Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chaplaincy History part II: Reflections on the Early Years.

A second excerpt from the writings of E.A. Weldon on some of the life of the Chaplaincy in its first years:

Members of L.S.E..whom I have succeeded in contacting. must have been a lively group in the thirties: they speak with deep affection of Fr. Day, chaplain also to a convent whither he invited them to escape from the hurly-burly (so we then thought it!) of London. Dr. Mathew greatly valued this priest and was grateful for his continuance as chaplain till his death.

Evening meetings and lectures from a galaxy of distinguished lecturers. Catholic and Anglican, were eagerly attended: Chesterton, Belloc, Lord Russell of Killowen, Christopher Dawson, Prof. Edmund Gardner, Frs. G. Vann, Vincent McNabb and Hugh Pope. Mgr. Barnes, Maisie Ward. Dr. Laetitia Fairfield, Ernest Oldmeadow (of the Tablet), Douglas Woodruff (later its Editor also), Richard O’Sullivan (later Q.C.), Dr. Walter Seton (Secretary of U.C.L. and Anglo-Catholic authority on St. Francis) and Dr. R. W. Chambers are but a few.

These small societies rallied to Dr. F. A. Aveling, Reader in Psychology to the University and chaplain 1923-25. They had already experienced the encouragement of Fr. C. C. Martindale, SI. who had been working since the early twenties for the federation of such groups from all British universities. With increase in numbers graduate groups with different hours and more precise aims than the students, had been springing up—the London one (U.L. Graduate Section) in 1931. Miss A. Christich. B.A.Lond, claimed not only the distinction of being the first member of the Grad. Section, but also that of being the first woman journalist to report by plane!

Canon Tynan, Rector of St. John’s, Duncan Terrace, succeeded Dr. Aveling (as “locum tenens”) and an annual dinner established before the 1914-18 war fostered good relations with the university authorities, of which many distinguished members attended. In London, as elsewhere, it became more clearly apparent that our aims must be, not only to foster knowledge of the Faith in our own ranks, but to establish the value and quality of Catholic learning and scholarship in the academic world. This had obviously to be largely the work of the graduate laity in their professional fields, and the success achieved can be gauged by present-day interest in what Catholics have to say. The U.L. Grad. Section, to whom the Aquinas Society gave invaluable help, made the organisation of a series of annual Public University lectures from speakers of British or Continental reputation, one of their particular duties, and maintained it till after the second war.
Relations with Anglican Chaplains
Cordial clerical relations and mutual support in a common aim [were] strong in 1968, but must have existed long before, since the Rev. Leslie Simmons, M.A. (of 6 Margaret St., W.l) was interested in this branch of the Ministry as early as 1908. In “The Church in a secular university” (report of the Anglican Chaplaincy 1949-66) the work of the Rev. Cecil Clarke (Vicar of Christ Church. Woburn Square) is recorded, especially in the matter of establishing a centre. “His inspiration was undoubtedly the R.C. Chaplaincy which had begun in a house in Woburn Square before the war, under the leadership of Dr. Mathew and Fr. Vernon Johnson. It is odd to reflect that much friendly advice about how to set about the task of a Chaplaincy in a University like London, was received from Dr. Mathew, and was based on Roman Catholics’ experience in the University”.

By the late 1960's the Anglican Chaplain was a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission for R.C. relations, and there were joint conferences and discussions between London graduate groups and the William Temple Association. The Chaplains’ work was by then centred at the Church of Christ the King. Gordon Square, leased from the Catholic Apostolic Church. The happy relations between the two chaplaincies were developed and enhanced by Prebendary Gordon Phillips. the Senior Anglican Chaplain, who now in 1968 after thirteen years leaves London on his promotion to be Dean of Llandaff Cathedral
Coming soon...the War years.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Being a University Chaplain

What is a Chaplain? And what do they do? You may well ask: I once had a very confused Norwegian girl, with her English-Norwegian Dictionary in hand, convinced that I couldn’t be Catholic as her dictionary assured her that ‘Chaplain’ means ‘Priest’…another identity issue comes up when the caretaker at one of the London Campuses always spells it as ‘Chaplin’!

A bit of background: Catholic University Chaplains are pretty much always employed by the Diocese to work in the Universities, so we are not actually University employees, which confuses people. The University authorities seem to sometimes welcome, sometimes tolerate our presence, sometimes just not notice at all that we are around! Although recently as the issues of religious belief are becoming more centre stage they seem to value having some ‘experts’ around.

