by GERARD NOEL
While following a circuitous and off-beat route from the Yorkshire Moors, I lost myself on the road to Ushaw. I stopped at a petrol station just outside Durham to ask the way and was invited by the beaming petrol pump proprietor to step into his office. He then threw open a side door and pointed across the valley to a massive looking building on the top of the ridge opposite. "There," he said with an almost proprietorial gesture, "is Ushaw. And what, may I ask, is going on to take you there tonight?"
"Nothing particular," I replied, "I've just been asked to spend a day or two there by Monsignor Loftus." "Monsignor Loftus! Oh, you'll be in good hands. He's the boss!"
Well, a more benevolent "boss" would be hard to imagine. and for fear of embarrassing the learned and delightful President of Ushaw, I will say no more of his hospitality than that it was as heart-warming and natural as everything else at Ushaw, a living microcosm if ever there was one of all that is greatest in English Catholicism.
I can assure you that I'm not being unduly fulsome; still less I am implying that Ushaw is unique. It is not.
Rather it is a vital link in that great saga of resurgence which accompanied the reCatholicising of English life in painfully gradual and still incomplete stages through the 19th century until today. Will we — by Anglican and Roman fusion —be more truly Catholic than ever by the year 2000?
This is a vital question — if no more than literally a "question" at this moment — when one considers the growing number of Ushaw Divines who are, as part of their seminary training, getting degrees in Theology from the neatby Durham University.
All that this implies is too obvious for much comment; and it is too early to say how successful the other Catholic seminaries will be in entering into so felicitous an arrangement with a neighbouring University having a flourishing Theology Faculty.
Ecumenism, however, is not, as need scarcely be added, the primary purpose of the Durham-Ushaw connection. The latter is but part of Ushaw's historic and long-term destiny to train more and better men for the Catholic priesthood. The faint-hearted who speak of a crisis of vocations, a crisis of confidence in the Church. and a crisis of 1-don't-know-what-else, should pay a visit to Ushaw — or, for that matter, one of the other English seminaries.
For Ushaw is not unique. And the spirit that pervades all our seminaries at the moment (whether in England or abroad) is something that was totally absent twenty years ago — when we still had "plenty of vocations" — but is overpoweringly obvious now when the new outlook could easily — unless paralysed by the deathwish of the pessimists — produce the greatest religious breakthrough in modern English history.
The secret lies in the combination of traditional values, both spiritual and academic, with practical preparation for the human and "caring" side of the priesthood.
The unobtrusive but obviously profound spiritual life of Ushaw seemed to need, in my humble opinion, only the kind of "control" that has to be the more expert for being "remote" of the college's Spiritual Director, Fr George Tancred.
Less remote but no less complicated in its very different way is the co-ordinating activity of Fr Derek Holmes as Dean of Studies, a particularly important
job since the establishment of the connection with Durham University.
As for being prepared "to care," I am referring in particular to that branch of the seminarians' activity which is under the general guidance of Fr Brian Green, 'The comparatively novel concept of students for the priesthood being engaged, every week during term as well as for periods during the holidays, in outside "pastoralwork, does not imply that priests trained in former times did not "care" about individuals. But the boldly new experiment, extremely successful as it seems to be. is an inevitable response to more complex modern needs.
Thus the "divines" of Ushaw, almost from the first week Of entering the College, start to meet the kind of people to whom they will one day try to bring spiritual, and psychological succour: ordinary
people and people with extraordinary handicaps: patients, probationers. prisoners. pensioners, schoolchildren. and almost every kind of person that the spiritual "GPs" of the future will be called upon to serve,
One could write a whole article — indeed a whole series of articles — about the single and exciting subject of the constantly revised and permanently dynamic pastoral course at Ushaw.
• Is it, then, all euphoria at this famous northern bastion of Catholic and priestly training? Far from it! Those exaggerated "crises" I mentioned are very much in the minds of the se mina rians themselves. but they are looked upon as problems that can and will he solved: in the short term by expedients such as more lay help for overworked priests, more married deacons, etc; and in the long-term by more radical changes in Church and parish structures for which the laithful may not. at the moment. be ready to accept. Perhaps the biggest worry of all is something that has particular application to Ushaa but is an example of what can happen anywhere when "Church politics" get put before the good of the faithful at large. And this was the sudden reversal last. year by the Archbishop of Liverpool of an earlier decision taken by himself and all the northern bishops to merge — physically into the buildings of Ushaw — the two major seminaries of Ushaw and Upholland in Lancashire.
The earlier decision, as being eminently practical, economic and for the obvious benefit of all Catholics, priests and laity alike, in the northern province, was greeted with universal acclamation. The later bouleversement of the whole position caused equally widespread consternation and dismay.
The final compromise decision to refer the matter "to Rome," moreover, was perhaps the most surprising step of all. For it is completely contrary to the post-conciliar trend towards decentralisation and greater local autonomy in the making of such decisions. But there, for the time being, in a highly unsatisfactory state, the matter rests.
Fortunately it would take more than a piece of hierarchical maladroitness, however incomprehensible and regrettable, to stifle the spirit of Ushaw. Though new building was vital some years ago, many rooms now stand sadly empty, having been cleared of junior seminarians to make way for the maior seminarians front Upholland: But it is the future that counts, and the flocks that wait to be tended.
Who better to intercede for success than the seventh century Northumbrian shepherd
who became a monk and then a bishop, and whose shrine was established a thousand years ago in Durham Cathedral?
This man was St Cuthbert, the patron saint of Ushaw.