Saturday, November 29, 2008

St John's Open Day

Tomorrow there is an Open Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh. This is a good time to visit the seminary and I've used the opportunity in recent years to take down some men who may be thinking of a priestly vocation. I'd hoped to do the same this year but, unfortunately, it has proved impossible to get a supply priest to cover the morning Masses here. It's a shame but that's life!

What I will probably do is stay for the morning Masses and then leave here at lunchtime. I should get there just after lunch and be about for the afternoon activities. I still have to get a supply to hear confessions during the evening Mass but that shouldn't be too difficult. In our parish we offer confessions during Mass. Many parishes have kept a confessions timetable suited to a 1950s way of life. These days, Saturdays are much busier than they were in the past and so we bit the bullet in the year 2000 and started offering confessions at times when people would be in Church. We haven't looked back. We have lots and lots of confessions in our Church and the Sunday evening session is particuarly popular so I'm loath to cancel it.

Deanery Requiem

Recently we had our Deanery Requiem Mass for the deceased clergy of the Balham Deanery. I had calculated that the priests of the deanery had probably celebrated well over a million Masses for the departed loved ones of our parishes. It seems fitting therefore that we come together once a year to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of their souls. The Mass took place at St Boniface Church, Tooting, and was attended by people from the various parishes in the deanery. Afterwards we were all kindly invited to a buffet supper in the parish hall. This photograph is of the parish priest, Fr Bonvini, a few days earlier at the visit of Bishop Paul to open the new parish youth centre.

The Year of St Paul

On Thursday night we had the final talk in our series of four lectures to mark the Year of St Paul. The talks were given by Fr Jerome Bertram who shuns the title 'scripture scholar' because of its association with a dry, faithless approach to the Word of God. Instead he offers a lively presentation of key biblical characters. Recently Family Publications published his People of the Gospel which is well-worth getting. Fr Bertram is a priest of the Oxford Oratory.

I hadn't noticed it until a parishioner mentioned it to me, but something striking about this series of talks was that it was particulalry attractive to men. Certainly men far outnumbered women each evening. Another interesting feature was that it was also attended by some leading characters from our local non-Catholic ecclesial communities. I was particularly pleased by this because sometimes non-Catholics can think Catholicism isn't a 'biblical religion', and also because a Protestant reading of St Paul can easily overlook just how 'Catholic' he really is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It was good to visit Dermott and the other students in Valladolid last week. Everyone seemed on really good form and there was a great atmosphere in the house. Dermott had recently one the poetry prize at the College - which seemed to entail being dressed up rather as someone from a Harry Potter script.

Little things help, of course, not least the fact that the Rector put his culinary skills to good use in the kitchen and provided porridge for breakfast one morning!

The College is very attractive. It was founded by Philip II of Spain at the time of the protestant 'reformation' to train priests for the Mission back home in England. Today it's corridors are lined with portraits of its Martyrs. Thanks to Philip's generosity the College has sufficient endowments to enable it to be well-maintained and the rectors seem to have spent wisely. These days the rooms are somewhat more comfortable than those the Martyrs would have known. This is a view from my room onto the inner courtyard:

There is a tradition that when priests visit seminaries they try to take their co-diocesans out for a meal. Since I already knew quite a few of this year's men I invited some of the other lads to join Dermott and me for supper. We went to an excellent restaurant recommended by the Rector on a pretty little street just off the Plaza Mayor.

Of course, in Spain the culinary traditions are quite different from those in the rest of Europe. Here's a picture of Phil - caught just at the moment he realised what he was eating...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blog Blackout

There will probably be a bit of a blackout this week. Tomorrow morning I fly out to Madrid where I'll pick up a car to drive up to Valladolid. Unfortunately Ryan Air have stopped their daily flights so I have to take a bit of a circuitous route to get to the English College in Spain.

As vocations director I try to visit our students abroad at least once each year. It is good to let them know that they haven't been forgotten!

In fact I've found these visits to the College very useful. Sometimes a student can feel a bit left out or even homesick. By now the novelty of the year is beginning to wear off and Valladolid isn't the world's largest metropolis! So I think it can be good for the seminarians to meet someone they know from Blighty. This year we happen only to have one student in Spain but I'm also looking forward to catching up with some of the men I know from other dioceses.

