In their weekly newsletter published last Sunday, the Birmingham Oratory announced the only fragment of bone believed to be Saint John Henry Newman’s was stolen.

“Sadly, the only piece of bone thought to have been St John Henry’s was stolen from its casket in the Newman Shrine. If anyone has seen any suspicious activity, please inform one of the Fathers or Brothers.”

During excavation in October of 2008 when his cause for canonization was underway, the bone fragment was found in a cemetery where the late saint was buried in Rednal outside Birmingham in 1890. Over nearly 120 years, advanced decomposition of the grave left very few relics for excavators to find: a scant few bone fragments, brass coffin handles, and an inscription plate.

“The oratory cemetery is extremely damp, on the side of the Lickey hills and with a stream running through it. The undertakers hadn’t been digging for long when they warned us that we’d be lucky to find any recognizable remains at all.”

The London-born cardinal was an esteemed 19th century Anglican theologian and poet who founded the Oxford Movement at Oxford University in 1833 to try to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots before he converted to the Faith. His “theology of conscience” has been compared by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to the witness of Saint Thomas More.

Newman founded the Birmingham Oratory in 1849, feeling a call to the way of the life of community of Saint Philip Neri in Italy in the 16th century.

John Henry Newman was canonized last year on October 13th, Great Britain’s latest saint since Saint John Ogilvie in 1976.

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