company of mourners.
Also present were representatives of many of the organisations that Father Gregory had been involved with over the long decades since his ordination in March 1963 as priest of the Birmingham Oratory. The Birmingham Oratory, along with the Oratory School, was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman.
After the welcome by Father Chavasse, a special message from the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, was read by the Vicar General, Canon Timothy Menezes.
Archbishop Longley expressed himself in these thoughtful words: “As you gather today at the Oratory for Father Gregory Winterton’s Requiem Mass I wish to unite myself with you in prayer. I am sorry that a long-standing pastoral commitment in Staffordshire prevents me from being with you this morning.
“Father Gregory would wish us, above all, to pray that he may now be admitted to the company of the saints with all his sins forgiven through the death and resurrection of Our Lord. May we not also imagine the welcome awaiting him from Christ and entrusted to his brother Oratorian and his guide Blessed John Henry Newman?
“We offer a prayer of gratitude today for the way that God’s Providence led Father Gregory to work so assiduously for Cardinal Newman’s canonisation. We can be thankful that he had the great joy of taking part so recently in the Beatification ceremony at Cofton Park, close to the cemetery at Rednal where he will be buried today.”
Archbishop Longley concluded: “As we bid farewell to Father Gregory we know that it is only for a while, and we can be certain that he will be praying for the well-being of his home for so many years, the Oratory in Hagley Road, and for the Fathers and parishioners who have been so dear to him. Let us commend his soul to the loving-kindness of Our Lord and to the prayerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
By custom, no homily or panegyric is preached at the funeral Mass of an Oratorian Father. During the distribution of Holy Communion two of the great hymns by Blessed John Henry Newman, Praise to the Holiest in the Height, and Firmly I believe and truly were sung.
After Communion the pall was carefully removed to reveal the American light oak wooden coffin and the simple crucifix on the top. Bishop Philip Pargeter began the solemn prayers of the Final Commendation while Bishop Brain and the Fathers of the Birmingham, London and Oxford Oratories and other visiting clergy stood with lighted candles around the coffin.
The Fathers and congregation sang the Song of Farewell – May the choirs of angels come to greet you, as the coffin containing the earthly remains of Father Gregory Winterton was taken in solemn procession out of the church and carried past the tablet dedicated to Blessed John Henry Newman and the deceased Fathers in the Cloisters.
The funeral cars made their way solemnly along Hagley Road, at the start of their journey to the Oratory House at Rednal on the outskirts of Birmingham, where Father Gregory Winterton was buried in the small secluded community grave-yard.
That earlier drizzle had stopped and the sun was gently breaking through the late January clouds as Father Paul Chavasse said the final prayers. The coffin was lowered gently into the newly dug grave situated not far from where Blessed John Henry Newman had been buried on 19 August 1890.
It was a deeply emotional but memorable moment as this last in a long-line of much-loved “old-style” Birmingham Oratory Fathers, going back to Blessed John Henry Newman, was laid to rest.
Fr Gregory Winterton was born on 9 July 1922. He was Provost of the Birmingham Oratory 1971-1992 (except for six month). He died in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor at their home in Harborne, on Wednesday 18 January. Like his father Major-General Sir John Winterton and Blessed John Henry Newman, he was aged 89.
*NB All pictures are my copyright but be used provided they are acknowledged: Picture by Peter Jennings.