Monday, October 25, 2010

Open Mic Night

Andrew Duncan reports on the first open mic night of the year.

Friday night saw the first music event of term in the bar. With the electronic piano fired up and the guitar awaiting to be strung, the evening's entertainment started at a peaceful rate. A few Jay Foreman songs tickled the crowd's funny bones touching upon themes of procastination, strange dreams and that retro kid's toy Spirograph.

Audience participation proved integral with choruses to new songs learnt, the most successful of these being "Moon Chavs"!

Newman Houses international flavours came through with Polish lyrics sung and the Irish tin whistle blown.

The climax of the night came with return of a certain birthday girl's party and following entourage. Two Irishmen dazzled on the piano with impressive improvisation. Many stayed until Saturday's small hours.

All in all, a nice kick-start to Friday music nights in the bar.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

East Meets West – an unforgettable ‘Indian summer’ party

Resident of Newman House, Catherine Anderson, reports on the launch party of the Amar Jyoti Trust

Indian Bollywood and Swing dancing may not be a likely combination but the launch party of the Amar Jyoti Trust on 30th September generated the unique magic that occurs when East meets West. Guests drank champagne and ate samosas in the contemporary surroundings of the 5* Hotel Rafayel while the night lights of London were spread out below through the panoramic windows. A highlight of the night was the exuberant Indian dancer in vibrant saffron dress who twirled and leaped like a bright flame. The serious aspect of the evening was ever present on the two large screens which detailed in text and pictures the aim of the new charity.

Jharkhand State in North-eastern India is one of the most economically depressed areas in the world. Poor sanitation and living conditions contribute to a high incidence of childhood blindness and disease. With a population of 27 million and no provision for blind children, those affected have almost no chance of providing for themselves or their families, and their future is bleak. Many are dumped on the roadside with a begging bowl or simply abandoned.

The Missionary Sisters of the Queen of Apostles (SRA sisters) were founded in Austria in the 1920s and have a long track record of working with India’s poorest. Most of their members are Indian and have a shared cultural background with the people they help. In the spring of 2009 I was able to spend three months living alongside the sisters, sharing in their simple meals and their work of teaching and nursing India’s poor.

Catherine with the sisters

People think of India as a nation on the brink of a boom, its cities offering good jobs and a higher living standard than ever before. Sadly, this does not apply to the rural areas where ignorance, poverty and disease are still widespread. The SRA sisters build cottage hospitals where local women can have their babies in safety, rather than on the dusty floor of a mud hut. They treat everything from malaria to worm infestation, and run classes in hygiene for local women. Another aspect of the sisters’ work is the education of blind children, giving them the basics – maths, English, Hindi and Braille, which they need in order to enter mainstream schooling. Most of the children have low vision and with a little help many of them can look forward to a bright future.

Due to the worldwide economic recession, Western aid to the SRA has dwindled and they are badly in need of new sources of giving. Traditionally, the German- speaking people have been their biggest donors, but the Amar Jyoti Trust seeks to raise money from the English-speaking world. We have ten projects of which the most ambitious is a new school for blind children. The sisters have a new convent set in several acres in Channho, a healthy rural area about 40 minutes from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. On the land is a school for local children, a new and beautiful church with resident priest and a cottage hospital, all landscaped with beautiful plants by Sister Laila. Around the whole is a high security fence, very necessary in an area where poverty drives many desperate people into crime. Christians have in the recent past suffered from persecution by Hindu militants, but the sisters continue their mission regardless.

Channho is ideal for a new blind school and a space has been set aside with planning permission for a school which would take in not just the fifteen blind children being taught in Ranchi, but many more. The need is great – I’m thinking of Deepak, for instance, a little boy of seven who was born with no eyes. He had been dumped at the side of the road and left to beg until the sisters took him in. He now runs around the convent grounds in Ranchi, hopping up and down steps like a sighted person and dreams of being a doctor. He has a brother with the same disability who the sisters long to help. The new school in Channho would mean that this dream can come true.

The building and equipment of the new school will cost about £100,000 and everything we can give will speed the construction. The sisters have a friend and supporter in a local builder, a Hindu man called Pappu, who cheerfully helps them out whenever he can. He helps because he admires the selflessness of the sisters and their mission of mercy to the poorest of the poor. Pappu has said he will start the first phase of building so that the children can be moved as soon as possible, and the sisters can pay him when they can.

