So it was when, talking about the new Catherine McCauley Catholic College at Medowie, I began by invoking precedents from sixth and seventh-century Northumbria, a place I know well from the pages of Bede’s History, itself written in AD 731.
In those days, despite kings having decided their tribe was now Christian, there were virtually no village churches and no parishes. The centres of Christian mission were monasteries to which locals came to sell their produce or for medical help or famine relief, and to which they sent their sons to be educated. Why, I said, can’t we base a pastoral ministry on a school rather than a local church? Instead of placing a priest in a parish where, almost inevitably, most of his ministry is directed to a smallish congregation, why not make his main pastoral responsibility the 1000 kids, 100 teachers and hundreds of families of a high school? In short, I’ve appointed a full-time priest-chaplain to Catherine McAuley Catholic College.
The local community will also be served, because the College Chapel will also be the venue for weekend Masses and so on, taking on both the name and function of the present St Christopher’s in Medowie. Additionally, a St Nicholas Early Education Centre is also opening on the same site and, later, a primary school and, who knows, perhaps a CatholicCare centre. The priest on the site, Fr James Odoh, is the first and won’t be getting off lightly. You can see the Northumbrian thinking, I trust.
As to Catherine McAuley Catholic College itself, may I say that its opening this month will be a cause of the greatest satisfaction and no small relief. Finally. Some readers will know that it should have opened last year but was held up by what I can only call government department bureaucratic delays, one in particular. These extended into 2020, causing fears for a long time that we might not even have fought our way through the maze in time for the 2021 school year. But thanks be to God, our own properties people, and our builders, we have made it. There is still work to be done on the project, but we can accommodate Years 7 and 8 now while the next stages are built.
I want you to understand something of how big an undertaking this has been for the Diocese. There’s a bit of a perception that we receive massive funding from government to build schools, but this is not really the case. First, you have to have the land before you can even apply for funding, so that’s millions up-front for a high school site. Second, the government grants that we have received will, in the present case, amount to less than 10 percent of the building costs. In fact, the grant hardly covers the cost of the multiple studies and reports we were required to undertake, combined with the works required on the transport infrastructure on and off our land. We are grateful for government aid, but it is a relatively small factor in the project. The key thing has been our ability to borrow from our Catholic Development Funds, loans which we will, of course, be paying off for decades.
Finally, a word of thanks to the small community of St Christopher’s, Medowie, and the wider Raymond Terrace parish of which they are part. It is proverbially difficult to make any changes to church buildings without at least some people getting their backs up and fighting to the death to keep everything exactly as it has always been. The good folks of Medowie, I’m glad to say, have risen above that. Not only are they pleased to be getting a brand new local “church”, which might be expected, but they have really risen to the idea of reaching out to the school’s families to create a new community of faith. There will be teething problems, of course, as the practical arrangements for sharing the chapel are worked through, but I am so glad the locals have seen the opportunities to advance the cause of religion in the area rather than just the “how will this affect us?” stuff. Good on you, St Christopher’s. Welcome, Catherine McAuley Catholic College.