Dominic Barberi

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Blessed Dominic Barberi
Born (1792-06-22)22 June 1792
Viterbo, Italy
Died 27 August 1849(1849-08-27) (aged 57)
Reading, Berkshire, England
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 27 October 1963, Rome, Italy by Pope Paul VI
Major shrine Church of Saint Anne and Blessed Dominic, St Helens, Merseyside, England
Feast August 27
Attributes Passionist Habit and Sign
Patronage England

Dominic Barberi (22 June 1792 - 27 August 1849) was an Italian theologian and a member of the Passionist Congregation. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963.

Birth and early life[edit]

Barberi was born Domenico Giovanni Barberi near Viterbo to a poor family of Italian farmers in 1792.[1] His parents died while Barberi was still a small boy, and he was raised by his maternal uncle, Bartolomeo Pacelli. As a boy he was employed to take care of sheep. He was taught his letters by a Capuchin priest, and learned to read from a country lad of his own age; although he read all the books he could obtain, he had no regular education.

When Napoleon suppressed the religious communities in the Papal States, Barberi became acquainted with several Passionists living in exile near his town.[1] Barberi befriended these Passionists and served daily Mass with them.

When Barberi was one of the few men of his locality not chosen for military conscription, he felt it was a sign from God that he should enter a religious community. Barberi believed that he was called to preach the Gospel in far off lands, later he would affirm that he had received a specific call to preach to the people of England. Saint Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionist Congregation, also had a great enthusiasm for the conversion of England.[2]


He was received into the Congregation of the Passion in 1814 after the re-establishment of the religious orders in the Papal States. Initially Barberi was accepted as a lay brother, but once his extraordinary gifts were revealed his status was changed to that of a clerical novice, in an extraordinary break with custom.[3] During his studies Dominic's brilliance was an example to his fellow students, though he would often take steps to hide his intelligence. He was ordained priest on 1 March 1818.

After completing the regular course of studies, he taught philosophy and theology to the students of the congregation as lector for a period of ten years, first in Sant'Angelo and then in Rome. It was during this time that he produced his many theological and philosophical works. In the summer of 1830 he was asked to aid an English convert to Catholicism, Sir Henry Trelawney, with regard to the rubrics of the Mass. Through this meeting Barberi made the acquaintance of Ignatius Spencer and influential English Catholics, such as Ambrose Phillips.[4] This was to be the first step in the long journey which eventually brought Blessed Dominic to England. Through his continued correspondence with these persons Dominic's hopes for England's conversion were kept alive.

He then held in Italy the offices of rector, provincial consultor, and provincial, and fulfilled the duties of these positions with ability. At the same time he constantly gave missions and retreats, always mindful of his hopes to travel and preach in England. In 1839 the Passionist General Chapter met and discussed the possibility of making a foundation in England. Finally in January 1840 negotiations were completed with regard to a Passionist foundation at Ere in Belgium, the superiors, mindful of Dominic's singular vocation to England, in spite of his age and ill health, sent Barberi to be superior of the Belgian mission.[1]

Foundations in Belgium and England[edit]

The first Passionist Retreat in Belgium was founded at Ere near Tournai in June 1840.[5] On arrival in Belgium the local bishop was so unimpressed with Dominic's plebeian appearance that he was subjected to intense examination in moral theology before being allowed to hear confessions. Life in Belgium posed plenty of problems for the Passionists; one of the Brothers had fallen ill, the community was in abject poverty and Barberi had few words of French. Dominic's spirit rose to the occasion and soon the community was flourishing and even Barberi enjoyed good health. In September Barberi received a letter from Bishop Wiseman, the head of the English mission, inviting Barberi to make a Passionist foundation in England at Aston Hall. Dominic, with the permission of the Passionist General, visited the site in November 1840, though Ignatius Spencer warned Barberi that the situation in England would mean this would not be a favourable time to make such a foundation. Barberi set out for England once more in October 1841 where he was greeted with stares and suspicion, not only as a Catholic priest, but for the strange garb of the Passionist habit. J. Brodrick S.J. in his work on the 'Second Spring' of Catholicism in England, says of Father Dominic's arrival: "The second spring did not begin when Newman was converted nor when the hierarchy was restored. It began on a bleak October day of 1841, when a little Italian priest in comical attire shuffled down a ship's gangway at Folkstone."[6]

