Together Capt. STANLEY NORFOLK, R.N. (recd.)
reports on a successful experiment
N the course of over 30 years in the Royal Navy the writer has visited and lived in many Catholic parishes. Despite the fact that he has always made a point of calling on the parish priest, on only one occasion has it led to any sort of social contact with other Catholics.
Contrast this experience—which is by no means unique—with the reception accorded to a young Presbyterian friend who arrived in London during the war. On her first appearance she was personally welcomed from the pulpit. Steps were taken to keep in touch with her and, for good measure, she received a book of tickets to give up on going to Communion.
What a very odd thing it is that Catholics are so reluctant, as a rule, to give collective expression to the command which Our Blessed Lord Himself put second only to the love of God in His design for living. It seems particularly strange in the light of the Church's attitude towards mixed marriages. which surely entails some obligation to try to get to know one's fellowCatholics.
Our religion is not merely a form of worship: it is a complete philosophy of life which provides a perfect foundation for the development of a community. Why is it then that in the average parish there is so little of the "get together" spirit outside the precincts of the church?
Parish united AFEW Catholics in Sevenoaks, "'Kent, found themselves thinking on these lines when they came together again after the ravages of the last war, and they decided then and there that it was high time to try to do something about it in their own parish at least,
Thus was born the Sevenoaks Catholic Association, which in the course of some five years has grown from a small discussion group to an organisation with a membership of over 850 embracing the whole parish, irrespective of age, sex or social category.
Within a single broad, flexible framework—a sort of umbrella— the association provides or encourages the development of communal activities of various kinds designed to cater for the diverse interests of its members.
It thus forms a temporal counterpart to the spiritual ministry of the clergy, which provides the foundation for all its work. Much still remains to he done to attain the full aim of welding the parish into a really coherent community; but what has already been achieved is quite impressive.
Youth is served ONE of the earliest and most successful ventures was the founding of a youth club. The difficulty about premises was overcome by partially rebuilding and redecorating an old and almost derelict school building which was being used as a furniture depository. Here the young people of the parish have an opportunity of meeting twice a week and entertaining those from other parishes.
The youth club is not a marriage bureau; but it is gratifying to be
able to point to an increasing number of marriages that have resulted from friendships which started there.
The discussion group, which provided the seed-bed for the germination of the original idea of the association, continues to function as a medium for ventilating opinions about the practical application of Catholic principles in the modern world. To it has recently been added a study circle on Catholic Evidence Guild lines for those who wish to brush up their knowledge of Catholic doctrine.
The lighter side of life is not lost sight of. A children's party and a "family party" are regular features of the Christmas season, and there is a summer fete, usually held in the lovely grounds of Combe Bank Convent. Weekly whist drives and a Christmas bazaar, organised by one of our energetic assistant priests. make important contributions to parish funds.
Welfare, too FOR those in need of practical help or advice there is a welfare service which operates through the medium of the district organisation.
The parish, a rather scattered one, is broken down into districts and sub-districts sufficiently small to enable the district organisers and their assistants to keep in personal touch with individual members.
The welfare service operates on the principle of putting those in need in touch with those who can help them, so as to give full scope for individual acts of charity. Those with cars living in outlying districts, for example, are put in touch with neighbours who need transport to church.
A welfare visitor deals with problems which are beyond the resources of district organisers. Achievements in this particular field are not generally a suitable subject for publicity. It might, however, be permissible to mention one case in which the Association was instrumental in restoring to his mother a son who had been confined in an institution for 12 years.
A vigorous offshoot of the association's activities, of which the parish is justly proud, is St. Thomas's School for Catholic boys.
It was in the discussion group that the idea of founding the school originated. Thereafter the project was vigorously pursued by the parish priest. Fr. P. J. Donnelly. whose confidence that the Lord would provide has been fully justified by events. Starting with six pupils in a little but behind the church five years ago, the school now has over 130 pupils in its own premises with a priest as headmaster.
Public affairs FROM its very beginning the Sevenoaks Catholic Association has included in its objects the support of Christian principles in public affairs. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there can be little hope of successful resistance to the insidious march of materialism except on the basis of Catholic principles.
effective force in public affairs Catholics must be organised; and
they must be organised in such a way that they can make their influence felt locally, in the first place, since that is the basis of the country's political structure.
The association is now accepted as a force to be reckoned with in local affairs, and it regularly undertakes negotiations on behalf of Catholic interests with the Member of Parliament and the local authorities.
Its claim to speak for the Catholic community rests on the fact that the predominantly lay executive committee contains a substantial proportion of members elected annually by .ballot at the annual general meeting. The executive committee also has a lay chairman, thus guarding against any suspicion that it is merely being used as a mouthpiece for "dictation from Rome"—a very necessary precaution in this country.
The parish priest, as president of the association, controls its policy; but responsibility for the conduct of its affairs rests squarely on the shoulders of the chairman and executive committee.
Thus while the clergy participate fully in all the activities promoted by the Association, which give them increased opportunities for getting to know their parishioners. they can do so without prejudice to the discharge of the spiritual duties which are their main concern.
nERE it may be noted in pass ing that the development of the community spirit in the parish has, as was hoped, encouraged some of the less ardent spirits to return to the regular practice of their faith.
An important part of the cement which binds all these activities together is the association's quarterly bulletin, a very readable little roneoed publication with four pages of pictures, edited by a leading journalist whom the parish is fortunate to number among its members. This parish magazine with a difference announces new arrivals in the parish and carries articles of topical and local interest. besides the usual records of past and future parochial activities.
Confidence In laity THE achievements here de scribed have been made possible because the parish is blessed with a parish priest who realises that the immense volume of good will which is latent in this as in every parish can be effectively brought into service only by taking the laity into his confidence and giving them a full share of responsibility and who believes that in this way a parish can become a more effective instrument for bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.
Finally. to return for a moment to the realm of public affairs, what an immense advantage it would be if a similar representative organisation, authorised to speak up on behalf of the entire local Catholic community, existed in every parish. Then, if important Catholic interests were threatened, all the parishes concerned would be able to join hands and bring concerted pressure to bear on their councillors or Members of Parliament.
It should never again be possible for Catholic interests to be ridden over roughshod and the protests of the Hierarchy ignored as they were in 1944, because Catholics weren't organised !