Austin Mills

These reminiscences by Fr Denis Sheil are taken from the Oratory Parish Magazine for October 1960.

After a few personal memories of Cardinal Newman some may be interested in recollections of some of the six Fathers of the Oratory who, with him, composed the Birmingham Community at the time he wrote his Apologia and to whom he dedicated this, his best known work.

We may begin with Father Austin Mills who died aged 79 on 2nd September, 1903. He was the embodiment of all the gentleness, sweetness of character, simple, unconscious humility that we associate with the ideal son of Saint Philip. His father was Rector of the quaintly named village of Steeple-Bumpstead, in Essex – we used to chaff him about this – and his mother was reported to be an austere Protestant of severe type. Nonetheless he became a Catholic while at Cambridge under Father Faber’s influence, to whom he then attached himself. He joined the new Order of Brothers of the Will of God which Faber was at that time founding at Charlotte Street off St. Paul’s Square, Birmingham – they subsequently moved to Cotton Park. He was there known as Brother Austin of the Ascension. He also gave Faber substantial help in the building of the Pugin Church still in use at Cotton College – he contributed ¬£7.000. When Faber and his disciples joined Newman’s Oratory Austin Mills came with them – he stayed on when Faber and some of the other Fathers were sent to found another Oratory in London.

The Oratory was first founded at Maryvale, then moved to Alcester Street – where St. Anne’s is now and after a few years came to the Hagley Road. One of the first works of the Fathers was a House for Catholic boys. There was then no welfare state, no possibility of the present wonderful Rescue Society. Owing chiefly to the help of the Convent ladies, Miss Farrant and Miss Bathurst the Fathers acquired a pleasant house in Monument Lane – as it was then called – set back from the road by an avenue of poplars. The house was demolished to make room for the Science block of the Secondary School. To this house was assigned Father Austin Mills and he looked after it until his last days – this was no light task, no help could be expected from an official source, and no Church collections. Certainly there was no hope at all of any help from the relatives of the boys themselves – the whole idea of the house was to provide a Catholic life for boys who had no hope of such a thing from non-Catholic, even anti-Catholic relations. Fr. Austin only managed to carry on by making large subscriptions to the house funds from his own pocket.

Mr. and Mrs. Rawlins were the resident Master and Mistress before the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul took over in 1918 – and before them Miss Hanna Chin – many of whose relatives are still in the Parish and district.

Fr. Alban scraped along, helped only by casual donations from his friends, and after his death the House was moved to make room for the ever-growing schools of the parish. They moved to the present site at Westbourne Road and there the house still flourishes.