Ushaw College, the seminary serving the north of England since 1808, closed in June this year. But one group of “Ushawmen” were determined this wouldn’t interfere with its plans for a 50th anniversary reunion, writes Peter Forster.
On Saturday October 29 a significant number came together in Durham for a celebration meal and visit to their alma mater.
It was on a Saturday in September 1961 that 48 apprehensive 11-year-olds were deposited by their parents on the threshold of the junior seminary to start what for some would be 13 years of formation for the priesthood.
Between 1961 to 1974 some would leave, others would continue their studies at overseas seminaries and new students would join the school (school denotes class in “Ushaw speak”).
In all, some 83 boys, teenagers and young men were, at one time or another, members of this year group.
In 1974 a few were eventually ordained into the priesthood and one of them who had begun his studies with the original cohort in 1961, Fr John Breen, travelled from Rome to participate in the October weekend reunion.
Other former students arrived from France and Ireland. Thanks to the technology of video conferencing, another classmate from the original cohort, Vincent Smiles, joined the group via a video link from Minnesota. Many of those at the evening meal hadn’t seen each other for over 40 years but the old camaraderie was very quickly re-established.
Despite a natural hesitancy to revisit eras of lives long past, many expressed surprise at the number who took the risk and committed themselves to the event.
Thirty people sat down to the meal and an evening of nostalgia and reminiscing ensued.
For those not departing early on the Sunday, the weekend ended with a visit to the college, hosted by Fr Michael Sharratt, followed by lunch at the inn next door, once owned by the college.
Frank Burns, another of the school who joined in 1961, summed up the success of the event, saying: “The weekend has not only renewed our friendship with each other, but it has also sown new seeds of fellowship, which will, inevitably, endure for life.”
Whatever the future holds for Ushaw College, the school spirit of its former students lives on.