I am employed by Diocese of Westminster under the umbrella of the Catholic Chaplaincy to the Universities of London. I have been assigned as Catholic Chaplain to 4 specific institutions: the University of Westminster and 3 smaller specialist institutions within the University of London, the Institute of Education, the London School of Pharmacy and the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Also I form part of the pastoral team of Newman House which is a Catholic Student residence which houses about sixty students.

As you might imagine what I actually do is incredibly varied. At the beginning of the year there’s a lot of welcoming of new students, speaking at inductions and sitting at stalls at fresher’s fairs, helping to connect especially overseas students with church life in England (recently a Ugandan student told me that she’d been assured that there were no Catholic Churches in England!). Then everything from meeting students who seek me out to talk about some particular issue, organising some ecumenical or even interfaith activities with the other Chaplains, running a sharing-discussion group with students at Newman House, drinking quite a few cups of tea…and sending lots of emails. One of my favourite things has been to organise Mass at some of the campuses: to transform a classroom for an hour into a place of prayer where Jesus is actually present, is really quite special and I think very meaningful for the staff and students to see that God is really interested and part of their life at University. Recently we had Mass at the Institute of Education, in a room which had huge windows and as it was evening the priest in his vestments was very visible and we could see people in the hotel over the road staring at us!

One way of describing what I do, is trying to be God’s opportunity in places where people are not necessarily expecting to find him… trying to bring people together to express and explore their faith. And as a Verbum Dei Missionary, trying to be God’s opportunity to speak a word of hope and encouragement, where people are often feeling stressed and also a bit lost in a big institution.

Thanks very much for reading this and please pray for me in this work!

Sr Catherine Cruz fmvd is the Catholic Chaplaincy to the University of Westminster, Institute of Education, School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the School of Pharmacy. She also works in close collaboration with Fr Joseph Evans to gather the 'Bloomsbury Catholic Students' for Mass once a month (this includes many of the smaller institutions of the University of London, other than UCL and SOAS).

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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A resident reflects...

Well, we've had lots of reminiscences from Alumni, but here is a reflection from one of our current residents on life in Newman House.
"I Think I’ve Just Seen Jesus in My Morning Muesli"
That Saturday Morning the sun seemed ridiculously bright and obnoxious. Perhaps the fact that it had proved impossible to sleep on the plane and that I was hideously jetlagged had something to do with it. That, or maybe because I was lugging my life behind me in the form of three impossibly-heavy, incredibly bulk pieces of matching, moss-green luggage. As I struggled along the pavement blinking futilely against the incessant sunshine, I carefully repeated the address that would be my home for a year: 111 Gower Street.

Eight months later, that day seems like a lifetime ago. The initial apprehension that I harboured that Newman House would be a religious mental institution melted away as soon as I met my fellow residents. Here I found fellow Catholics (and a few non-Catholics, too!) who were just as normal as I. Only they were unique in two respects: everyone was all uncommonly kind and friendly and all held a desire to develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. In the words of one visitor to the House, I had stumbled upon, “a Catholic oasis in the middle of London.”

After slathering black current jam onto countless lightly-toasted slices of bread in the breakfast room, praying during adoration in the chapel, or extinguishing the flames of “well done” steaks in the kitchen, an amazing camaraderie developed. Oftentimes such situations have borne intellectually provoking religious discussions. The fruit of such conversations and the unassuming examples given by fellow students to one another has encouraged all residents to seek closer communion with the Lord. This phenomenon has proven to be one of the most precious aspects of life in Newman House.

While I may not have witnessed any religious apparitions while staying at Newman House, living across the street from Charles Darwin’s former residence, has been an amazing experience for me. Not only have I grown in my faith, but I have made friends with incredible people and have shared extraordinary experiences that I will look back on fondly for years to come. When that day arrives when I will once again be seen trudging along the London pavement unsuccessfully dragging my now heavier moss-green suitcases behind me on my way to my next adventure, I predict that my vision will once again be blurred; but, it will not be due to the sun shining in my eyes.
Claire Popovich

Monday, May 14, 2007

A CPI’er in Newman House

Hi, my name is Kevin Regan. I am on the 2006-07 Catholic Parliamentary Internship programme. The internship involves working for an MP in Westminster, studying Christian Social Ethics at Heythrop College and living at Newman House. This year I have been working for Nigel Waterson who is MP for Eastbourne. Nigel is also Shadow Pensions Minister and Shadow Minister for Older People.