After many months of waiting at Oscott College, Barberi finally secured possession of Aston Hall and so in February, 1842, after twenty-eight years of effort, he established the Passionists in England, at Aston Hall, Staffordshire. The reception of Barberi and his fellow Passionists was less than welcoming. The local Catholics feared the arrival of these newcomers would cause renewed persecutions. Barberi was also met with ridicule; his attempts to read prayers in English were met with the laughter of his congregation. The community increased in numbers and as the people of Aston grew to know Barberi they became enamoured of him and Barberi soon began to receive a steady stream of converts.[7] A centre was also set up in neighboring Stone where Barberi would say Mass and preach to the local populace.

Opposition to Barberi was also present here where on his journeys to the Mass centre local youths would throw rocks at him, though two youths took to the decision to become Catholics when they were greatly edified to see Barberi kiss each rock that hit him and place it in his pocket. During many of these frequent attacks Barberi barely escaped death. Local Protestant ministers often held anti-Catholic lectures and sermons to ward the people away from Barberi and the Catholics. Wilson records how one of these ministers followed Barberi along a street shouting out various arguments against transubstantiation, Barberi was silent, but as the man was about to turn off, Barberi retorted: "Jesus Christ said over the consecrated elements, "This is my body" you say "No. It is not his body!" Who then am I to believe? I prefer to believe Jesus Christ."[8]

Converts increased at Stone, so much so that a new church had to be built. It was at Aston however that on 10 June 1844 the first Corpus Christi procession was held in the British Isles, an event which attracted thousands of Catholics and Protestants alike.[9] Barberi then began to visit other parishes and religious communities in order to preach, such 'missions' as they are called caused Barberi's reputation to become widely known in England. These missions frequently took place in the industrial cities of northern England, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Newman's conversion[edit]

The College, Littlemore where Barberi received Newman into the Church

While in Italy and later in Belgium, Barberi had always kept up a keen interest in the Oxford Movement. In 1841 a letter by John Dobree Dalgairns appeared in L'Univers explaining the position of the Anglican High Church party. Barberi decided to respond to this letter in the mistaken belief that it represented the views of the entire faculty of Oxford University (Dalgairns was an undergraduate when he had written the letter). In his "Letter to University Professors at Oxford" [10] Barberi describes his long hopes for the conversion of England and his belief that the men of Oxford would be instrumental in such a conversion. The letter, through the help of Ignatius Spencer eventually ended up in the hands of Dalgairns who was residing with John Henry Newman at Littlemore. Barberi repudiated the Anglican claim that the 39 Articles could be interpreted in a Catholic light. In their continued correspondence Dalgairns and Barberi debated the Catholic position and Dalgairns requested copies of the Passionist Rule and Dominic's 'The Lament of England'. Eventually Dalgairns was received into the Catholic Church by Barberi at Aston in September 1845.[11]

In October of that same year Barberi visited Littlemore where Newman made his confession to him[12] Newman relates in his "Apologia" of how Barberi arrived soaked from the rain and as he was drying himself by the fire Newman knelt and asked to be received into the Catholic Church.[13] This event is marked by a sculpture in the Catholic Church of Blessed Dominic Barberi at Littlemore. Two of Newman's companions at Littlemore were also received and Barberi celebrated Mass for them the following morning. Newman and Barberi always afterward followed each other's careers.

Further work and death[edit]

Window from Blessed Dominic's Shrine

The community at Aston had reached fifteen religious and in 1846 a new foundation was made at Woodchester in Gloucestershire and in 1848 the Passionists arrived in London. In the last years of his life Barberi engaged in negotiations for the foundation of St. Anne's Retreat, Sutton where today he lies buried. In 1847 The Honorable George Spencer, Dominic's long standing friend was received into the Congregation of the Passion[14] Throughout this time Dominic fulfilled his duties in preaching missions and heading the English and Belgian foundations.

