By Maureen Vincent
Papal Communications Day collection — and that seems to be the main point of interest for some people. I don't at all resent this, but I have an occasional burst of exasperation."
When you know something of the history of the Centre. at
Hatch End, Middlesex, and of the work which it does at present, the exasperation is more than understandable.
The Centre itself, now famous all over the world. started in an ordinary suburban house,
purchased in 1955 by Cardinal Griffin, in one of London's most
pleasant residential suburbs. Even now the total area of the site, extended by the acquisition
of the house next door, covers not more than an acre. and_ a quarter.
The two houses, St. Gabriel's and St. Ninian's, have been largely rebuilt, and other buildings have been added. St. Gabriel's is used to accom modate the residential students, St. Ninian's serves as staff residence, guest-house and overflow accommodation for students. A small annexe has been added for the couple who do the housekeeping • and catering.
New buildings include a large fully equipped TV studio, a con
trol room, a sound studio and two large lecture rooms, all fully equipped with the most up-to date apparatus. There is a beautiful little chapel, built on to one side of the TV studio in such a way that, by sliding away the communicating partition, it becomes the sanctuary of a large church. The chapel itself accommodates 30, used with the studio it can seat two hundred. Lach day, at midaay, Mass is concelebrated by whatever
number or priests, students and staff, happen to be at the centre. The atmosphere of the centre combines homeliness with pride in technical efficiency in a way difficult to describe but impossible to forget. We shared supper with staff and students — a simL pie but far from "institutional" meal — with everyone in the dining-room communicating like mad and obviously enjoying themselves in the process.
Resident staff number 13, and there is a panel of experts in various fields of communication who come to the centre to lecture or demonstrate during courses.
Although the centre does important work concerning the National and Pontifical Commission and also produces programints and films for various organisations, the work for which it is best known is undoubtedly its teaching.
"We have what now amounts to a small College," says Fr. Agnellus, "This operates at professional level, and has often been described as being probably the best of its kind in the world.
"It provides courses ranging from a three-months Communication Course once a year. through various shorter courses, down to weekends for lay people who may expect to have an occasional invitation to broadcast."
The list of course participants for 1973 is impressive. In January 30 Bishops attended onc."No students could have been more humble or more eager to learn," says Fr. Agnellus.
An unexpected side benefit for the bishops was the chance to get together for a few days on a completely informal basis. Normally when they meet discussions must of necessity be confined to formal matters of urgent business.
Several dioceses have booked courses for their clergy, the United States Air Force sent
chaplains to the Centre, as did the English College in Rome. Fr. Agnellus has just returned from directing a three week course at Loyola University New Orleans.
About half the students who come arc priests, half are nuns and lay people. A quarter are
to work overseas, usually in underdeveloped countries. Most of the courses are open to general applications, although a number are tailored to specific requirements. The Foreign Missionary Institute sends its final year students for a fortnight each year, diocesan courses on Pastoral Communications are adapted to the particular needs of the diocese concerned. and some religious orders have asked for special courses.
The BBC has had three courses training broadcasters for specific purposes, and ITA had a course on religious services. Eight courses have been given for the new local broadcasting stations.
Residential students are chareed only £25 a week. In view of the expertise and facilities available it is quite obvious that this fee has to be heavily subsidised. A similar course of training offered by the BBC costs in the region of f110 per week.
Staff and visiting lecturers content themselves with salaries considerably less than they would be able to command elsewhere. Fr. Agnellus himself draws no salary.
Latest addition to the centre is its new mobile unit. This has already been operated with great success and is shortly to go to Birmingham, Bristol, Swindon and Cardiff, in addition to having visited Scotland this year. With the travelling staff and technical equipment, the unit means that on-the-spot courses can be given to students who would otherwise have no chance to avail themselves of the centre's facilities.
"The point about it is that our Trustees were faced with the appearance of sixty new local radio stations and the prospect of local TV stations," explains Fr. Agnellus.
"We arc over-pressed here as it is. It was decided that a twolevel operation should be conducted, taking the unit anywhere in the country where we were required, while simultaneously continuing with the major operation at Hatch End."
So that's where the money goes. One's principal feeling is one of astonishment that it can be made to go so far,
Fr. Agnellus describes the Centre as a service provided by the Church for her people and for the Church overseas, of the same kind as she provides in colleges, schools, hostels, hospitals and universities.
"In realistic terms the cost of building and equipping the place was less than the normal cost for one ordinary parish school; and the cost of running it is much less than the cost or running one small school. That is the perspective."