John Gordon (1811-53) took the name Joseph on becoming an Oratorian. The second son of John Gordon of Dominica, West Indies, he was educated at Rugby School from 1823-27; then, with romantic ideas of glory, became a cadet in the Indian Army, where an evangelical fellow officer converted him to a strict religious life and told him to read William Law’s Serious Call.
The officer, ‘first taught me to think of my own soul and to live for eternity.’
In 1831 Gordon was invalided home after dysentery, and was at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1833-37, and in the latter year took orders in the Church of England. He was curate at Levens in Westmorland for two years, but left as he found his evangelical views evaporating under the influence of the Tracts for the Times and Newman’s Sermons. In 1841 he visited Oxford, and his diary for Ascension Day reads, ‘We went to S. Mary’s to service, Newman read the prayers and gave a lecture. I was not in the least disappointed in my anticipations, which is saying a great deal. I thought I should have wept at times from mere fulness of heart…’ In 1842 Gordon decided to work under the high churchman William Dodsworth.
He joined the Birmingham Oratory with his younger brother William in the first weeks after the community was established in February 1848, receiving the habit exactly a year after the two were received into the Catholic Church.