A Jesuit at Oxford

by. T. Frank Kennedy, SJ

 

A graduate of the Boston College Class of 1971, T. Frank Kennedy, SJ is a professor in the music department.  For several years, he served as the rector of the Boston College Jesuit Community.  He is currently on sabbatical at Campion Hall, Oxford in the U.K.

 

For something a little different this month, the editors of The Torch asked me to write about my experience as a Jesuit from Boston College who is also part of the Jesuit apostolic work at Campion Hall, Oxford University in Great Britain during the present academic year. In fact I am on sabbatical leave from Boston College enjoying a year of research and writing. Campion Hall is referred to in Oxford as one of the four  PPH’s of the university. PPH stands for permanent private hall. Each of these halls is a smaller operation than any of the thirty-seven Oxford colleges that make up Oxford University, but nevertheless each functions just 

like any of the larger colleges like Christ Church, founded by Cardinal Woolsey in 1524; Merton College, which celebrates its 750th anniversary this year, Magdalene, pronounced mawdli; New College, not really very new! (founded in 1379) and of course, St. John’s College, the college where the famous English Jesuit Martyr St Edmund Campion matriculated as an undergraduate. It is quite exciting and humbling to take and give seminars in some college rooms that were functioning as classrooms and chapels not only before the Reformation, but even before the discovery of America! While each college, including the PPH’s, has faculty associated with the individual college, these faculty members also make up the various departments of the university.  Thus, as a Senior Research Fellow in musicology at Campion Hall, I also am available to the whole university, and at the same time receive the privileges of that status, in my case as a visiting professor.


How does undergraduate life differ here from life at Boston College? While none of the large colleges are Catholic by affiliation, of the four permanent private halls of the university, three of them are Catholic: Saint Benet’s (Benedictine, OSB), Blackfriars (Dominican, OP) and Campion Hall (Jesuits, SJ). While there are no undergraduates matriculating through Campion Hall at this time, there are approximately ten graduate students (Both Jesuits, diocesan priests and lay students) that live and work in the university through Campion Hall. In addition, the Jesuits also maintain the university chaplaincy, similar to Boston College’s Campus Ministry program, but a bit more complicated because the chaplains are also the campus ministers for the Catholic students at each and every one of the university colleges. The Chaplaincy is located in a beautiful 17th century Elizabethan building that the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales purchased as a base for the Catholic students. The Bishops also added on to the Elizabethan building a modern building with meeting and study spaces and a beautiful chapel. I am amazed at the number of students who are drawn to this space and its activities. In that sense, the feeling is very similar to campus ministry at Boston College. The faith that does justice, so clearly a hallmark at BC, is likewise very present and evident here. They say that there is more religion in Oxford than the rest of the cities and towns of the UK put together. I’m not sure about that…but it is clear that like BC, Oxford is a university that allows and encourages the exploration and growth of all parts of the person while they are here. Strong theology departments in the various colleges encourage this process of self reflection and discovery, but I would like to think that the Jesuit chaplains and faculty working in the university also contribute to that sense of formation that results in men and women for others, so obvious in the faith and service commitment in so many of the students. Many years ago a famous American Jesuit, Fr. John Lafarge, S.J. wrote a book about the Society of Jesus entitled, The Manner is Ordinary, which described the similarities one finds in each Jesuit community anywhere in the globe, a commonness that is recognizable. That phrase, “the manner is ordinary” speaks to me today of the recognizable faces within Jesuit education, even at Oxford!

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