Celebrating the roots of the English Colleges

by Tom Blackburn

Staff, students and friends from Allen Hall Seminary and St Edmund’s College travelled to Douai, France, on 29th September to mark the 450th anniversary of the founding of the English College by Cardinal William Allen in 1568.
Archbishop Vincent Dollman of the Diocese of Cambrai celebrated Mass in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Pierre, as around 400 people gathered to give thanks for the lives of the 158 priests formed in Douai and later martyred in England between 1577 and 1680.

Allen Hall and St Edmund’s were both involved with the liturgy and celebrations of the day, with music beautifully provided by the school choir, while the seminarians and students served Mass.

The anniversary of the founding of Douai College was particularly pertinent for the seminarians from Allen Hall, the seminary being a direct descendent of the original seminary in Douai. While the climate of Catholicism in England has changed, the opportunity to be in Douai evoked a sense of the mission that every Christian has to share the Good News with those who do not know Jesus Christ.

At the back of the Collegiate Church of Saint-Pierre was the reconstructed altar and tabernacle (pictured) from the original Douai College, at which many of the martyrs had celebrated the Eucharist, and during the Mass it was blessed by the Archbishop.

On the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archbishop Dollman spoke of our fight with Satan, and the work of the Archangels, evoking the witness of the Douai martyrs for a living example of how the Archangels act in our lives.

Cardinal William Allen was one of a small group of Catholic exiles from Elizabethan England where, in the heat of the Protestant Reformation, it was treason for Catholic priests to celebrate Mass. Allen, in communion with Pope Pius V, established a College at Douai, then in the Spanish Netherlands, so that English students could train for the priesthood. The Collège des Grands Anglais, as it became known, was key to the English mission for the re-conversion of England.

Canon Roger Taylor, Rector of Allen Hall was honoured to join in the Douai celebrations. ‘It was an enormous privilege to travel to Douai,’ he said. ‘We are most grateful to St Edmund’s College for making it possible for the entire seminary to be present. We are very conscious of our roots in a martyred Church, and of our need in our own way to lay down our lives.’

Photos from the pilgrimage are available here.