During the school holidays we had a break of the normal routine of the noviciate. We have been visiting Jesuit communities all over the country.
On Monday we visited a Jesuit community in Boscombe and stayed for a night. Boscombe is a beautiful place in the Southwest of England, next to to Bournemouth. Boscombe is the location for a Jesuit parish ( Corpus Christi Church) and a retirement home for elderly Jesuits. After a three hour drive we arrived around 11.00 am and met the superior of the house. That he knew all our names, although we hadn’t met before, gave a warm sense of welcome.
Our first encounter with the retired Jesuits was the community Mass at midday. There were around ten old men and our group of seven novices, the novice master and his socius. The priest who celebrated was in his nineties. It was impressive to see the devotion of these Jesuits. Although some couldn’t get up, respond or even follow the liturgy they were there praying with us.
After Mass we met the whole community for lunch. I was at a table with three Jesuit fathers. It was great to get acquainted with them and hear their stories. I was especially impressed by a Jesuit who told me that he entered the Society at the age of 17 and is now 97. 80 years in the Society…Wow.
We stayed in a guesthouse near the sea. We took a long walk along the beach and some even braved the cold sea. We rejoined the community in evening prayer, an adoration for about half an hour in silence.
It was a great experience for me to see this community and get in contact with the elderly Jesuits. It was good to see how these elderly Jesuits live after their long years of active service in the Society. Many things have changed for them: they are living in a care home, depend on care staff and are no longer able to serve the Society in an active way. But many other things have remained the same: the Mass, their prayer the devotion and the Jesuit lifestyle.
On Wednesday we have visited St. Beuno’s. St Beuno’s is the Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales. It is a beautiful house, built for Jesuits scholastics in 1848. Much of the charm of the place lies in its location: high on a hill, overseeing the outstretched valleys until the sea shore. Although we couldn’t see the sea because of the mist, the view was astonishing. When we arrived we had lunch with the staff of St. Beuno’s: a few Jesuits, some sisters and lay people. This mixed group takes care for the the visitors of the house who are doing retreats. It was good to see that such a mixed group is united by Ignatian spirituality.
After lunch we had a tour through the house and the grounds. Around the house is a large area with a beautiful garden, a maze and even a cemetery for the deceased Jesuits. On the top of the nearby hill is a little chapel, simply known as the Rock chapel. It’s a simple building, built by scholastics. The location is special there are beautiful stained glass windows, which were a gift from a retreatant.
When we were back at the house we had a presentation from the director of the retreat house on his work. It was good to hear that there were many people who are are interested in having a retreat (they are fully booked until Christmas). One of the important challenges is how to attract younger people to the centre.
Around 4.00 pm we had Mass in the beautiful church. After a last meeting with the community, we returned home. It was good to see how a retreat centre, such a central work for Jesuits, operates.
On Friday, we went to Manchester. We visited the university chaplaincy run by the Jesuits. Manchester has the largest student population of the whole of Europe, around 85000 students. So a good reason for having a chaplaincy there.
When we arrived in the university quarter of Manchester we couldn’t miss the chaplaincy church: the Holy Name Church. It lays on the main street, the Oxford road, opposite the student’s union. It is a neo gothic church, built at the end of the 19th century with the proportions of a cathedral. The chaplaincy is housed in a modern building next to the church.
We were welcomed by the chaplain and after a nice cup of tea we had a tour through the foodbank. The foodbank is one of the most fascinating parts of the chaplaincy work. Its located in the chaplaincy and is totally run by students. This makes it unique in the UK. We received a presentation of their work and some of the students showed how they receive people. It was shocking to learn how much poverty there is, but great to see the compassion and willingness of the students to help others. This foodbank was for me a striking combination of faith and justice. The students were clearly inspired by their faith to help people at the margin of the society.
At 1.05 pm we attend the Mass at the Holy Name Church. The five minutes after one makes it possible for students to attend the Mass after their courses. We haven’t seen many students, because it was reading week and many had gone home. The interior of the Church is of an astonishing beauty. A very rich decorated interior. The Mass was served with a great attention for the liturgy. It was beautiful to see the harmony between the beauty of the church and the careful liturgy. After a lunch with the Jesuit community we made a last tour through the church and started driving home.
It was a good week. Not only because it was a nice break from the normal routine, but also because we learned much about how Jesuits are carrying out their mission. A valuable experience of the reality of the Jesuit’s mission in the British province after long weeks of studying the theory of what Jesuit life is. It was good to see the variety: a community for elderly Jesuits, a chaplaincy and a retreat house. So we have sensed something of the diversity of Jesuit life.