I'll have my Macbook with me but I don't know how easy it will be to get internet access so the blackout might well last until the weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Sincerest form of Flattery

H/T to Fr Tim Finigan at the Hermeneutic of Continuity for news from Lancaster Diocese. My friend and fellow Vocations Director, Fr Manny Gribben, has taken a lead from us in Southwark and started his own Lancaster Vocations Blog. Even more good news: he is starting a Quo Vadis Group for the diocese.

Southwark started a Quo Vadis Group in response to the tremedndous interest in vocation generated among young people by the World Youth Day in Sydney. It gets a mention in both the Universe and the Catholic Herald this weekend. I'm very pleased to see that Lancaster is going to do something similar.

Fr Manny had a great project to promote family prayer for vocations a couple of years ago. We hope to be able to make use of his idea in Southwark fairly soon.

If you are a reader of this blog who lives in the north of England, do check Fr Manny's blog. There's a Vocations Day coming up in December. To find out more about what's happening in Lancaster contact Fr Manny on


We had four more baptisms this wekend bring the total number so far this year to 95. Because we have individual baptisms we've had to change our timetable to fit them all in. There is always the option of one or more baptisms during the 11am Mass on Sunday mornings. Additionally we now have two baptism slots on a Saturday morning and one on a Sunday afternoon. In the past we offered two on a Sunday afternoon but it didn't leave us much time for prayer!

So far the new timetable seems to be working well. This year we have the highest number of baptisms since 1972 which is quite remarkable (particularly since at that time there were two maternity hospitals in the parish!). By the end of the year we will have had over one hundred baptisms pretty well putting us in the top 5% of parishes in the dioceses.

Do pray for all our families.

New Youth Club

Bishop Paul with Fr Bonvini and the priests of the parish

Being Dean for the Balham deanery I was invited this evening to St Boniface Parish in Tooting. For some time now St Boniface has been thinking about how to develop it's youth ministry. In the past they have received funding from Wandsworth Council for a youth worker to run a club for the young people of the area. However, the contract ran out recently and the parishioners have been thinking about how they might come up with a provision for young people targetted more specifically at the parish.
Tonight Bishop Paul Hendricks was there to preside over a Mass to mark the opening of the new parish Youth Club. A Youth Choir provided the music and after the Mass we processed to the Club's dedicated premises for the blessing. I was very impressed to see a bowling lane in the room! Later there was a reception in the parish 'Function Suite' where I was able to meet up again with many of the lay people behind the project. Let's pray it bears fruit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lunch at Allen Hall

I had a very nice lunch today at Allen Hall, the Westminster Seminary. It was good to see some familiar faces among the student body and I was very well looked after by my host, Fr Stephen Wang. I'd only been to the seminary a couple of times before, and never really had the chance to look round much, so it was good to be given a post-prandial tour. The student body seemed to be on very good form and it was nice to see a good number of them from all over the world. I sat next to a young man from Brisbane and more or less opposite another from Colombia. Someone mentioed that there are also three Norwegian students at the seminary.
One of the projects for this year is to promote the seminary Chapel as a place of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to foster vocations. Each week a different parish from the diocese will be invited to come and prayer there. It seems an excellent idea. Apart from the prayer, I am sure it is a good way of getting the seminary known and of helping to encourage the 'culture of vocation' in Westminster.
After lunch I headed up to Westminster Cathedral - I hadn't yet seen it in the scaffolding and nor had I had much of a look at the mosaics. Calling in to the CTS bookshop I noticed next weekend's Catholic press is already out so I picked up a copy of The Universe which this week carries an article I wrote, and also the Catholic Herald because. following a press release from the National Office for Vocation, it had interviewed me on the 'vocations effect' of World Youth Day. Now I'm back in the parish looking forward to our talk tonight on St Paul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Catholics Come Home

Last year we had a 'Come Home for Christmas' campaign in the parish. It was a great success and we are planning to do something similar this Advent as well. Sometimes I think we can easily miss how big the Church is. That's why I like this short video from Catholics Come Home. Enjoy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jamie Carragher

A comment left on my post about the Faith, Family & Future conference led me to explore the Torch of the Faith blog where I discovered a fascinating post about Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool Vice-Captain and European Cup Winner.
Carragher's autobiography gives witness to his mother's faith. I meet many women who are pressurised into terminating their pregnancy. It is particularly hard for them to battle to defend their unborn child's life when the medical establishment claims that, in the eyes of the world, there is something 'wrong' with that child. Fortunately many of them are strong enough to resist.

