It was a particularly difficult time to be Catholic in Britain. While the repeal of the penal laws granted Catholics full political rights in 1829, a deep, popular, anti-Catholicism permeated British society. The Oxford Movement, culminating in the conversion of John Henry Newman to Catholicism in 1845, seemed to confirm fears that closet Catholics lurked everywhere. The influx of Irish immigrants into England, many fleeing the effects of the Great Famine in Ireland, fed the resentment of this largely foreign, ignorant, and Catholic underclass. Respectable newspapers like the Times routinely stoked the fires of anti-Catholicism, engaging in the most blatant racial profiling of Irish Catholics (often caricatured as monkeys in political cartoons). The growth of the Catholic population inspired some Catholic leaders to plan for the reorganization of the Church, including the return of the Catholic hierarchy to a land that, since the Reformation, had been administered as mission territory. English nativists responded with attacks on this “papal aggression,” and, within five years, the government would contemplate legislation to prevent such an incursion. While controversy reigned, the mass of Irish Catholics in English cities remained desperately poor and uneducated.
English Catholic schools proved incapable of improving the situation, existing (in the words of a recent history) in “a decentralized, irregular, and poverty-stricken condition.”1 The Catholic Institute was founded in 1838 to improve Catholic schools but could do little to improve conditions, given its lack of resources. Effectively rubbing salt in Catholic wounds, in 1839, the English government proposed changes in educational policy, establishing a Committee of the Privy Council on Education to dispense public grants to private schools, including those operated by the Church of England, and by dissenting denominations. Catholics were to be excluded from these grants unless they consented to use the protestant Bible in their curriculum—a blatant discrimination that was felt keenly by the leadership of the English Catholic community.
He describes the personalities involved in the crisis--laymen dealing with practical issues, as Father John Henry Newman would argue they should in his famous article on "Consulting the Faithful" in The Rambler--and the compromise finally reached, referencing the book pictured above: