19 September 2013
Today is an historic occasion as we mark the formal opening and dedication of this new Catholic College, comprising St Richard Reynolds Catholic Primary School and St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School. It is a great delight for me to welcome you all: pupils, parents, staff, governors and all our very distinguished guests – not least, of course, my fellow bishops.
Today the name Richard Reynolds will be spoken many times. I am sure you all know more about him now than you did a year ago. He was a monk of Syon Abbey, entering the monastery 600 years ago this year. The Abbey had moved to Isleworth from Twickenham in 1431 and was part of the Bridgettine Order. While the monks are no longer with us, the nuns of that Order are back, still carrying the same title since 1415 – the Sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour - and giving to this school the colours for this very smart uniform. You are most welcome.
Richard Reynolds, as you know, was arrested and martyred in 1535, right at the very start of the bitter conflict between Henry VIII and the Catholic Church. There is a blue plaque placed in his honour, but, rather symbolically, it is hidden in the service buildings behind Syon House, surrounded by lorries and wooden pallets. Few, I suspect, ever see it.
But things are changing for now St Richard has this College named after him and it is his duty to protect and pray for this College from his glorious place before God in all majesty. He is a very fitting patron for us.
I say that not just because he was a renowned scholar, one of the few English monks who was well versed not only in Latin, but also in Greek and Hebrew but because, like all the martyrs, he had quite remarkable sight. He could see so clearly. He could see so far. He had both great eyesight and great insight. He could see with the eyes of faith.
This, of course, is what we heard in the first reading about St Stephen, the first Christian martyr: ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ We know that other Catholic martyrs of the Reformation encouraged each other in the firm belief that beyond their sufferings lay the glorious presence of God, to give them loving mercy and an eternal embrace. The eyes of faith always and in every circumstance, no matter how difficult it might be, ‘See the good things of the Lord’. And these words, ‘See the good things of the Lord’ are, of course, the motto of this new College. They sum up our Catholic vision of life and, indeed, of education.
We strive to live by the eyes of faith, by that wider horizon, judging things not simply on the horizon of today but in the light of eternity. We see the good things of the Lord in every human being, from the first moment of conception to their natural death. We see the good things of the Lord in every child who stands before us; in every venture into the realms of science, of beauty in art and music, in the wonders of our environment and in the depth of the struggle in every human heart to find and follow all that is good. This is the horizon of true life and it is the aim of every Catholic school to reach out for that horizon of God, in every person, in every enterprise, in every subject in the curriculum. The commitment of Catholic education, of this school, is to learn to respect and reverence the truth and love of God in all things, going beyond expediency to something more enduring, more far-reaching which truly shapes a human person for their eternal destiny.
The truth and love and beauty of God is expressed in our flesh: in the person of Jesus Christ. He, therefore, is always at the centre of our faith and of our school. That is the challenge of Catholic education: to keep Christ at the centre. And I know it is a challenge for which St Richard Reynolds Catholic College is well prepared.
Permit me another word about the character and purpose of this Catholic College.
In our Catholic faith we have a particular understanding of the purpose of the Church. It is to be a sacrament, an effective sign, of the unity of our human family. We are all children of one heavenly Father. That unity should be shown in the way we live. The Church is given to us to be a sign of that unity. We do not often live up to that calling.
And there is another truth about the Catholic Church, too. It exists universally – throughout the world – but it always acts locally and in the service of the common good.
These two truths give essential characteristics to a Catholic school. A Catholic school is an act of partnership, a united effort, and a Catholic school always sees itself as part of a local endeavour to be of service to society.
St Richard Reynolds Catholic College has come into existence because of effective partnerships, through a united effort. It has not been easy. Some have wished to use this effort as an occasion to sow division. But this morning I thank all who have played a part to hold together and progress this project. I thank our partners in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, especially Lord True, Leader of Richmond Council, and his Lady wife, for his many years of support and effort. I thank Geoffrey Samuel, the Deputy Leader for his untiring effort and I thank Councillor Meena Bond, the Mayor of Richmond for her presence with us this morning. I also express sincere gratitude to Nick Whitfield, the Director of Education, to Matthew Paul, Head of Place Commissioning and to their staff. Partnership with public authorities, both local and national, is an important part of the mission of the Church, as a sign of the unity we wish to serve.
I also thank the officials of our two Catholic dioceses, of Southwark and Westminster, especially Mr Paul Barber. There are so many historical ties between us and this new school creates a new and demanding bond which we will nurture and bring to fulfilment together.
I am grateful, too, to St Mary’s University College in Twickenham which is acting in partnership with this new venture.
I thank the Governing Body of the College and Mr Andrew Cole for all its hard work, and every member of the College staff. You’ve only just begun!
Then, of course, I thank the Catholic people of this area and all those who, with them, supported this campaign for a new school. I think particularly of the twelve parishes of the Borough and their priests, so many of whom are here today. Every Catholic school is a partnership between home, school and parish, including the six Catholic primary schools in the Borough which have been behind this venture from its inception. They are represented this morning and a pupil from each school brought forward the statue their school is donating to the College. A real gathering of the saints!
So a Catholic school is a response to the proper and legitimate expectations that parents can look to the state to help them to educate their children in the faith and way of life which is precious to them. In this way a Catholic school contributes to social cohesion by respecting the rights of parents and by maintaining educational diversity. This parental right is enshrined in European Conventions and to be honoured wherever possible. We are so grateful that it is now proving possible here in Richmond.
A Catholic school, then, is an act of partnership, of unity. Indeed, such as school, as an expression of the mission of the Church, is to be a reminder that the unity we seek is rooted in the mystery of God and only in relation to the eternal unity of God will we find our own.
A Catholic school also seeks to act locally, to enrich the life of a community and to serve its needs. Personally I am delighted that this College is to develop a specialism in music, for music can so enrich a local community – and I speak as a once and enthusiastic member of a local youth orchestra where my appreciation of music was deepened, leading on to a life-time of pleasure and enrichment. I am delighted, too, that St Richard Reynolds Catholic College is to make special provision for children with physical or sensory disabilities. In them, too, we ‘See the good things of the Lord.’
In the prayer of our Mass this morning, we prayed that ‘We may confirm by the witness of our lives the faith we profess with our lips.’
This is our prayer for this new Catholic College today. You, its staff and governors, I know are committed to this cause. You, its pupils, must always strive to live up to the uniform you wear, with its colours of holiness and its badge of bravery. Aspire to the very best and in that best always look for the good things of the Lord. We, parents, supporters, authorities in state and Church, we know what a challenge still lies ahead for this College to grow to its full potential. We know that this will not be an easy path. But today, together, let us resolve to tread it with determination, with our eyes on that greater horizon of the good things of the Lord and with the good of our children in our hearts.
Archbishop of Westminster
17 September 2013