Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ushaw College - my Alma Mater

January's issue of the Northern Cross, our diocesan newspaper, arrived today.  The leading article on the front page immediately demanded that I read it.  The article gave an depressing forecast of the way the Church in our diocese will look in 2020 - far too few priests, parishes closed all over the diocese, a continuing loss of practising Catholics.  Mind you, a former bishop of the diocese predicted about ten years ago that by 2020 the Church in the North East of England would be finished!  So nothing new there then!

The other thing which demanded immediate reading were the Letters to the Editor about the closure of Ushaw College.  One letter was from a lady very upset about the apparent apathy and silence of the laity about the closure of the College.  One could also ask, what about the clergy of the diocese, especially those who were trained at the College; perhaps they all think that this is a done deal and nothing can be done about it; sort of "Liverpool locuta est, causa finita est." (pace Pope Leo the Great).

The main letter on the page however was from John Bailey, a former editor of the Northern Cross; he writes about his increasing anxiety that nothing seems to be happening, at least in the public domain, which makes it hard for others who wish to help to know how they can help but that Ushaw must be kept open at all costs (he also believes that no-one has brought up the  the future of the Ushaw Cemetery - John, if you read this, it has been brought up in a Comment to one of my previous blogs on Ushaw, and there are photos of the Cemetery on my Ushaw College Photo Essay Number Nine).

If I may quote about a swan swimming, the swan glides serenely along on the surface but underneath it is paddling like h....

I know for sure that things are taking place below the level of public attention, and I expect that these things will accelerate in the near future and when agreement is reached among the various folk - mostly laity - who are involved, then no doubt matters will be brought to public notice. It is true that nobody knows what is happening at the Trustee level, because they have not taken us into their confidence and that time is short.  But I personally can definitely see a future for Ushaw College, perhaps a little different to what it is today but still a place for the training of priests for the future of the Church and especially the Church in the North East of England.  We should not be planning to manage the decline and death of the Church, as we seem to be doing at the moment, but by listening and giving respect to some new but old ideas preparing for increase.

In the meanwhile there are two things everybody can do.  As I mentioned once before, we can pray - those who are working for a just solution to this crisis will only do so with the help of prayer.
But also everyone who reads this should sign the online petition about Ushaw.  Go to


  1. I can confirm that there are moves going on behind the scenes and it is now time to bring together all those groups which are acting independently. As Fr Elkin says, these are being led by the laity - where are the voices of the clergy who were trained at the college? A number of sound ideas are emerging to increase the revenue and I know of one business proposition that was put forward to the trustees has not even received an acknowledgement. Why is there such a deafening silence from the trustees on a matter which concerns all Catholics in the northern province who have contributed for decades to the priest training fund?
    What is inescapable is the fact that Ushaw College as it is presently constituted has failed as a Catholic seminary. The reasons for this are well known to many who were former students there and most are not surprised that it can no longer attract young men for training. So, if it is saved then it is quite clear that the current culture which has led to this decline must be reversed. Ushaw can rise again but it needs the involvement of businessmen who can create income, and a restoration of orthodoxy and tradition that is proving successful in filling seminaries once again in the south of England and in Australia and the USA.
    In the meantime, anyone who wishes to help the movement to save Ushaw College can do their bit by signing the petition as urged by Fr Elkin.

  2. Father,

    I am disturbed at the lack of support on the petition from the clergy and from members of St Cuthbert's Society. Of the 300 odd signatures so far, I have identified only about 5 Society members who have signed.

    But, I am also disturbed at a couple of comments from signatories - a Blessed Scarament Father who was accused by a member of the teaching staff of being "A Wafer worshipper". Another heard a member of the staff describing the statue of Our Lady of Help as a "blow up doll".

    We have suspected that Ushaw had lost its way in recent years, and these comments confirm that graphically.

    As you so rightly point out, it is now time for the differing strands to come together, and to DEMAND an answer to the legitimate questions which have so far been ignored by the Trustees.

