Cecil John Winterton—he took the name Gregory on coming to the Oratory—was born in Brighton, Sussex on July 9th 1922, the oldest son of the future Major-General Sir John Winterton and his wife Helen, née Shepherd-Cross. He was at school at Selwyn House, Broadstairs (1932-35) and Wellington College, Berks (1935-40). Leaving school in the early days of the Second World War, he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and saw service in North Africa, Italy and Palestine. He acted as his father’s ADC when General Winterton was Allied Commander-in-Chief in Austria, and Military Governor of the Anglo-American Zone in Trieste. In 1946 John Winterton went to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, where he read theology. During his time in Italy he had visited the Shrine of St Francis of Assisi and there discovered his vocation to the ministry. Accepted for training by the Bishop of London, he studied for ordination at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and was ordained an Anglican priest in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, in September 1951. He served as a curate in Northolt, and in 1954 came to Wolverhampton as priest-in-charge of St George’s Church. However, he resigned on January 1st 1955 and was received into the Catholic Church on Maundy Thursday that year. In his early days as a Catholic, John Winterton first visited the Oratory, but it was not until 1961, when he had already been a student for the Archdiocese of Birmingham for five years, that he joined the Oratory Congregation. Fr Gregory was ordained priest in our church on March 9th 1963.
In his early years as a priest, Fr Gregory taught in our Grammar School, St Philip’s, and many still fondly remember him from those years as “Pop G”. Later on he served as a Governor of the School and its successor, the Sixth Form College. He was also a Governor of the Oratory School near Reading, originally founded by Saint John Henry Newman in 1859. He served as Provost of the Oratory from 1971 until 1992 apart from six months in 1977, when Fr Geoffrey Wamsley occupied the position until his sudden death in July that year.
There are two areas of his life at the Oratory for which Fr Gregory will be long remembered: Firstly, for his work as Parish Priest. For many years Fr Gregory was a familiar figure riding his old bicycle through the streets of Ladywood and Edgbaston. When poor eyesight meant he could no longer use his bicycle, his fast, military style of walking became equally familiar. He was assiduous in visiting the sick and housebound; spent long hours in his confessional; prepared engaged countless couples for marriage and converts for reception into the Church. He loved (like St Philip) the youth, and was a keen supporter and Chaplain of the Legion of Mary. Until well into old age he was a regular pilgrim to Lourdes and attended Oratorian reunions in Rome, Spain and Mexico. His acts of kindness and generosity (often of a financial nature!) were both legion and legendary.
The second great area of his work concerned the Cause for Cardinal Newman’s canonisation. Opened in 1958, the Cause had not made much progess apart from the publication, at regular intervals, of Newman’s vast ‘Letters and Diaries’.
In 1973, Pope Paul VI enquired whether it would be possible to beatify Newman during the course of the 1975 Holy Year. Of course things were nowhere near ready but, galvanised by Papal interest, Fr Gregory devoted increasing amounts of time to furthering the matter. Founding ‘The Friends of Cardinal Newman’ in 1976, giving talks and lectures to deepen knowledge and love of the Cardinal, producing pamphlets and prayerbooks, his work proved successful and interest grew year by year. Combined with the work of Fr Vincent Blehl as Postulator, significant developments occurred, a particular milestone being the Declaration by Pope John Paul II of Newman’s heroic virtues in 1991. After that another eighteen years elapsed before Cardinal Newman’s beatification at the unforgettable Mass at Cofton Park on September 19th 2010. The moment when Fr Gregory was presented to Pope Benedict XVI and, later that same day, when they met at the Oratory House, provided unforgettable pictures: two men in their eighties—one (the Pope) a devoted student of Newman, the other (Fr Gregory) the tireless advocate of Newman’s holiness. It was the culmination of half a life-time’s hard work for Fr Gregory.
At the end of his long life, dedicated to God as a faithful priest and son of St Philip, we pray for Fr Gregory in the words of the Church’s liturgy: “Lord, you gave Gregory, Your servant and priest, the privilege of a holy ministry in this world. May he rejoice for ever in the glory of Your Kingdom, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”