Richard Bellasis

The following reminiscence was given during a chapter address by F. Philip Lynch on 17th November, 1980.

F. Richard Bellasis was the fourth Provost of the Oratory, from 1914 to 1923, and the eldest of the four sons of the Cardinal’s intimate friend, Mr Serjeant Bellasis. There were several elder daughters in the family; and he was the first pupil to enter the Oratory School when it was founded in 1859. He entered the Community at the age of 25 in 1875, having been called to the Bar after leaving school. He was ordained priest at Oscott in 1879, aged 29.

F. Richard was not very tall, but attractive and rather aristocratic in appearance. He was very fond of music, was Prefect of Music at times and took an active part in conducting the Choir. He played the violin, and for years maintained a small orchestra that used to practice in the Recreation Room on Sunday afternoons, and, once a month or so, would provide items at the Musical Oratory of the Brothers held in S. Philip’s Chapel at 4pm. As far as I know, a good deal of their music is still to be found behind the curtain in the Recreation Room.

He had numerous relatives – two lay brothers and several sisters, including two Holy Child nuns, whom he used to go to see. He was not much of a traveller, although I did meet him and F. Louis on vacation in Dublin when I was eight or nine years old.

There had been some attempts to provide Grammar School education for Catholic boys on a private basis, and in the middle ‘Eighties F. Richard was active in pressing that the Community should do so. The Cardinal, in his old age, was not enthusiastic about it, insisting that we had enough on our hands, but he brought the matter up, and S. Philip’s Grammar School was started in Oliver Road – a small venture at first – with F. Richard as Father Prefect.

He had a very efficient lay assistant head. He was quite unassuming himself, but, I was told, he was the sort of person whom it did not strike boys to try to play up. He carried on for several years, until he was succeeded by F. Robert Eaton in the mid ‘Nineties, and F. Richard returned to the Choir and other activities, the most important of which was his interest in filing all the Cardinal’s correspondence, a work which took him many years, and which the outside world knew nothing about. And then, as years went by, and people came to study the Cardinal’s writings, they found all the letters filed and ready for them, thanks to F. Richard, and later on, F. Louis, when he came back from Rome.

Many of the people outside had the impression that F. Richard did nothing – they never saw him walking around the parish. When I joined the Community in 1915 the Refectory book was always ‘Correspondence of J.H. Newman with F.W. Faber and others’, and consisted of the actual letters themselves filed by F. Richard, who had been elected Provost for the first time just a year before.

He was not one of the Cardinal’s literary executors – they were Louis Bellasis and his lay brother Edward, whom apparently F. William Neville considered more sensitive in dealing with the Cardinal’s wishes.

In a way it was unfortunate that F. Louis died first, as he was much more capable of dealing with their surviving lay brother William Bellasis than F. Richard.

F. Richard was very much against the proposal of a number of Old Boys that the Oratory School should be moved from Edgbaston. He said that we should lose control and that the School would lose influence, but he brought the matter up and was outvoted. At the end of the Triennium in 1923, F. Richard ended his third triennium as Provost. It was said only the Oratory School controversy had indicated a change. F. Richard had also become reluctant to have visitors in the house, other than relations of the Fathers and old boys of the School. This was then a problem. F. Louis Bellasis came back to the Community soon after the War, almost stone deaf, but a great asset to the House as Master of Ceremonies.

F. Richard seldom preached in the Church and, as far as I recall, he would only be celebrant at the annual Requiem Mass for deceased members of the Oratory School Society, of which he was Chaplain for many years. He did not often preach in the Church.

During their latter years, Miss Bellasis, the eldest sister, and Edward, the unmarried brother, took one of the houses in Hagley Road, opposite the Oratory, and Fathers Richard and Louis would be seen going across, in their cassocks, most afternoons: sometimes they would play croquet, at which they were both proficient, just beyond the White Swan in Richmond Hill Road.

F. Richard always liked to be in the forefront with any new inventions. He brought the first radio on sale into the Oratory House and soon presented another to the Brothers of the Little Oratory for use in their Rooms, which were patronised every evening.

F. Richard was readily available when he was Father – he did not go out much and could be found either in his room or in the Archivium – but he was far from consenting as a matter of course to any request. I can remember the tremble in his eye as he said ‘I may not be clever or eloquent, but I can say No’, and at times it was very inconvenient when he did say so.

Both he and F. Louis were just right in their dress and manner; we were all aware of it, as also was the staff of a hotel in the Lake District, where they took one of their last holidays and received a present from the staff at the end of their visit.

He outlived F. Louis by just over a year, unfortunate in a way – he was 89 years old when he died in February, 1939.