Sunday, December 07, 2014

100 years of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School

Founded in 1914, The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The school, a Catholic Secondary school in London, is a State Comprehensive School (what would be called a 'Public School' in the USA) for boys aged 11-18 and girls aged 16-18. Somewhat belatedly I am posting the pictures below which were taken at the Anniversary Mass celebrated by Cardinal Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, at Westminster Cathedral in September.

In the photograph of the Schola, leading Catholic Composer James MacMillan can be seen seated against the wall beside the left hand organ case. He was present to hear the first performance of his motet Emitte Lucem Tuam which had been commissioned for the occasion.

Over on the Catholic Herald's brand-new website is a story about 'The Vaughan', as the school is affectionately known, and its impressive academic record. But league tables and statistics are unable to quantify other aspects of a Catholic school such as this one, aspects which should never be taken for granted. I was privileged to direct the Vaughan's Schola for fifteen very happy and fulfilling years, and I was always struck by the loyalty, support and respect which pervaded all relationships there, between staff and boys, between parents and teachers, between senior staff and teaching staff, and so on. There was a sense that we were all pulling in the same direction, that the ultimate aim of the school was imprinted with absolute certainty in everyone's mind. One often hears about schools which have a 'family atmosphere'. This is no such school - the Vaughan IS a family, and this is where its remarkable strength lies.

One particular memory I have was the day some years ago when a visiting priest was delayed and unable to get there in time for the Lower School's weekly 8.30am Mass. With the boys all seated expectantly, the former headmaster, now retired, stood in front of them and instead of Mass gave an extended extempore sermon on Original Sin. Around two hundred 11-13 year old boys (and I) sat absolutely enraptured by that potent combination of a brilliant teacher who knows how to engage completely the minds of his pupils, and a knowledge, understanding, and above all love of his Faith.

Writing recently in the Catholic Herald about the school's Friday Masses which are celebrated ad orientem, the school's chaplain wrote:

"In a school setting, the idea of a single person facing the assembly is characteristic of, well, an assembly. The dynamic is of power, of instruction, of a certain kind of benign subjugation. It is all too easy to lapse into the confusion that prayer directed towards the assembly is announcement, mere information. We felt that to experience Mass in which everyone faced in the same direction might be beneficial sometimes. We have installed a large and very life-like crucifix on the wall of the hall in which Mass is celebrated. It becomes the point on which our attention converges as we begin the liturgy of the Eucharist."

Amen to that. And here's to the next 100 years.

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