One story told of Dominic during this time that expresses his sense of humour is that while he was visiting a convent of nuns who were instructing many converts, some of them male. Dominic was informed that some of the sisters were worried about teaching men, Dominic retorted, "Have no fear, Sisters. You are all too old and too ugly."[15] The Sisters appreciated Dominic's humour so much that they recorded the incident in their archives.

Such work inevitably took its toll upon Father Dominic's health and from 1847 he insisted that his life had nearly run its course. He had preached numerous retreats, both alone and with Father Ignatius, both in England and Ireland. On 27 August 1849 Dominic was travelling from London to Woodchester when, at Pangbourne, he suffered a heart attack. On being taken to the Railway Tavern at Reading (later the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, now demolished) he died after being given absolution.

He was buried in St Anne's Church, St Helens, Merseyside, which is also the shrine of Servants of God Elizabeth Prout and Ignatius Spencer.

Beatification and legacy[edit]

Barberi was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963, during the Second Vatican Council.[16]

Barberi is best remembered for his part in Newman's conversion, but is also commemorated for his work in the efforts to return England to the Catholic faith in the 19th century. In his years in England Dominic established three churches, several chapels and preached innumerable missions and received hundreds of converts, not only Newman, but others such as Spencer and Dalgairns.[16]

A relic of Barberi was given to Monsignor Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, for the ordinariate to be kept at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Warwick Street.[17]

Literary works[edit]

The shrine of Blessed Dominic Barberi

Among Barberi's works are: courses of philosophy and moral theology; a volume on the Passion of Our Lord; a work for nuns on the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, "Divina Paraninfa"; a refutation of de Lamennais; three series of sermons; various controversial and ascetical works. One of Blessed Dominic's most famed works was his 'Lamentation of England'[18] whereby he used the words of the Prophet Jeremiah to express the lamentations of English Catholics.


  1. ^ a b c Mercurio C.P., Roger. "Blessed Dominic Barberi", The Story of the Passionists
  2. ^ Wilson C.P., Alfred (1967). Blessed Dominic Barberi, Supernaturalised Briton. page 36
  3. ^ Wilson C.P., Alfred (1963). Blessed Dominic Barberi, Apostle of Christian Unity, p.5
  4. ^ Wilson (1967), p.123.
  5. ^ Wilson (1967), p.210.
  6. ^ Wilson (1967), p.233.
  7. ^ Wilson (1963), p.10.
  8. ^ Wilson (1967), p.256.
  9. ^ Wilson (1967), p.259.
  10. ^ "Letter to University Professors at Oxford", May 5, 1841
  11. ^ Wilson (1967), p.301.
  12. ^ Wilson (1963), p.11.
  13. ^ Newman, J. H. (1864). Apolgia Pro Vita Sua. page 325
  14. ^ Wilson (1967), p.339.
  15. ^ Wilson (1967), p.348.
  16. ^ a b "Blessed Dominic Barberi", The Passionists, Paul of the Cross Province
  17. ^ "Ordinariate given relic of Bl. Dominic Barberi - 02 March 2013". Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  18. ^ The Lamentation of England. Published in England in 1831.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gwynn, Denis (1947). Father Dominic Barberi. London: Burns and Oates. 
  • Thorpe C.P., Edmund. "Dominic Barberi C.P., An Apostle of England
  • Wilson C.P., Alfred (1963). Blessed Dominic Barberi, Apostle of Unity. 
  • Wilson C.P., Alfred (1967). Blessed Dominic Barberi, Supernaturalized Briton. London: Sands & Co. 
  • Young C.P., Urban (1926). Life and Letters of the Venerable Fr. Dominic (Barberi) C.P. London: Burns and Oates. 
  • Young C.P., Urban (1935). Dominic Barberi in England. Burns and Oates. 

External links[edit]