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Ushaw College may close next spring

By on Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ushaw College

Ushaw College

A 400-year-old Catholic seminary that serves the north of England is likely to close next spring, trustees have announced.

Ushaw College, founded at Douai, France, and based just outside Durham, trained hundreds of seminarians decades ago but now has only 26 students in formation. It raises extra funds by functioning as a conference centre but its vast grounds and ancient buildings mean it is expensive to run.

Last week its trustees announced a proposal to close the college pending consultation with employees and the Charity Commission.

Their decision comes after college directors failed to find a “development partner” to use part of the site as a school, university or hotel and share the costs.

Its students will probably be transferred to one of the three other British seminaries – Allen Hall in Chelsea, west London, St John’s, Wonersh, Surrey, and St Mary’s Oscott, in Birmingham.

British seminarians are also still trained at the English colleges in Rome and Valladolid, Spain.

Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, chairman of the trustees, said: “This is one of the most difficult proposals that we as trustees have had to make, not least because of the excellence of the formation our students are receiving.”

Mgr John Marsland, president of the college, said: “Ushaw has a long history within the Roman Catholic Church and words cannot express how sad we are that we are considering such a drastic step.

“We have long tried to find a development partner and it would be nice to believe that a partner will still come forward with a viable business plan, but unfortunately time is running out and we have to face the reality of the situation we are in.”

Ushaw was originally established as Douai College in the Spanish Netherlands, now France, in 1568 to train English priests and educate laymen during the reign of Elizabeth I.

It relocated to County Durham just over 200 years ago, in 1808, after staff and students were imprisoned during the Napoleonic wars.

Run as a charity, it now offers conference and accommodation facilities, and is the regional home of Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the bishops’ conference, and the ecumenical Churches’ Regional Commission, a lobby group for Christians in the north east. It also trains deacons and runs courses on the Catholic faith.

College trustees include Bishop Seamus Cunningham of Hexham and Newcastle, Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough, Bishop Terence Brain of Salford, and Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury.

Kay Wightman, director of finance and development at the college, said the recession had increased costs and made it harder to find a business partner.

She said: “It’s a very, very large site. The grounds are about a mile and a quarter across. There are an awful lot of costs involved in heating it and lighting it, and those costs are escalating. It’s an old building, and it’s listed, so you’ve got to keep it in good repair. The costs are going up and the income is not.”

Mrs Wightman said that, in the two years spent seeking a development partner, directors had “looked at everything you can possibly imagine”.

“There were a number of hotel chains that were interested and then went away,” she said. “In the present financial climate no one is taking any risks.”

She added: “As you can imagine everyone is very sad. There are 62 staff here in total. We are working to find out what happens next.”

Fr Christopher Jackson, spokesman for the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, said: “Ushaw has made an immeasurable contribution to the life of the Catholic Church in this part of the world.

“We have to thank God for that, but also believe that this is the right time and discern new ways forward.”

Fr Jackson added: “It will be very sad, but things have a shelf life. They come to an end and then move forward. This is not a death and burial. It’s a death to raise to new life.”

  • Victorweston

    Might not closure of Ushaw this be premature? eg the recent report in Catholic Herald of Allen Hall Seminary, Westminster having increasing numbers including younger ordinands – the best for a decade?, there is the “Benedict bounce” effect, with ongoing prayers for more vocations; is there not an argument for holding on just that little bit longer, in faithful hope – and expectation?

  • Father Ian O'Shea

    I don't really understand the need to continue sending 'late' vocations to study at the Beda College in Rome. Surely those students ( and the money ) would be better placed at Ushaw ?

  • http://twitter.com/LouiesGems Stephen Flanagan

    Such a great shame, since Vatican 2 the church seems to have lost so many vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

  • Floria Nchoroge

    Whilst it is sad to hear of the possible closure of Ushaw College in June 2011, or other similiar insitutions which have closed in recent past such as St Joseph's College Mill Hill London in 2006, the Missionary Institute of London in 2007 and its affiliate Missionary Formation Houses; the closure of numerous convents or churches across England, Wales and Scotland, this I believe is a trend which presents the church with a real opportunity for renewal. inner re-alignment or re-positioning.

    These changes are painful, and difficult to take in, for obvious reasons, However I rest comforted that these changes are likely to be divinely inspired in order for the church to take a wholly new direction, and approach in its core mission and purpose on earth. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is telling the church to get rid of some of the excess baggages and focus upon the core message of the Gospel by adopting “a beatitude centred approaches to mision by means of lighter, dynamic, flexible, and mobile systems and structures which would aid the church to respond to the needs of the church in the context of a rapidly changing technological, social, political and economic advancements.

    It is like getting rid of a mobile set, or a computer made in the early 1990s. however sentimental this may be and replacing it with a new gadget. This is not being relativistic but rather practical!

    Let us therefore be open with the changing face of the church. The church has never had a moment of stillness without a crisis of some sort, beginning with the Christ event 2000 years ago, followed by the persecution of Christians, the collapse of the Roman empire and its aftermath, think of the reformation, world war 1 and 2, the rise and fall of communism and now the undercurrent of moral relativism and general apathy to matters of faith!

