|The Pelican e-letter keeps former students of
the White Fathers in touch. This year they had a scoop. Founding member
Eugene MacBride broke the news when he wrote : 'I learn to my
amazement that at the end of the academic year, the White Fathers are
closing up St Edward's, Totteridge, where they have had a theology school
since the end of s'Heerenberg in 1958.'
Many of you will be familiar with St Edward's College from the photo that appears frequently on the back page [of the WF / WS magazine] . Our loyal supporters have, by contributing to St Anthony's Burse over many years, enabled countless priests and brothers to train at St Edward's. Now it is to close.
For most British White Fathers, this is a source of some regret: the presence of so many trainee missionaries in their midst was stimulating, challenging and, indeed, comforting. It represented an assurance that the mission will go on! What are we to make of this closure? The real state of affairs is this: for several years now, the majority of English-speaking White Father students have trained at our new seminary in Africa. Now the decision has been made that all should do so in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. It seems to make more sense now that the majority of our missionary seminarians are themselves African. They will study at Tangaza College, a rapidly expanding missionary study centre, part of the Catholic University of East Africa which is affiliated to the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome. This year Tangaza College has over a thousand students.
When St Edward's first opened for the training priests and brothers, it was a missionary seminary. Theology was taught there by White Fathers. This situation changed when, in 1968, the teaching was transferred to the nearby Missionary Institute London (MIL). With academic life transferred elsewhere, St Edward's became more a place to live and to learn the discipline of community living and apostolic service. A further change occurred when the old buildings of St Edward's were abandoned for the new St Edward's, a strikingly modern red building on the same plot. The thinking behind these changes, marked by its time, is explained here by Fr Pat Fitzgerald, who was the rector of the old St Edward's from 1964 to 1972. 'To live is to change' said Cardinal Newman, 'and to be perfect is to have changed much.'
The year when I arrived at St Edward's, 1964, was a year of change. The Second Vatican Council was in full swing. In general the White Fathers took to Vatican II like ducks to water. What, concretely, did it mean for the staff of St Edward's and for their one hundred students, men from Africa, France, Germany, Luxembourg, England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain? They had all spent at least three years training for the priesthood or brotherhood, some had done military service. Obviously it meant, for a start, dismantling some of the structures, rules and regulations.
One of the first shocks I received in September 1964 was to find the letter box outside my office crammed with unsealed letters of students to their families or friends. This was a long-standing tradition. Needless to say this rule was abolished immediately. Had four or more years of spiritual formation produced a man who could not be trusted to post his own letters?
Similar rules and regulations governed a student's life from morning to night. There was little room for personal decisions or initiative. It was impressive to see these hundred students packing the chapel for prayer, Mass and Benediction. After a couple of years we took the decision to break up the community of students into groups of five or six. Each group, with a member of staff at its head, would also be a pastoral team (usually working in a parish at weekends), would pray together, spend recreation together, share in their life as future priests, brothers, and missionaries together. All 'would be responsible for all.' Each group would have a representative of all four years of training. When it was time to apply to the Society or to Holy Orders, the group was expected to 'speak the truth in love' to one another about the decision. In the past the staff had sometimes been reproached for accepting or rejecting a student's application on insufficient knowledge and there was some truth in this. Now the students would share the responsibility . It did not take long for them to discover that responsibility could be a burden sometimes a heavy one.
Another opportunity to blend freedom with responsibility and maturity came when Edwina Gately, foundress of the Volunteer Missionary Movement asked if we could accommodate a mixed group of volunteers who were in training before going to the missions. We handed over the top floor of St.Edward's and ladies, young and middle-aged moved in. The very walls must have trembled! These ladies shared our life of prayer, meals, recreation. All life is a risk! As far as I know, all went well.
The proximity of young women certainly made some students think very hard about accepting a life committed to celibacy. However the most striking outward impact was a marked increase in the use of shoe polish, clothes brushes, and combs!
In those years, Fr George Croft SI., a clinical psychologist, used to pay an annual visit to test our students' aptitudes. Many years later we met by chance in Zimbabwe and went through the names of all the students he had tested and who had been ordained or became Brothers in our Society. It was very gratifying for us both to see how few had left the priesthood or the Society in the intervening years. Incidentally, of those students, two later became Superior General of the Society, several became Assistants to the General and others became novice masters or staff in the Society's training houses.
|A major event in 1966 was the arrival of the
Franciscan Sisters for Africa to take charge of the kitchen.
Previously we had been more or less living from hand to mouth. From
1966 onwards, thanks to their cheerfulness, hard work, and culinary
skills, we fulfilled the description given of the clergy as men who
'dress like tramps and eat like kings.' An army marches on its
stomach. If the morale of our St Edward's army was always high it was
due in no small measure to the care we received from the Franciscan
Sisters. They should appear high on our roll of honour.
Since the weekends were devoted to pastoral work, it was agreed that we would have a community Mass for everyone on Monday evenings. Very quickly this Mass took on unexpected proportions. Parishioners from parishes where students worked would be invited to attend and to stay afterwards for refreshments. In no time the large chapel was filled to overflowing every Monday. Guest-preachers were invited; singing and its accompaniment were robust and joyful. This custom of the Monday evening Mass became an institution that survived long after the old St.Edward's had disappeared.
In 1966 many smaller Religious Orders and Societies were giving up their own training houses and joining Heythrop, the Jesuit house of studies, situated, at that time, in the English countryside. Should we follow suit? The Dean of studies of Heythrop was invited to talk to us. In answering our questions he made it clear that Heythrop offered a very full and intensive academic course of Theology that left no time for pastoral work. We believed very strongly in the importance of a programme of well-directed pastoral work, in settings that would give our students scope both for gaining experience and help them to mature. We all agreed that Heythrop was not for us.