In terms of work, in the morning I run my MP’s office, opening his post, checking his emails, organising his dairy, and keeping on top of what the newspapers are saying. In the afternoon I then get stuck into more detailed research.

Just a few of the highlights have been meeting the Prime Minister on my second day, seeing the weird and wonderful aspects of the Conservatives at the Party Conference, having tea with Des Browne, working on the Conservative Pensions Bill 2006 team, writing speeches and articles, and representing Nigel at events and engagements in his absence.

Every Monday has been our MA Class in Ethics at Heythrop College, in our first term we looked ‘Principles in Christian Ethics’, in our second term we studied ‘Ethical Issues Today’. It made Mondays really long days but it’s been worth the effort.

At Newman House, it’s been a fantastic year, there has been at least one big party each term, International Night (My contribution was glasses of Guinness), the Christmas meal and party, the Casino Night. There have also been other things going on such as the Academic Mass as Westminster Cathedral and talks by Ann Widdecombe and Baroness Cox.

My house duty was looking after Eucharist Adoration Vigil. This included twisting peoples arm to sign up for watching, getting other students to play music, and cooking a fry up for everyone when it had finished. I did set fire to the sausages and set the fire alarm off at 7 in the morning, but other than that it all went well!

There has also been a gang of us who’d go out for a drink, watch films, sport or TV together and there has also been time to show other Newman’iites around Parliament.

I’ve loved living at Newman House, it’s been great to come home to a relaxed and happy environment after long (sometimes stressful) days in Parliament. I’ve made loads of friends and know I’ll be seeing more of them next year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Alumni: The Accidental House Guest

As we continue our stroll down memory lane, here is the story of a young man who found himself quite unexpectedly being housed at 111 Gower Street back in the fall of 1988.

I arrived on my first trip abroad to attend an exchange program at the City University. Upon my arrival I was informed the student housing at my University was full and I would be staying at another place. A bit upset at being told this news only after I had flown overseas I took the address, crumpled it into my pocket, grabbed my meagre belongings and headed out to find my home for the semester. The address: 111 Gower Street.

I was more than a little shocked and (I’m sad to say now) put off when I arrived and found the house was actually the Catholic Chaplaincy. As my feet landed on the steps I thought my semester of fun and partying overseas was shot right there. And faith? I hadn’t attended the Episcopal Church (or any for that matter) in a long time and was not too comfortable being here.

The building itself was covered from roof to basement in scaffolding, completely under renovation. I would soon find out how true this was as I was often awakened in the early morning to the sound of work crews hauling buckets up to the roof. I had little option but to take showers in bathrooms where the electricity had been cut and I was forced to bathe in almost complete darkness. Not every day, but often enough for a flashlight and batteries to become a regular shower companion for some time.

Of course, now looking back, I think someone above had a plan for me. But isn’t that how every journey is? We often cannot see the journey we are taking forward until we look in our rear view mirror and see where we have been.

I discovered 111 Gower Street was actually a place full of lively personalities from all over the world, wonderful people and the seeds of memories and faith which make me part of who I am today. I never felt forced to participate in anything. I did however engage in lively chats and in depth conversations with as many people in the house as possible and discovered an amazing chain of connection between all who wandered through the front doors.

I could not have found a better place to spend my time in London and thus started truly opening my heart to experiences in the world to let anything different be a moment to be savoured and taken as part of this big adventure we are all on.

I now know I was on only a part of my faith journey at that time. A part which slowly allowed me to realize what everything in my life was pointing to all the time. My belief in God was strong and always with me, I just didn’t know who to share it with. Two years ago I became Catholic after attending the RCIA program in Woodbridge, Virginia. My faith journey will continue.

I share this because the other day I was thinking of all the people I met at Newman House and often wish I could thank them in person for the good times and warm hospitality which was a part of bringing me to where my life is today.

Brad Engborg, Resident 1988-9

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Prayer before exams

This prayer by St Thomas Aquinas may be especially helpful round about this time, ;)

Ante Studium

Creator of all things, True source of light and wisdom, Origin of all beings, Graciously let a ray of your light Penetrate into the darkness Of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness In which I have been born, An obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, A retentive memory, And the ability to grasp things Correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent Of being exact in my explanations And the ability to express myself With thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, Direct the progress, And help the completion. I ask this through Christ, Our Lord.