The AJT was set up in the summer of 2009 by friends and family who donate their time and materials so that every donation goes directly to the neediest people in India and not on administration. We are committed personally to the work of the sisters. If you would like to know more about my time in India do ask me as I love to talk about the places I visited, the children that I fell in love with and the life changing experiences that I had. There’s also a website which shows pictures of the sisters and children, as well as explaining the work of the charity at

I’m glad to say that the launch party of the new charity was a huge success and among those who came, the comment I’ve heard most was: when will the next event be? We will definitely be having another and are already talking about a Christmas party 2010, summer party 2011 and a winter Ball 2011. If you’d like to help, please get in touch with me.

Residents of Newman House enjoying the party

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tablet essay competition

Essay writing competition: Catholic Social Teaching for the 21st Century

The Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at Roehampton is co-sponsoring an essay writing competition with the Tablet.

Entrants are invited to write a 1,500 word essay, of a style and standard suitable for publication in the Tablet, on the topic, Catholic Social Teaching for the Twenty First Century. This means writing in the style of serious journalism for an informed readership, without footnotes or bibliographies.

 First prize: £500 plus a one-year subscription to the Tablet.
 Five runners-up will also receive a one-year subscription to the Tablet.
 The winning essay will be considered for publication in the Tablet, and a selection of the best essays will be published on the Tablet website.

The competition is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate university students.

 Essays must be in English and typed in double-line spacing (handwritten essays will not be considered.)
 Each essay should be accompanied by a completed entry form – see link below.
 Entrants may submit one essay per person.
 Entries should be submitted by post or as e-mail attachments to the address below, to arrive not later than Monday 10 January, 2011.
 Competition results will be published in the Tablet and on the Tablet website by the end of March 2011.

Advert in the Tablet (JPEG)

Full details and application form (Word)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Franciscans International - Human Rights competition

"Franciscans International works at the UN and international organisations to influence decision makers on behalf of the most vulnerable".

Their website can be seen at

They are running a competition - closing date 15 November - with the top prize being a trip for 2 to the United Nations in either New York or Geneva.

It is a very worthwhile project and competition. Details at their website.

A Lunch fit for a bishop

Bishop Alan Hopes celebrated the Freshers' Mass for us this year, and then spent a good deal of time mingling with students at coffee time after Mass.

Bishop Alan meeting some students at Newman House

The bishop then stayed for lunch with Fr Peter, Chris Castell, Kate Grace and the four senior students, William Redfern, Tamara Toolsie, Matthew Howson and Maria McCarthy.

Bishop Alan and Father Peter

The lunch was magnificently prepared by a former resident and senior student, Dr Russell Hearn, and his good friend Ed Revell.

So what did they prepare?

Well, the inspiration was Pope Benedict's Coat of Arms:

Heh? What could that possibly mean? Well, here's what they did:

That one was easy: scallops! But of course this being Russell, it could not simply be scallops. It was scallops served on a risotto of lobster. And served in scallop shells of course!

Main Course
The Moor's Head in the left hand corner of the Pope's coat of arms provided the inspiration. TThe Moorish theme suggested couscous and lamb. So that indeed is what appeared - although it was called seven-jewelled couscous by the chefs. I'm still not entirely sure why.

Well, there was only the bear left as a theme. What sort of pudding was named after bears? Well, none in the known world, so the chefs had to be inventive. What we had was a honey mousse (bears eat honey wink wink) with cookies with bear paws imprinted on them in chocolate.

It was a tremendous fun menu, with outstanding food and delightful company. We can invite the Pope himself next time!

The Big Silence

Worth watching this week on BBC2 (Friday night at 7pm) is the Programme The Big Silence. The BBC blurb says this of it:
Abbot Christopher Jamison, a Benedictine monk, believes that he can teach five ordinary people the value of silent meditation, so they can make it part of their everyday lives

You can watch a preview here.

The programme features Fr Christopher Jamison, formerly Abbot of Worth, now Director of the National Office for Vocations, and an old friend of Newman House. Fr Christopher will be preaching at this year's Academic Mass, on Sunday 21 November, about which more at a later date. Fr Christopher is pictured below with Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP (photo: Mazur/ The photo was taken at a national conference on the Church and young people earlier this year, just before the football match between Newman House and the Dominican students. Heheh maybe the magazine Fr Radcliffe is reading is all about his wishes for a Domincan victory against Newman House and the small print says "vain"! (It was a memorably fun day and Newman House beat the Dominicans. A fun pizza night back at Newman House followed).