In the opening pages of his book, this is what Carragher has to say -

'My book of Revelations begins with the most dramatic:
if my mum hadn't been a Roman Catholic,
I might have been aborted.

Paula Carragher was given the option of a termination
due to complications halfway through her pregnancy.
She was told I had spina-bifida- a birth defect that affects
the spinal cord. She was too religious to consider abortion,
no matter how disabled I'd be.

'Our Lord told me to have the baby', she still claims.
She's the rock on which my family is built.
I owe everything to that decision
she took thirty years ago'.

Discovering Priesthood at St John's

On Saturday we had another 'Discovering Priesthood Day' at St John's Seminary, Wonersh. The idea of the day is to give young men a chance to visit the seminary, meet some of the seminarians and reflect on the nature of a call to priesthood. The day is organised jointly by Southwark and Arundel and Brighton. Fr Paul Turner the A&B vocations director is pictured here alongside those who joined us for the day.

Our Discovering Priesthood Days incorporate a number of different elements. After an initial introduction and tour of the Seminary, we celebrate Holy Mass together in the College Chapel. Towards the end of the day we gather again in the Chapel for a period of silent prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. Benediction was given by Fr Aaron Spinelli, the most recently ordained priest of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese. After Benediction we observed a seminary custom and processed to the Lady Chapel for the singing of the Salve Regina. The Chapel is dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Clergy:

In the morning one of the seminarians, John Watts, spoke about his discernment process. John began his seminary training when he was nineteen and he encouraged those present not to be scared of applying young if they thought that was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately it rained heavily all day and so we decided to call off the post-prandial football, retiring instead to the student common room, known as 'The Dive', where the more energetic played table-tennis, while others put to good use both the dartboard and the snooker tables.

After the recreation period we were able to watch a new vocations film from the United States.

I was very pleased with the day and hope everyone who came enjoyed it. I know from the conversations I had that it encouraged a number of those present to go ahead and apply when they finish their studies. I hope, in the meantime, they will keep in touch. I should also add, that the seminarians were, as usual, outstanding in their kindness and hospitality towards us - not least in giving up their day off to look after us all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Time to Apply

Going by this picture from their website the Diocese of Austin has decided that young vocations is clearly the way ahead which is interesting because there was some discussion of promoting young vocations at our recent Vocations Directors' Conference.
Today we had our Discovering Priesthood Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh - more about that when I get the camera's battery re-charged. Two of the young men present confirmed that they wanted to apply this year and a number mentioned that they would like to apply for their respective dioceses when they finish A Levels. It looks as if Southwark will have at least six applicants for next year. It would be great if we did. But just in case any readers of this Blog are hoping to apply but haven't mentioned it to me yet, I'd encourage you to confirm it to me soon. This year the Selection Conference is very early and we need to get all your paperwork in order in good time. So don't delay getting in contact. I wouldn't want you to miss out!

Friday, November 07, 2008

God's Plan for You

I forgot to mention that last Saturday I was in New Malden for a special Vocations Day organised by one of the parishioners who attended World Youth Day iwth Arundel and Brighton Diocese where she works in a school. The theme was 'God's Plan for You' and the day went very well. It had been carefully planned with everyone's talk fitting seamlessly into a Powerpoint Presentation so there was always visual as well as spoken input. Since I'd onyl prepared my own presentation the night before I was amazed to see how easily it was inserted into the pre-prepared one.

The day began with Holy Mass followed by refreshments in the new parish hall where different groups had been invted to set up little displays. Fr Paul Turner (Vocations Director for Arundel and Brighton) was there with some youngsters from his diocese and there were a good number of religious sisters from a variety of religious orders. The young people present had mostly, but not all, been to Sydney for World Youth Day.

