The Closing Celebration
at Totteridge
(14th June 2006

With commentary and illustrations by Maurice Billingsley

The present buildings have been a good deal more conducive to life in small teams than the old fire trap that existed before. It had been one of Cardinal Manning's great institutions for the poor children of London, but the big dormitories had been converted to individual rooms. By the 1970s these were grouped into teams according to the parishes where students did their pastoral work : Bushey, Radlett, Manor House, etc. These came together for the Divine Office, coffee breaks – at which students from other groups or societies were often welcomed – and the occasional intimate Mass around the coffee table, prepared by group members.

Divine Word Society students were at first scattered among the groups, but later formed a group of their own, living in one of the other buildings in the grounds.

As the Missionary Institute (MIL) took shape elsewhere the lecture rooms were no longer needed, other students were less in evidence, and the present building could be more community-friendly. The front door – the doors taken from the old chapel – draws you into the building. And here is the very informal welcome to that last Mass.

The quality of the new building was perhaps especially noticeable in the chapel. Joe Cummins remarked to me a few years ago that he'd noticed the students spent far more time praying than ever we had done. While this may well have been true, the difference in the two chapels was palpable. The old one was not a place to sit and 'look at God', because – well, because it was not that sort of place, at least for me. A shift of position seemed to orchestrate creaks and groans in the bench and across the floor, the stained glass was just weird . . . perhaps it was just me, but cutting the grass provided a capsule where I could pray, and the chapel did not. The later one is a room for liturgy and for silence. Memorably, the mower's meditations were once dissipated when wet grass meant a loss of steering, and the fish pond beckoned.

It was good to be on that (dry) grass again for the final Mass with friends of the community! The rain held off though it did get cold. I make no apologies for this photo being so long-distant and not showing the principal celebrants clearly ; nor for not showing different moments in the Mass ; I detest taking pictures during Mass : here is a record of the celebration which I trust will suffice.

As has long been the custom at St Edward's, the music was drawn from many traditions around the world, especially Africa. We asked about learning some of the African chants when the students visited Canterbury a few years ago: it's not written down, they told us, we learn it by ear. Which was a bit of a puzzler for musicians used to following a score. (See below for a copy of the service)

There was a good congregation of WFs, former students, members of other societies, and friends from the parishes and the London African community. Fr Dominique Arnauld and Fr Richard Baawobr from the Generalate, both former students, were there. Fr Richard spoke about saying goodbye, saying thanks, and planting seeds; the planting of seeds seems to be prophetic, as Abidjan, Kinshasha and Jerusalem, where new formation houses will be, are hardly places of rural retreat and quiet these days, and Nairobi could well be a torrid place to live in the future. So, though many of us may regret the closure of Totteridge and the opportunity it has provided for people of many cultures to mix, the new places will be right at the heart of things.


A cake made for the occasion

Peter Smith, UK Provincial presided and spoke of the many friendships Totteridge had created; he hoped that these would persist in the future, despite the closure of the seminary and the Missionary Institute.

Three or four students, who are pursuing the SDB, will be in the Oak Lodge community for another year. I don't know what plans there are for Oak Lodge after that. It is a bit far from Central London but it would be difficult to find such a good spot for welcoming visitors, as long as some of the garden remains, of course!

Fr Patrick Shanahan and Joe Cummins

Among old Priorians or St Edwardites present were Frs Patrick Shanahan, Denis Starkey, now an administrator at MIL, and Joe Cummins, back from Burkina and Ghana, as well as John Strain and myself. Peter Smith told us that a number of ex-students from the first cohort were present, but I did not get to meet them.

Maurice Billingsley and Dominique Arnauld, i/c formation at the Generalate
and sometime student and lecturer at St Edward's and the Missionary Institute

I was not there as a jounalist, even for the Pelicans! I had to slip away and pedal like fury to catch the train back to Blackfriars, and Canterbury, having spenty much of the evening chatting to Dominique. To be continued whenever I get to see him.

I had a feeling of 'I may never walk this way or see some of these people again', but I am glad I was there!


The Chapel

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