We have had a good relationship with Worth Abbey over a number of years, and usually have our own retreat down there during the course of the academic year. The programme should be a good foretaste of what can be expected.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A positive trend for the right to life

A major victory for ethics was achieved last week at the Council of Europe. In a vote of 56 to 51, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discarded a proposed resolution of Christine McCafferty, a British politician and abortion activist, to “regulate” health care workers right to conscientious objections to perform abortions. Worryingly such "regulation" already exists in some European nations such as in Norway.
In a dramatic U-turn the proposal in question: resolution 1763 now reinforces medics’ right to conscience based objections assist in abortions. Though without formal powers to implement resolutions the Council of Europe can yield powerful political clout. The final resolution states online that “No person, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason.”

Andrew Fergusson, former chairman of the Professional Conduct Committees at the U.K. General Medical Council, spoke at the assembly underlining the importance of ethical values to medical professionalism. "Practicing good medicine is a moral activity and not just a technical one," he said. "The foundational values of medicine are part of physicians' understanding of who they are and they have provided the basis for historical codes of medical ethics, such as the Hippocratic Oath, the Declaration of Geneva, and the U.K. General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice."
The proposal is believed to reflect warming reports of a growing reluctance for to medics to act as abortion providers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Closer to home in London pro-life efforts are continuing with the 40 days For Life campaign. Running on to the 31st of October the campaign uses public prayer vigils to demonstrate against abortion providers. The approach used in over 238 cities is reported to be meeting some success in discouraging abortion. For others it’s providing badly needed food for thought. UCL Cathsoc members and others are contributing by volunteering for the 40 day effort outside the Central London Marie Stopes abortion facility. Volunteering is welcomed and possible by enrolling online at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A dinner in honour of Blessed John Henry Newman

So we celebrated our first Patronal Feast Day on Saturday evening with a lovely, intimate yet solemn Mass. There were about 40 people in total present.

Later in the evening I was hosting a little dinner for some priest friends, in honour of our feast day. So what should the menu look like? I quite like fun menus and thinking through what to serve.

I started off by wondering whether this particular book might be of help:

It's a really fun book, but was not in fact of any help at all. So the grey cells went into overdrive and eventually, after much googling and sounding out with others, this is what I came up with:

In honour of Newman's early university life and attendance at Trinity College Oxford, we had a Trinity cocktail to get things going. It's quite simple, and also very potent, so handle it with care:
1 part gin,
1 part dry Vermouth
1 part red Vermouth

I felt really clever in settling on this dish! We had a Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Salad. Heart speaks to heart - gettit? Here's the recipe.

Main Course

Then things became a little more difficult. What on earth would have a connection with Newman? Well, what recipes had the name Oxford in them - I eventually found a blog called The Old Foodie and from it I decided upon Oxford John - which I have to admit I had never heard of before. Basically leg of lamb steaks.


This was easy - Peaches Cardinale. There used to be that extraordinary programme called Two Fat Ladies on BBC about a decade ago. In one episode they cooked for the priests of Westminster Cathedral, and memorably adjusted the menu in honour of our then Archbishop, Cardinal Hume. Here's their recipe. We didn't have exactly their version, but it was based on the same idea.

Oh, and we started off with the grace from Oriel College.

Now just wait and see what we will be giving Bishop Alan for lunch when he visits us next Sunday. The menu also has a theme :)

Friday, October 08, 2010

International Night 2010

Every year we kick off our social calendar with an "International Night". Residents and non-residents alike join for an evening of getting-to-know-you through food, drink and dancing. Our students come from all possible parts of the globe, and we really are a united nations and Catholic family.

This year was, as usual, a great success with huge amounts of fun had by all - as the following photos bear witness (photographer was Eimear Monaghan).

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Feast Day of Blessed John Henry Newman 9th October

When the Holy Father beatified Cardinal Newman, he established his Feast Day as the 9th October (which was the day of Newman's conversion to the Catholic Church). This gives us our own Patronal Feast Day at last!

We will celebrate the first Feast Day of Blessed John Henry with Mass in the Newman House Chapel at 6pm on Saturday 9th October 2010. The Bar will be open afterwards and all are warmly invited to join us in our celebration.