Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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!

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