Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Closing of Ushaw College

On the 8th of October 2010 this press release was sent out by the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle: 
 Trustees announce proposal to close Ushaw College
 The trustees of Ushaw College have announced a proposal today that pending consultation with College employees and the Charity Commission that Ushaw College will be closed.
The 200-year old Roman Catholic college is home to St Cuthbert’s Seminary which has been forming young men for the priesthood since its foundation more than 400 years ago.  Ushaw also provides a range of conferencing, events, and accommodation facilities to groups, organisations and businesses from throughout the UK. The proposal means that if implemented the College will cease operating at the end of the current academic year in June 2011.
The seminary serves the seven dioceses of the Northern Province of England and the Diocese of Shrewsbury and the wider church.
In recent years, Ushaw College has developed to blend heritage with advancement while maintaining its core function of the formation of priests to help renew and continue the work of the Roman Catholic Church in the region. Currently, there are 26 seminarians in formation at St Cuthbert’s Seminary and once they have completed this year’s studies, it is proposed that they will transfer to another seminary.
Archbishop Patrick Kelly, Chair of Trustees said: “This is one of the most difficult proposals that we as Trustees have had to make, not least because of the excellence of the formation our students are receiving.”
Monsignor John Marsland, President of the College, expressed his sorrow at the proposal: “Ushaw has a long history within the Roman Catholic Church and words cannot express how sad we are that we are considering such a drastic step.
“We have long tried to find a development partner and it would be nice to believe that a partner will still come forward with a viable business plan but unfortunately time is running out and we have to face the reality of the situation we are in.”
 Ushaw College can trace its roots back to Douai College, which was founded in 1568 in the Spanish Netherlands (now northern France) to provide priests for the English mission and to educate Catholic laymen when Catholicism suffered persecution in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Much later, students and staff from Douai relocated to County Durham and eventually settled at Ushaw in 1808.
For a time in the 19th century, Ushaw’s educational facilities made it the premier Catholic college in England and right into the 1950s 400 students were in attendance. Since Vatican Council II, the College has had important ecumenical links with Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion and, in the past three decades, increasingly close cooperation with Cranmer Hall, the Wesley Study Centre and, most recently, Lindisfarne Regional Training Partnership. The decline in priestly vocations provided the college with an opportunity to diversify, resulting in innovative educational outreach programmes, a new biomass enterprise – complete with a willow crop -- and the three-star English Tourist Board accreditation for its accommodation and its sought-after unique setting for conferences and events. The college has also become the home of the North East regional office of CAFOD, and the Churches’ Regional Commission.
Whatever the future may hold for the Ushaw community with its historic buildings and long tradition of education, formation and outreach, the College remains grateful to God for all the thousands of friends and benefactors who have supported it over the years. (Here ends the statement)
In some ways this is not a surprise - for years we on the outside have known that the numbers of students at Ushaw College has dropped drastically from the glory days of the 1950's and 60's - and we have been asking ourselves how long this could go on for.
Even so, the proposal to close the College is a shock. Considering the history and achievements of the College, as outlined in the press release, it smacks of despair and perhaps a loss of faith.  As far as I know, there has been no consultation, even amongst the clergy, about Ushaw's future - there has been no analysis of how matters have reached this stage - we are not told why this decision has been reached - we do not know how widespread the search for 'development partners' has been.
According to a report from Australia, when George Pell was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne, he already knew that his seminary was failing (he had been Auxiliary in the diocese); he made a few simple changes: he ordered that Mass, Lauds, Vespers and Compline be compulsory for all students each day, insisted the seminary life be more regulated and that the official teachings of the Church be passed on to students in their formation. When all the professors walked out in disgust at this backward step, he appointed others who would bring order to the seminary. And so they did - the seminary never looked back. The teaching of Latin, the official language of the Church, was introduced by the new president of the College and the students began to learn about the tradition which had built up the Church from the beginning.

I know nothing about the present curriculum at Ushaw College, but I would not be surprised if a more traditional form of teaching would not bring more vocations to the College, including the teaching of Latin and training students in both Forms of Mass.

In the meantime, whilst looking for 'development partners', surely there is something which everyone can do about Ushaw - and that is, we can PRAY.  The Trustees do not mention prayer, but if we pray hard for Ushaw to continue, surely the Lord, whose priests (and people) we are, will grant our prayers for the greater benefit of His Church.  Let us say the Rosary as often as we can that this seed-bed of vocations to the Catholic priesthood may continue to be a beacon for the Catholic Faith for the future.  We must not lose Ushaw College!

I am writing a note to my Bishop along these lines - perhaps others could do the same.



  1. Father,

    Can I join you in praying for the survival of our Alma Mater, and for an infusion of Faith into the decision taken to close.

    Like you, I was astonished at the announcement, bearing in mind that no hint was circulating during Grand Week this year, nor were there any suggestions that a crisis point had been reached during the 200th Anniversay celebrations in 2008.

    Something has obviously gone radically wrong - I, as a mere layman (and faithful contributor to the Priests' Training Fund for many years), am not going to be told anything by the Governors, nor, apparently, are the clergy of the Northern Province. But we may be more understanding if a little light was thrown on the decision making process.

    You are correct in pointing out that prayer was a notable absentee from the statement - maybe that is the root cause of the problem.

    Our Lady of Help - Pray for our Alma Mater

    Terry Middleton (Ushaw 1958 - 1963)

  2. As a victim of Ushaw's so-called "formation" in recent decades, I'm afraid that, as a seminary, it lost the plot a long time ago.
    I was fond of the fine buildings and the history that they were steeped in. (certain) People were the problem, and not a few 'good men' have been cast aside by the system that operated, and to the best of my knowledge, still operates there. I know of prospective students that have decided not to proceed once they have heard that they were going to be sent there. One hears that the students who will be transferring to other seminaries next year are now having to do remedial classes to satisfy the requirements of their new programmes of study, so thorough was their formation at Ushaw.

  3. It should not be forgotten in all of this that the staff members were sincere and dedicated at Ushaw. However, I was never happy with the goals to which they were committed: the formation of ‘parish facilitators’ rather than priests offering the sacrifice of the Mass to which is joined their own self-sacrifice and that of the people they serve.
    Unfortunately the Church was awash with Person-centred, Non-Directive, Self-actualisation psychology from the 1960’s onwards, and Ushaw was not immune –perhaps that is why liturgical and Canon Law are so easily flouted; after all, they are a ‘script’ which mitigates against both self-actualisation and Non-Directed living. In that Ushaw has turned out men who seem intoxicated with the principles of Person-Centred, Non-directive, facilitating clergy, it is not surprising that the parishes which these men facilitate have spawned few vocations. Does no one else find it strange that while Ushaw trained men to be facilitators rather than men who act ‘in the Person of Christ the Head’ that we are now forming ‘Lay Leaders’? Surely there is an anomaly there.