    Paul Nchoroge (Permanent Diaconate student- Ushaw)

  • JoeBevan

    Is this another example of the “new spring in the Church”? Father Jackson's comments display a typically post conciliar 'fuhrerbunker' mentality. Everybody knows that the closure of Ushaw is a complete disaster and is another staging post for the collapse of the Church. The English College in Rome is also in crisis with only a handful of seminarians now. The best students get kicked out for wanting to wear the soutane and attending the Traditional Rite of Mass outside the seminary in disguise.

  • Kenjiro Shoda

    As a young American Catholic, I feel great sympathy and solidarity for the faithful British Catholics who lament the closure of this venerable seminary so rich in Catholic tradition, and which trained generations of holy Catholic priests right up until Vatican II.

    The enormous disaster brought upon the Roman Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council and it's numerous “reforms” has lead to the closure of hundreds (if not thousands) of magnificent seminaries, monasteries, and convents as hundreds of thousands of holy ocations have been turned away but the terrible results of Vatican II and the “Novus ordo Missae” of Paul VI (Vatican II modern Mass).

    The loss of the Tridentine Latin Mass and all Catholic traditions, prayer, penance, priestly disipline, strict religious Orders in habits, and all the holiness and symbols of Catholicism which sustained Christ's True Church for 1,500 years in England and everywhere is a great crime before God. The results of this repudiation of our Catholic Faith in favor of modernity, ecumenism, and dissent is obvious….the most grave being the massive turnaway from the Faith by millions of Catholics, the collapse of the priesthood and religious life, and the plague of paedophile priests, sexual abuse and homosexuality among the clergy and the lack of faithful priests, bishops, cardinals, and even Popes.

    On the other hand, such groups which have maintained the Tridentine Latin Mass and all our Catholic traditions (The SSPX and other traditionalist groups), have a veritable tidal wave of new vocations. They on't have the space for all the seminarians. Here in the USA, the SSPX is about to buy a second USA seminary for their traditionalist seminarians because there is no room. They have nearly 100 seminarians in the USA alone….making it one of the largest seminaries in the USA.

    Dioceses and seminaries which once had 400 seminarians such as Ushaw (our own Philadelphia Archdiocese seminary had 600 seminarians in the early 1950's) and now have 26 or less (such as Ushaw), bespeaks the spiritual wasteland of Vatican II and ALL of its reforms.

    Only a total rejection of Vatican II (at least with regards to the Holy Mass), will remedy this disaster of Faith and of vocations,

    If the Pope (or a succeeding Pope), does not see this….then except for places where the SSPX and other traditional Catholic groups flourish (Euope, USA and elsewhere), then the Catholic Church is doomed.

    Vatican II has been a cancer in the Catholic Church which must be surgically removed from both practice and memory.

  • IanW

    Does this say something about the health of the Church in the North of England, once a stronghold of Catholicism? If so, what comparisons can we make with other parts of the country to understand the reasons for decline?

  • Et Expecto

    The number of students entering Ushaw, and the other English seminaries, has declined disasterously over recent decades. The numbers of students entering the seminaries of the traditional orders in the last couple of decades have increased in an equally spectacular way. Surely there is a lesson here – make Ushaw a traditional seminary and see how many students it attracts.

  • Casarovi

    Excuse me, I respect your opinion, please, respect the Roman Holy Catholic Church, funded by Jesus Christ; still alive after more then 2000 years, not because of the faithful people but because of the Holy Spirit who guides until the end of the times.

  • Underlow

    Archbishop Patrick Kelly — famous for closing down seminaries (he closed St Joseph's College, Upholland also)

  • GabrielAustin

    Curious that there is no suggestion of prayer – you know, a petition to God. Or is it that the bishops mentioned as trustees do not really believe in God. Wouldn't surprise me.

  • Liam

    That is the problem – too many students and profs at Ushaw and in other seminaries are 'traditional' and unfortunately their conservative version of the Church does not ring true with the majority of lay people.

  • William Breslin

    I was turned down for the priesthood in 2008. Reading articles like this makes me want to weep……

  • Terrytory

    Liam, you are spectacularly wrong. Ushaw has been a centre for liberal new-style Catholicism for years. The very opposite to your thesis. Ushaw's future (if it has one), lies in its use by traditional priestly orders, and a proper, formal link with Durham University. The first step must be to bring the University's Centre for Catholic Studies into the College.

    It would have helped had the Northern Province Bishops supported the College by sending students there. Not all of them did.

  • JoeBevan

    Modernists love to call down the Holy Spirit on their disasters. The Holy Spirit will not override the free will of a single Catholic bishop, or anyone else for that matter. Of course Our Lord guaranteed the Church until the end of time, but he did not make any such guarantee about the Churchmen and their blunders.

  • Brad_king51

    Another casualty of Vatican II

  • AWPugin

    As a student at Ushaw for three years in the late 80's of course it's sad to hear of its demise. However, it was more than half empty then and efforts to more closely associate it with the University (with Ministry courses available to the public) clearly made no impression on the massive losses annually incurred. Mere sentimentality has no place in a modern organisation, even if the church is struggling to recognise modernity. In the current climate any potential purchasers of the estate would be wary – the location is only enviable for very limited fresh enterprises, and the Pugin buildings have restricted alternative uses thanks to their listed status. The best that could be hoped for is some Russian Oligarch to take an interest or for Marriott/Premier Inn/and an Aquarium to take the place over. The small handful of remaining seminarians could transfer to the remaining seminaries and the minor fuss will have been for nothing. I think the draining of the lake was the writing on the wall really.

  • John Mcdonald1

    Good riddance to bad rubbish