The St Barnabas Society continues the work begun by The Converts Aid Society more than a century ago to give pastoral and financial help to non-Catholic clergy and religious who have asked to be received into the Catholic Church. The background to the foundation of The Converts Aid Society was the Papal Bull “Apostolicae Curae” which was issued on 15th September 1896 in which Anglican orders were declared to be null and void. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, believed that a large number of Anglican clergy would resign from the Church of England in the wake of the bull and ask to be received as Catholics. Hence on 23rd August 1896, just prior to the Bull’s publication, Pope Leo XIII sent a letter to the Cardinal expressing his concern. He wrote:
“We would wish…to come to the aid of those who have taken this step or are ready to take it. For this purpose what we ourselves have thought of, and now propose to you, would be the formation of a considerable fund for the help of converted Anglican clergymen.
We desire you, dearest son, to communicate with your brethren in the Episcopate for the organisation of this work, and to invite all who have the means of doing so to join with you for the realisation of a project which affects the salvation of so many chosen souls.”
Cardinal Vaughan lost no time in setting up such a fund and The Converts Aid Society was founded on 16th October 1896 with the following objectives:
1. To welcome with kindness and attention those who have embraced the truth at all costs.
2. To find Catholic acquaintances and friends for those who have forfeited former friendships for Christ’s sake.
3. To assist clergymen, especially married clergymen with families, whose conversion has reduced them to need.
The Society had to face the fact that its work would be needed for a very long time and that its mission would inevitably need to be expanded. Initially it relied upon a small but generous group of Catholic families for funding but the appointment of a full-time Secretary in 1922 led it to seek support from the Catholic community nationwide. The Secretary’s name was F.W. (Freddie) Chambers, a former Anglican clergyman himself, who was to hold the position for forty five years until his death in 1967. Then, for a further nineteen years, his work was continued by his wife, Pat. They were assisted by a loyal staff and guided by a sympathetic Executive Committee and during their time the scope of the Society’s work was enlarged to include former Anglican Religious and convert clergy from other churches. Monsignor Ronald Knox served on the Committee and G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were numbered among its patrons. Support was eventually extended to convert clergy seminarians who were often deprived of the support of families and local parishes. This contribution to the training of new priests remains an important part of the Society’s work right up to the present day.
The constitution of The Converts Aid Society remained almost unchanged from 1896 to 1991. By then the many changes in charity legislation made it necessary to devise a new constitution. It was important to retain the identity of The Converts Aid Society, not least so that it could continue to receive legacies which were left to it, but the decision was made to also create a new charitable company with identical aims and objects. This would take up and continue the charitable work and responsibilities of The Converts Aid Society but in compliance with what modern charity legislation now required. So it was that The St Barnabas Society was born. Barnabas had been the friend and companion of Paul of Tarsus, the greatest convert the Church has ever known, and the Society saw itself as having a similar ministry to his, namely welcoming and encouraging those newly received into the Catholic Church. It began its work on 1st June 1992 and within a few months there occurred the largest increase ever in the numbers of convert clergy received into the Church. It was a challenge to which the newly formed Society rose admirably.
The Society’s headquarters are at 4 First Turn, Wolvercote, Oxford, OX2 8AH. The Society’s Director, himself a convert clergyman, is assisted by two Area Organisers and by a secretarial staff of three. The Director and his colleagues are responsible for the day to day work of the Society and he also acts as a link between the Board of Directors (Trustees), the Society’s beneficiaries and the Organisers. The Director and Organisers often make appeals in parishes for financial support for the Society. Such appeals also provide an invaluable opportunity to promote its work. It remains a principle that no financial help can be offered until after reception into the Church however pastoral contact is often established long before that. The Society’s headquarters at Wolvercote is open to visitors at any time and the little house chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved is available for visiting priests to say Mass. In fact the Director offers Mass there nearly every day and is always happy to receive Mass Intentions from those who are keen to support the Society’s work.
THE SOCIETY’S PRAYER
Father in heaven,
we thank you for the life and work
of your servant Barnabas.
Through his intercession may all
who work for the St Barnabas Society
be strengthened to follow his example
of joyful encouragement.
Help them to extend a warm and
generous welcome to those who have
left home and livelihood to be
united with Christ’s One, Holy,
Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.