Chaplaincy History: Part I - 1908-1934

Several people have attempted to write histories of the Chaplaincy over the years. Two editions made it into print, and cover aspects of the life early life of the Chaplaincy community, and of what is now known as Newman House, during the first twenty years of its existence as a chaplaincy centre. For those attempting to piece together a picture of life here in those years, we are aided by a wealth of scrapbook material, with photographs, articles, copies of termcards and programmes, and even a substantial report on ‘opinions of Catholic students’. Over the coming months, we will post some of this information, and invite our readers to contribute their own materials.

To begin with, here is the opening of the first of the two booklets published, by E.A. Weldon in October 1968. This looks back to the beginnings of Chaplaincy work with students and staff

University Chaplaincy from 1908-1934
The University of London Catholic Society was founded in 1908 by Canon Driscoll and Miss Forsater of King’s College. For many years Hilaire Belloc was president, following in 1933 by Douglas Woodruff. Catholic Societies, linked to the ULCS, existed at a number of individual colleges.

The London Catholic Chaplaincy began its existence in 1934 when the Cardinal Bourne (Archbishop of Westminster) announced his appointment of Dr David Mathew (later Archbishop of Apamea) as the first full-time resident chaplain to the Catholics in the University of London: staff and students. This robbed the Cathedral of St. David in Cardiff of a curate, and the University College in that city of a chaplain to its Catholics. Dr. Mathew took up residence at No 1 Woburn Square, WC1.

It was something of a coming-of-age for the groups scattered in colleges, to be gathered, as Catholic academics, round a central chaplaincy. Dr. Mathew found the University of London Catholic Association (ULCA) “in full activity in all the Central London Colleges”. It had been founded in 1908 by Miss E. L. B. Forster leading the group at King’s College, and supported by the late Canon Driscoll, then Headmaster of the Cardinal Vaughan School. A succession of “Cat. Socs.” had joined. Mr. Francis O’Brien Donaghy and Miss Monica Grobel recall an active Society (founded in 1919-23) at University College. East London College (which became Queen Mary College on receiving its charter in 1935) did not lack a spirited Catholic Society. Sister Mary Bernardine, O.S.U. recalls a “popular group of men” from the Cardinal Vaughan School, active in debates; but the group dated from the First War years and may have drawn from Franciscan and Ursuline sources in that area, for Fr. Alphonsus Bonnar, O.F.M. records (May 30th. 1931) a request from it that he should act as Director. His acceptance was approved by all higher authorities, and he carried on under Dr. Mathew till reasons of health necessitated his withdrawal. In 1934 the then Monsignor Montini, on a visit to London. “had a long conversation with me” he writes, “about work among university students”

Memories: Alumni

Over the past 40 years Newman House has been home to a large number of students from around the world. Today, it is usual to have residents from over 20 countries resident for a full year at a time.

We are always very happy to welcome former residents when they pop by for a visit, sometimes just for a quick look around, at other times joining us for Mass. We always try to invite visitors to put together a few short memories that we can share with those who are interested; some do, and here are a few nuggets we have received recently:

The Chaplaincy was opened by Bruce Kent in 1966, and was not initially welcomed
by the CathSoc members. I was chair at that time, and we, the committee, arrived back in the Autumn term to find we had moved from St Patrick’s in Soho Square to this new premises, and had acquired a new chaplain. We were cross that we had neither been informed nor consulted, but quickly settled down to life in a more purpose-built premises (student hostel with lots of social rooms and, importantly, a bar! Since the previous centre had been a regular parish, and our social rooms had been in the parish school across Soho Square, this was clearly better.

The Gower Street chaplaincy was, for me, a significant place in my journey to the present time, since I am still in the justice and peace line of things. There were important events and encounters at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, prior to that, but 111 Gower Street remains a significant place for me.

Barbara Kentish, Resident 1966-7
And another:

I would like to thank you for the incredible year which I spent living at Newman House 1999-2000. It was a deeply formative and unique time in my life. Living as part of a lively and intelligent faith community was awesome in helping me to understand my relationship with God, and other Newman House denizens and friends. I often think fondly of my time at Newman House. It was a precious time in my life.

Melanie Cournay-Holt (nee Rigg), Resident 1999-2000

If you have reminiscences you would like to share, please send
them to alumni@universitycatholic.net – we would love to hear from you.