    Our Lady of Help, Pray for us.

    Terry Middleton, Ushaw 1958 - 1963

  3. Re the "wafer worshipper" comment: I have heard similar about a (then) very senior person in the college. Given those attitudes, it is perhaps no surprise to see the apparent statistics mentioned about the Faith in the North East. If "important" people do not believe such basic things, what faith is left?

  4. Whilst I understand trustees of a charity are legally responsible for decisions about and management of the charity, it appears any moral responsibility has gone out of the window here. It seems, if we believe what little we have been told, that overtures have been made by traditionalist group(s) with what they believe to be viable business plans to turn things round, but that these have been rejected. Ushaw surely belongs to the Church, by which I mean the generations of benefactors who have supported the College over the years, financially or in lifetimes of service to it (in some cases also for generations), and not the present well meaning though misguided hierarchy. What moral right have the trustees to dispose of the place without consideration that these monies and lives have been given in anticipation that the gifts would be used to perpetuate the work of the College? And when they have sold the family silver, if the Church continues its present decline and finds itself in need of further quick profits, what then?

    One of your readers says that Ushaw has failed as a seminary. I have not had much to do with Ushaw for many years, (though others of my family have and still do) so I do not feel qualified to comment on this, other than to say that from what little I do know, I think it likely to be accurate. What is clear however, is that over the last thirty years or so (I am not old enough to remember much before 'modernisation') something has gone fundamentally, and potentially fatally, wrong with the Church. Hardly a month goes by without yet another scandal rearing its ugly head. It is small wonder few young men come forward with vocations, and of those that do, in some cases at least, clearly the wrong kind of people are being selected, while other candidates have been rejected. I have not the knowledge to say whether this is a result of Vatican II or excessive liberalisation or whatever it may be. The fact remains, however, and it seems to me that because of this, the Church has got into a downward spiral from which it is not going to be easy to escape. I have not been a regular Mass attender for some while now. This is not because I have less faith than I was brought up to have, but because I do not agree with the way in which things are now done. I know people in their 70s and 80s who have been (in fact as far as I am concerned still are) devout Catholics but who no longer regularly attend for the same reason. No doubt some will say that if that is the way I feel, then I should get out and do something about it. I wish I could - some people are born leaders or managers and perhaps can do so, but sady I am not one of them.

    As for Ushaw? The chapels and library should be handed over without delay to a traditionalist group with enough living accomodation to allow for their probable expansion so they can run it as a traditional seminary. The profitable conference centre should be reopened immediately, (and incidentally, should be properly used by Catholic groups in the northern dioceses, for example the schools, whose Diocesan Head Teachers Conference is held, year after year, in swish hotels because that is what is fashionable). Plans for development of the disused parts of the property, in particular the old Junior House and the Home Farm should be resurrected and pressure brought to bear on those responsible for previously blocking all such proposed developments at the planning stages. No doubt all this would not be as easy as it sounds, but surely there must remain some in the Catholic establishment with the will and drive to make it work? If something is not done, the place will stand empty and will be wrecked within months. I have seen this happen on a smaller scale elsewhere. Every scrap of lead will be gone from the rooves, every foot of copper piping and wiring will be stripped, the once magnificent buildings, despite their listed status will then crumble into ruins and all the hopes and aspirations of those past generations of benefactors, staff and workers will be gone forever.

  5. Today's edition of the Newcastle Journal states that the trustees of Ushaw College will, at their next meeting, be considering the online petition calling for the closure of the college to be forestalled.

    This is good news.

  6. May Our Lady of Ushaw guide all those deliberating the future of this Catholic jewel.

  7. Can anybody please enlighten my sister and I as to the fate of the cemetery at Ushaw? Our Brother and Father's ashes are both buried side by side there, our mother is terminally ill and only has a short time left with us. Her greatest wish is to have her ashes laid alongside those of her Husband and Son.We have tried to contact the college on several occasions,to no avail. Can anybody please help us?!!!!!!!!