Friday, May 18, 2007

UCL CathSoc: A Year in Review

When I began my tenure as the Cath Soc president in the summer of 2006, I must admit, I didn’t quite know what was I letting myself in for. The previous president had taken a fairly relaxed approach to things and many of the meetings had taken the form of informal discussion. While this approach had been successful for those already acquainted with the society, it hadn’t really attracted many new members and the size of the group remained much as it had been the year before, if not a little smaller. Ed Bennett (last year’s treasurer) and I decided between us, therefore, that some changes ought to be made.

We’d spent the summer chasing various eminent Catholic figures, emailing them and badgering their personal assistants until they were quite sick of us in an attempt to garner some interesting speakers for the upcoming year. Without high expectations or much hope of success, we’d reckoned on maybe having a speaker to come in every two or three weeks, filling the rest of the time with debate and discussion on topics relevant to Catholics students today. But to our surprise and delight, almost all of the people we contacted replied with confirmation that they would be able to come.

The next step was to set dates for all of them – a tricky business as many of the speakers couldn’t confirm until later in the year and as Ed and I accidentally double booked on more than one occasion. Once that was settled, and all the bureaucratic mess had been untangled, we began the new academic year at the Freshers’ Fayre, proclaiming our superiority to the Christian Union (who were only a couple of stalls away and looked more than a little disgruntled – but hey, no one said the truth was easy), our pride in being “papist scum” and attracting many a slightly scared looking first year with promises of insightful discussion, excellent speakers and cheap booze.

On the 9th of October, we welcomed our first speaker, Ian Linden, a professor in the department of religion at SOAS, who spoke to us on “Mission and Daw’a.” For a few tense minutes, as the official start time of the meeting came and went, Ed and I worried that no one would come. But, at around 7.40pm, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by around fifty people, some of whom were forced to sit on the floor and even in the corridor in order to participate in the meeting. By 9.30pm, after the first night prayer of the term, when everyone had gathered downstairs in the bar, it was settled – the first meeting was a success.

The rest of the term included such luminaries as Clare Asquith who spoke to us on Shakespeare and Catholicism, and the Rt Rev. Dom Aidan Bellenger, abbot of Downside Abbey, who spoke on Catholicism and History. The highlight, however, was perhaps securing Ann Widdecombe MP to come and speak to us in late November on her life as a Catholic in politics, which attracted nearly a hundred people to the chaplaincy that night. The discussion was heated to say the least and I doubt I’ll ever meet such an intimidating individual again – an undeniably memorable evening!

The spring term saw us continuing in affiliation to the union with over fifty people forking over their £2 to become official members of the society. Attendance, however, tailed off a bit, but the society, though reduced in numbers, soon became a core group of friends and peers, providing plenty of interesting discussion and none too few differences in opinion. With speakers ranging from Fr. Aidan Nichols OP, renowned theologian and papal scholar, to Anthony Ozimic, a pro-life activist from the SPUC, to Crossbeam, an evangelical Catholic rock band, we certainly weren’t short of diversity and the second term proved, in its own way, to be just as successful as the first.

At the AGM in February, (which, for reasons many of you are probably already aware of, Ed and I scrupulously documented) we welcomed in Ellie Kirby as the new president, Charles Gallaher as the new treasurer, Liz O’Nions as the new social secretary and Chris Morillon as committee member in charge of five-a-side football – perhaps the largest committee the society has seen in quite some time. We then ended the evening with a social gathering at Nando’s in Bloomsbury, followed by a visit to the Renoir cinema to see the documentary film on life at a Carthusian monastery, Into Great Silence, rendering it both spiritually and gastronomically fulfilling.

This year has certainly been interesting and I’ve had some experiences I won’t forget in a hurry. It’s also proved to be a real bolster to my faith and to Ed’s, as he was received into the Catholic church at Easter, marking perhaps the year’s greatest success story. I won’t deny that it’s been difficult at times and that there’ve been a fair few headaches along the way, but I can sincerely say that it’s been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had and I can only hope that this year’s committee will find it as fun and rewarding as I have – good luck and God bless, guys!

Claire (right) deep in meaningful discussion with her successor, Ellie Kirby.

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