After a theological relfection on 'vocation' by Sr Finbarr, a faculty member from St John's seminary, we had presentations on the priesthood, the diaconate, marriage and the lay apsotolate. This latter was given by a member of the Theresian association. We also had presentations from three of the sisters on the charisms and work of their respective congregations. One of the older young people present, a nurse, spoke on the difficulty of living the faith in contemporary society and three of the young people also gave interesting presentations.

I had to leave before the end in order to get back for the evening Mass in the parish but I was very impressed by the day. The format would work well in a school setting and also as part of a confirmation retreat. As well as time for reflection it had pace and content - two important considerations when you work with young people!

I was sorry to have forgotten my camera.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

From Down Under

I was amused to find this photograph on the Friends with Christ Blog. It was set up by the students at Campion College in Sydney where Fr Richard Aladics is chaplain. We may feel that ghosts and ghouls have taken over our celebration of All Hallow's Eve, but it's not all bad. I noticed here that a lot of the children went round dressed as Angels and a few as saints. That shows the effort by the local Christian Churches to reclaim Halloween may be having some effect. During the Vocations Directors' Conference one of the priests mentioned his habit of handing out prayer cards when children came trick or treating. I must get in a supply for next year and encourage parishioners to do the same!

Quo Vadis Group

On Friday we have another meeting of the new diocesan Quo Vadis Group for young men and and women (college through university age) who are considering God's call for their lives. We meet at St Osmund's in Barnes where the group is hosted by Fr Dominic Allain. Do let us know if you can come. Send me an email by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Owning Up

If you emailed Southwark Vocations in the last few days I probably haven't received it. So please email me again! Last week, while I was away at the Vocations Directors' Conference, I had set up an automated 'out of office' reply. I set it up just after sending out an email to the Quo Vadis Group - with a copy to myself. Disaster! When I got back, the automated reply had created a loop which generated hundreds of replies. Result: a 'full inbox' on the server which had to be deleted today.

As the old adage goes, to err is human - but to really foul things up you need a computer!

Discovering Priesthood Day

On Saturday (8th November) we have another Discovering Priesthood Day at St John's Seminary, Wonersh . Last year we had a great under 18s day there and I am sure the event this weekend will be even better!
Participants are asked to arrive between 10 and 10.30am. There will be plenty of opportunity to meet the seminarians, have a tour of the College and ask questions. We will celebrate Holy Mass at midday and eat with the students. In the afternoon there will be some time for relaxation and sport, before meeting up again together and ending with Benediction at about 4.00pm. The day ends at 4.30pm.
In order to sign people in for lunch I need to let Wonersh have numbers by Wednesday so please let me know if you would like to come.
N.B. the Southwark Vocations email is not working at present. Please send me an email by clicking here. Thanks

Vocations Directors' Conference

Last week I stayed at Ushaw College near Durham. An impressive building overlooking Ushaw Moor, the College is the seminary for the Northern Province. In its heyday it had some five hundred students. Only twenty years ago or so it had a hundred. Sadly it now had only a third of that number. I have to say however that I do not subscribe to the opinion that it should be closed. First of all, over half Britain's Catholics are said to live in the Northern Province. If that's true what sign would it give if we were to close the one remaining seminary there? Secondly, there may be comparitively few students, but their average age seems much younger than at the other seminaries. There is hope that other young seminarians will come forward. Thirdly, Allan Hall in London is now nearly at capacity and St John's Wonersh had another sizeable intake this year. It may not be long before we are looking for extra space in our seminaries. Finally... it is a beautiful building and has a tremendous heritage going back to the days of Douai. In that sense it is part of the fabric, literally and metaphorically, of the Church in our country.
I was at Ushaw for the Vocations Directors' Conference. My first ever conference took place six years ago at Ushaw just after I had been appointed one of the vocations promoters for the diocese. It is interesting to reflect on how things have changed in the intervening years. Many of the Vocations Directors have been replaced and there are lots of new faces from around the dioceses. Lots of good things are happening as well with directors and promoters learning from each other and manifesting a new, confident enthusiasm. In general there is a much greater appreciation of the importance of the New Movements in encouraging vocations. In recent years there has also been a much greater openness to younger vocations. I noticed that particularly this year with a number of directors commenting that the policy of making everyone go off to university had effectively failed. Let's hope that this recognition will result in each case being assessed individually rather than according to some dubious prejudices!