Greyfriars ‘truly blessed’ by warm welcome at new home

Friars, from left, Daniel Geary, Aidan Walsch, Colin Mary and James Mary

Buy this photo Friars, from left, Daniel Geary, Aidan Walsch, Colin Mary and James Mary

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering North Oxford, Jericho and Summertown. Call me on 01865 425498

OXFORD has changed quite a lot in the past 500 years, so the Greyfriars can be forgiven for taking some time to find their feet.

The Conventual Catholic friars moved back to the city this summer, for the first time since the English Reformation in the 16th century.

But already as they settle in to their new friary, formerly the All Saints Convent in East Oxford, Friar Daniel Geary said they have had a warm welcome.

He told the Oxford Mail: “Everyone is starting to settle in here. We will all be here together by September 26, when there will be 12 of us.

“People in Cowley have been very welcoming and warm and receptive. It has really been overwhelming.

“Many of the friars have come by to see our new home for the first time.

“We are planning to now spend time getting to know local groups.

“We are in a very diverse area and yet just walking distance from the city centre where our friars go to school at Blackfriars Hall. There is no doubt we are truly blessed.”

The friars moved in to the former convent, in St Mary’s Road, after it was vacated by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor.

Friar Geary, the group’s formator who is responsible for teaching young recruits, said they have now been recognised by the Greyfriars in Rome, meaning it is now affiliated with the wider Catholic Church.

“We are known officially as the Blessed Agnellus of Pisa Friary – after one of the friars who settled in Oxford in 1224, sent to the British Isles by St Francis of Assisi.

“But at the moment we are hoping people will become familiar with just ‘the friary’.

“Our aim is to start working with Helen & Douglas House hospice, our neighbours, and also to help the homeless – where there is a big need in the Oxford area – as well as the elderly, the poor, the disabled and local families.”

They will also still be on the look-out for men interested in becoming friars, he added, who can go through a process to see if they are suitable to live in the friary.

During their first period in Oxford, the Greyfriars – so called because of the colour of their robes – had a church that was in the area where the Westgate Shopping Centre now stands.

But in 1538 their friary, along with others around the country, fell foul of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation.

That saw the King reject the authority of the Pope and make himself head of the Church, so he could grant himself a divorce from his Spanish first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Years later, in 1906, the Greyfriars returned to England, with another branch of Fransiscans, the Capuchin Franciscans, moving in to what is now known as Greyfriars Hall in 1928.

Last September the Greyfriars took a house in Holton, near Wheatley, before they made the move to Oxford at the beginning of July.

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