Monday, 12 March 2012 12:37


Where the name Strawberry Hill came from I was not able to discover, but I had an interesting time getting there... it is a suburb south London near Twickenham about 8 miles from Hammersmith as the crow flies.

The reason for the above trip was to visit the vice-chancellor of St Mary's Catholic University, Philip Esler, an Australian. It is also the campus for the Diaconate studies for southern England – an opportunity to catch-up with the dean of studies and discuss common themes.

Initially St Mary’s was established as a Catholic Teachers College back in 1850 by the Vincentian order and a grant from the Duke of Norfolk.  In the last ten years the College has become a University and now has a lay vice-chancellor as the Vincentians passed this responsibility onto the Archdiocese of Westminster.  Traditionally the College flourished on an extensive site on the Thames and now attracts students from many parts of England and overseas, the first year undergraduates are able to board on site.  Though its beginning was as a teaching college for Catholic schools it has developed research and teaching facilities in the sciences and liberal arts: the latter offers also theology, philosophy and pastoral programs.  More recently it has added field sports as a program of training and studies: in fact it boasts that Usian Bolt trains there when he is in England as the Olympics has seen an influx of athletes coming to train... the South African team will use the facilities as a base in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The discussion with Ashley Beck, the dean of studies, focused on the curriculum development of the deacons program in relation to the University demands, especially as the students are mature aged.  I can draw parallels with the program we began in Adelaide, the difference is one of size as they have many more applicants at this stage than we have had.  The difficulties of relating the deacons’ role and vocation to the local parish and diocese is a key issue here as well as in Australia.


(A glimpse of antiquities in the UK!)

Stonehenge.  The experience at the “place of the hanging stones” (a translation of the Celtic) was worth the effort to get there.  My first impressions were the ones that remain, mysterious and strange: I was reminded of my visits to the aboriginal paintings in the caves at Kakadu or the awe with which Uluru and its heritage is accepted.  Stonehenge says something about the people who lived in this part of England five thousand years ago, and those that have come and gone since then until the present day.  The guardians of the place have developed a rich encounter with the past with a focus on allowing the people who erected the structures tell us of their relationships with each other, the land and the divine… in a different and profound way.  As you can see I was moved and impressed by the experience, it spite of it being bitterly cold at the time.