Catholic ethos at St Luke's College [repost]

This post was put on the blog on 14 June 2006. A while back, I took down all my posts on St Lukes to avoid giving fuel to a hostile secular press. Given the recent coverage in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, the Metro, and the Tablet, giving the impression that the Catholic ethos was somehow extreme, it seems reasonable to set the record straight as to what the Catholic life of College actually did involve at that time.

14 June 2006
Recent tendentious press coverage of St Luke’s College has uncritically repeated the remarks of a small number of students who have compared the Catholic ethos of St Luke’s to that of “fanatical religious cults”. This post is intended to give a balanced picture of the Catholic ethos of the College.

Collective worship
Each term, there are two occasions at which the whole College is expected to engage in collective worship. Normally these are para-liturgical prayer services arranged by the Chaplain and RE department with full involvement of the students in the preparation of materials. The Christmas Carol service was arranged by a Church of England teacher, the Penitential Service in Lent saw a large number of both students and staff celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation

In the summer term, one of these occasions is the Ascension Day Mass. Again, students are fully involved in the Mass, reading, serving and preparing the Bidding Prayers.

Daily Prayers
Tutors are encouraged to pray with their tutor groups at the start of the morning and afternoon lessons. Some material is provided in the weekly staff newsletter, usually in the form of a reflection taken from one of the saints or Fathers of the Church, from one of the Popes or from modern writers. The selection reflects a wide variety of styles of spirituality.

Other opportunities for prayer
There are many other opportunities for prayer and worship in the College. These have included an all night vigil to pray for peace, a Marian procession, daily Rosary before College starts, optional Mass in the RE room at least once a week, a four day “peace watch” and a scripture-based prayer group run by a member of staff who is an Anglican. The College is committed to supporting all of the students, whatever their faith. The College this year held a multi-cultural event at which the students themselves decided to include “Bidding prayers” as a natural part of such an event.

Use of pictures, statues etc.
The Marists donated a large ikon of St Luke which hangs in the main reception area. The Refectory is named after St Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese saint who was canonised by Pope John Paul II. The large picture of St Bakhita was donated by an external benefactor. There are crucifixes in the College as is usual in a Catholic school. Pictures, prayer cards and medals are made available to the students. A display commemorates two students who have died, there are displays relating to charitable fundraising. As part of the curriculum, students have also visited the Caravaggio exhibition in London and an Orthodox Monastery.

The College has permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in its small Chapel. The fixtures and fittings have mostly been donated by benefactors. The Chapel offers students, staff and visitors the opportunity to pray quietly before the Blessed Sacrament. A member of staff offers the opportunity to pray the Rosary once a week in the Chapel.

General RE
The curriculum for general RE is varied and offers opportunity for discussion and evaluation of different viewpoints. Some examples of subjects addressed are: human dignity and the value of human life, dialogue and proclamation within the context of the war on terrorism, and the question of the just war.

Charitable fundraising and awareness
The College encourages fundraising by the students for charitable purposes. It is significant that the College raises money for CAFOD, a charity that is associated with more “liberal” views within the Catholic Church in England. The students also participated in a “Rich man, Poor man” meal in which they volunteered to receive at random either a full meal or a sparse meal in order to associate with the inequality of distribution of the world’s resources.

Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) covers many different topics within the overall theme of citizenship. The Students’ Union operates well and the two students who are chosen as Head boy and Head girl are invited to be observers at the Governing Body meetings.

The college holds an annual “St Luke’s Lecture”. The past two speakers have been Lord Alton and Fr Henry Wansborough.

Regarding “sex-education”, the College has opted to present the Catholic Church’s teaching on chastity in a positive way. This is a challenging task because the Church’s moral teaching is counter-cultural and easily misunderstood, even when it is given in a balanced and compassionate way. The College is currently looking at resources to assist students who may be looking for personal help and guidance in this area of life.

In short, it is utterly false to describe the College’s Catholic ethos as being similar to “fanatical religious cults”. The activities offered are all within the mainstream of Catholic belief and practice. It may be that some students have not been exposed to some Catholic devotions before. We believe that it is a positive contribution to their preparation for adult life to offer experience of a wide range of Catholic devotion and practice.

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