Pope Francis has named Canon David Oakley, the leader of England and Wales’ largest seminary, as the new Bishop of Northampton.
He succeeds Bishop Peter Doyle, who has reached the retirement age of 75, and will take over the governance of a diocese made up of almost 70 parishes spanning Bedford, Buckingham, Northampton and parts of Berkshire.
Fr Oakley has for the last seven years served as Rector of St Mary’s College, Oscott, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, which forms the highest number of men for the priesthood in England and Wales. In 2018 this number was 60.
Described by those who know him as “pastoral, discerning and faithful” and as having a ministry in the mould of Pope Francis, the 64-year-old Bishop-elect was born in Stourbridge, in the West Midlands, and ordained a priest for Birmingham Archdiocese in 1980.
The majority of his priestly ministry has been spent working in parishes, although he has completed a PhD in Pastoral Theology and studied catechesis at the Maryvale Institute. His other positions have included Pastoral Director and Procurator of Oscott and Director of the Archdiocese of Birmingham’s Parish and Family Catechesis department.
The Diocese of Northampton said today: “Bishop Peter Doyle rejoices in this good news. The Bishop has worked closely with Bishop-elect David during his seven years as rector of the seminary at Oscott, and knows him to be a man of faith and prayer, and a pastoral priest and wise teacher.”
Fr David is popular in the Church and beyond it, known for his gentleness and fidelity to the teachings of the Church.
In 2018, Fr David spoke to The Tablet about the challenges of forming priests in a digital age, arguing that it was a “caricature” to say that today’s young seminarians are traditionalists. He stressed that that charismatic movement has a greater influence on new vocations than neo-traditional liturgy, and has talked about the importance of the “charismatic gifts”, including speaking in tongues.
The Bishop-elect has also given detailed evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, focussing on safeguarding within seminary training and the selection and formation process. In September 2018 he dismissed claims from a former member of staff at Oscott, published on the conservative website Church Militant, that the college was run by a “homosexual clique.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who will celebrate Fr Oakley’s ordination as a bishop on 19 March 2020, the Feast of St Joseph, offered his “sincere prayers and total support” to the new bishop while adding that Bishop Doyle would be “much missed”.
The Diocese of Northampton is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and Fr Oakley served as a priest in Birmingham when it was led by Cardinal Nichols.
He is the second head or former head of Oscott College to be chosen as a bishop in the last five years. On 14 May 2015, the Pope appointed another past rector, Patrick McKinney, as the Bishop of Nottingham.