However, a mile or so down the road from St Edward's, the Mill Hill Fathers ran a training establishment identical to ours. Apart from strongly-contested soccer matches, the two groups, both Missionary Societies, had no other contact with each other! This anomalous state of affairs now came to an end. The Rector of Mill Hill and I began exchanging visits. To both of us it seemed utter madness to be duplicating each other's efforts. Could we not do something together? And could we not draw up a programme of studies designed to better prepare future missionaries for their life's work?
How obvious that seems today! And it did to the staffs of both of our colleges. Yet some White Fathers and Mill Hill Fathers saw collaboration as the kiss of death for their own Society and uttered dire warnings. Common sense and mutual trust prevailed. It was agreed that from September 1967 the first year students of the two Societies would do all their courses together.
Meanwhile other Missionary Societies were told what we were planning. Should Mill Hill and ourselves decide to extend our co-operation to all years of training we would happily welcome others to join us. This, in fact, is what happened. The Divine Word Missionaries, the Consolata Fathers, the Comboni Missionaries, the S.M.A and others took the considerable risk of giving up their own training houses and looking for property in the north London area. Until they were established in London, the students of several Societies lodged with us, the decline of our own numbers allowing this. So, in 1968 the Missionary Institute London was born. Later it became affiliated both to Louvain and to Middlesex Universities.
In the late 1960s our students began to decline in numbers, and this trend accelerated rapidly so that, by the time I left in 1972, we had only thirty-two. The drop in numbers was only one of the many differences between the St Edward's I had found in August 1964 and the one I left in 1972. From being a traditional, tightly-run seminary, characterised by rules and timetables imposed from above, binding on all, where everybody attended all common spiritual, intellectual and social activities, it was now characterised by groups of five or six students with a staff member in each group. Many activities that had formerly given St Edward's its identity and purpose were now done elsewhere, the strong sense of unity had been replaced by closely-knit small groups far more responsible for their own formation than in the past; close personal ties, always anathema in the past, were encouraged through regular sharing of ideals, hopes, visions, difficulties and fears; and student participation in making policy decisions was a norm.
With numbers dwindling, the large complex of St Edward's was no longer needed. When I left in 1972, plans were afoot for building a new, smaller college, one built as a home rather than as an institution, to house small groups of students, each in its own section of the house. Old St Edward's, a typical 19th century institution, rather like a barracks, expressive of the lifestyle and relationships of its day, soon disappeared from the scene. I had been immensely happy there, was blessed with a stable, dedicated staff and community and mostly mature and gifted students. Outwardly it all looked austere, rough and ready but I think it delivered the goods, and I hope that I am not alone in having happy memories of old St Edward's.
However, to live is to change and it was time to 'ring out the old, ring in the new.' And so it was hail and farewell to dear old St Edward's.
(source : WF / WS magazine no.388 June/July 2006)
"After Mass at St Edward's : seminarians and visitors surround Mrs June Briveau,
a good friend to generations of White Fathers, who died recently RIP) "
Taken from The Tablet
|In the article above ( ' The Closure of St Edward's
' ), Fr Patrick Fitzgerald describes
how pastoral work within outlying parishes soon became an integral element
in the training of students at Totteridge. This part of their course
gave each individual an opportunity to experience typical parish work
: to understand the varied nature of the work, to experience at firsthand
the heavy demands that would be made upon them and, of course, to see
whether they were suited to the challenge.
One such pastoral link has been fostered over the years by the Rev Dr John Strain, curate of St Alban's in Hindhead, Surrey. He and his parishioners have played host to several groups of trainees from Totteridge and, as both sides would agree, many mutual benefits have come about because of it. The parish has also made substantial contributions to the Anglican parish of Kwa Mkono in Tanzania where John Strain worked in 2001 and to the work of the White Fathers in Nigeria where Fr Sosthene Palme, a former student of St Edwards and friend of St Albans, leads a youth project supported by St Albans church.
This special relationship with the parish has produced lasting friendships and links with many of these young men who, in turn, have had the opportunity, at times, to take an active part in some of the activitiesof the St Alban's community and to develop a much deeper understanding of the role of priest, to which they aspire.
On Sunday 26th March 2006, however, it was time for the most
recent group from Totteridge to say a last farewell to the parish,
signalling the imminent closure of their UK base. A special service
was held to mark this occasion, with the seven representatives from
Totteridge leading and accompanying the congregation in all of the
musical parts of the liturgy. (Some of this involved brave attempts
at responses in Swahili, over which we shall draw a veil). In keeping
with the nature of the students' missionary order,
Fr Patrick Shanahan WF made his usual (outstanding)
appeal on behalf of his Street Child Africa charitydrawing
on the themes of Mothering Sunday.
(source : Paul West)
Deusdedit Njankwa (Tanzania), Matthias Kafunda (Malawi), Fr Pat Shanahan MAfr, Revd Dr John Strain, (curate St Albans), Simon Ouedraogoa (Burkina Faso) Rev David Wilbraham (vicar St Albans), Sylvain Yameogo (Burkina Faso), Deusdedit Njankwa (Tanzania), Leonard Chibwana (Malawi) Abiju John (India) standing on the right
(source : Paul West)
Photo 2 : Deusdedit Njankwa (Tanzania) and Matthias Kafunda (Malawi) on the right
(source : Paul West)
Photo 3 : Simon Ouedraogoa (Burkina Faso) who led the music
(source : Paul West)
Photo 4 : Sylvain Yameogo (Burkina Faso) and Leonard Chibwana (Malawi) on the right
(source : Paul West)
Photo 5 : Deusdedit Njankwa (Tanzania) and Abiju John (India) on the right
The Blessing of St Edward's
(Taken from the White Fathers magazine October