BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE SOCIETY of Jesus has announced its withdrawal from a busy parish in south London.
The Jesuits will hand over control of Corpus Christi church, Brixton Hill, to the Archdiocese of Southwark by late summer. The move ends a 25-year Jesuit presence which began when the order was invited to run the parish by the then Archbishop of Southwark, Michael Bowen, in 1980.
The decision was taken by British Jesuit Provincial Fr David Smolira after a meeting with the parish council last Saturday. It comes amid a vocations crisis which last year led to the Jesuits withdrawing from Sacred Heart Church in Blackpool, Lancashire, and closing Campion House College seminary in Osterley, Middlesex. In 2003, the Jesuits also withdrew from parishes in Tisbury and Wardour in Wiltshire.
There are 200 Jesuits working in Britain with another 30 British Jesuits working in Guyana, South America, and South Africa. But many of the priests are ageing and, with just three people in the noviciate, they are not being replaced. If the rate of decline continues, there will be about 75 priests in the province who are under the age of 75 years in the next five years.
The decision to pull out of Corpus Christi was announced by Fr Smolira at each of the Masses in the church last Sunday.
Fr Smolira said: “Looking back over the last 25 years I can unequivocally state how proud the Jesuits are to have been associated with such an energetic and dynamic parish.” He explained that Jesuits were essentially missionaries who were called to go where need was greatest, where work was not being done by others and where God could best be served.
He said that the withdrawal by the Jesuits from some of their more established works would enable the development of new initiatives to better serve the needs of the future Church.
Fr Smolira then praised the parish for its “rich mix of races and cultures who worship and socialise together; the real sense of welcome and the genuinely caring community that exists; the first-rate sacramental programmes and the large number of other groups that flourish here; the superb level of collaboration that takes place between the priests and the lay people who play such an active and enthusiastic role in the parish; the wonderful primary school and its contribution to parish life and so much more”.
He was accompanied by Mgr Richard Moth, the vicar general of Southwark, who thanked the Jesuits for their work on behalf of Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark.
Ged Clapson, spokesman for the Jesuits, said it had not yet been decided where the four priests who make up the Corpus Christi community parish priest Fr Michael Ashworth, Fr Michael Bossy, Fr Victor-Luke Odhiambo and Fr Peter Scally — would be relocated.
The Jesuits have no plans to close their two houses of formation in Brixton Hill.