Lewis Bellasis

The following recollections by Fr Denis Sheil are taken from the Oratory Parish Magazine for June 1961.

Henry Louis Bellasis was the youngest member of his family. His father, Mr Sergeant Bellasis had eight children, the four daughters all coming before the four sons. Henry came to the Oratory School at the age of 12 in 1865. Among his school fellows he shone as a deadly bowler in the Cricket XI. He was a wizard with a ball, not only on the cricket field but also on a billiard table, as the players in the Little Oratory Recreation Rooms soon learned. And, later in life he became an expert croquet player. It was not only balls that Fr. Louis (as we knew him) could handle but birds as well. At Rednal he had a tame jackdaw and a magpie wandering about the grounds. When the former got old and rheumaticky (or the jackdaw equivalent) he would stand on the edge of a grass bank outside the Oratory house half asleep and the mischievous magpie would steal up behind him and give him a push, making him roll down the bank. Years afterwards in Rome Fr. Louis had a famous cocatoo, known to many visitors, and when Fr Louis returned to Birmingham this bird became attached to the household of his friend Bishop Stanley in Rome.

Like his brother Richard, Fr. Louis was a musician of more than average ability, and as a boy helped in the small orchestra run by the fathers – he played ‘cello. But if he had a deadly eye at cricket it was far deadlier in church ceremonies – he became perpetual Master of Ceremonies with all the problems that involved. Dr Newman being made a Cardinal provided a wide ceremonial field and it may be said that Fr Louis in directing affairs was stern and merciless!

Alas his versatility was his undoing. He had a nervous breakdown and was a semi-invalid for some years. First he lived in Scotland, then in Rome, at the Canadian College, and finally settled in the Rome Oratory where he remained for twenty years or more. While there he did valuable work among the resident English-speaking Catholics – living under very uncomfortable conditions, for those were the days after the Italian Government had confiscated the Oratory House and belongings and the Fathers were obliged to live as best they could. Ultimately the strain became too much but he was able to return to the Birmingham Oratory to end his days here. He was then almost stone deaf and his general health was poor though he lived as full a part of the community life as he could.

He was of great service to Fr. Richard, helping in his great work of making and ordering the Newman archives. He was also responsible for the Ceremonies and under his still exacting direction our ceremonial reached an exceptionally high standard. He took endless trouble rehearsing servers and indeed the Fathers also – especially for special occasions like Pontifical High Mass. Even before an ordinary Sunday Mass he would come to the Fathers and say ‘I have put you down for High Mass will that be alright?’ Of course it was, but it was pleasant to have such courtesies.

Miss Clare Bellasis and Mr Edward Bellasis, their unmarried brother and sister, took a house opposite the Oratory – known to disrespectful young people as the ‘Bellaseum’, and across the road Fr Richard and Fr Louis used to go for an hour or so in the afternoon.

Fr. Louis died at the age of 77 on February 8, 1938.