Scholastics 'full of beans' learning English in Oxford

Language school participants visit Iffley Church on their riverside walk back from Littlemore.
Language school participants visit Iffley Church on their riverside walk back from Littlemore.

In July six Jesuits from Vietnam, DR Congo, Madagascar, Poland and Spain arrived at Campion Hall to take part in the annual English language summer school organised by the British province. For four weeks, the students attended classes at a local language school Monday to Friday where they not only honed their written and spoken English but joined their classmates for a variety of social and cultural activities, enjoying walking tours and sight-seeing in Oxford and even trying their hands at punting.

On Friday afternoons, when there were no classes, the scholastics discovered more about the life of John Henry Newman by visiting Littlemore for a guided tour of Newman’s College and following in the footsteps of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on a walk along the River Thames to the site memorialised in the poem ‘Binsey Poplars’. Treading the same paths as saints and scholars is thirsty work, no riverside walk on a balmy summer’s day would be complete without calling in at a Thameside pub for a pint. Professor Peter Davidson, keeper of the collections and archives at Campion Hall, also gave a guided tour looking at the history and collections of the Hall.

Hopkins’ “towery city and branchy between towers” provided the perfect backdrop for a rich cultural programme that included a visit to Christ Church Cathedral to attend choral evensong, a candle-lit concert of sixteenth and seventeenth-century English choral music and an open-air performance of Twelfth Night in the grounds of Oxford Castle.

Saturdays presented an opportunity to travel further afield. The scholastics enjoyed visits to the Baroque grandeur of Blenheim Palace, the city of Bath with its Roman, late-medieval and Regency faces, and bustling London. It was poignant for the group to walk from Tyburn, the place where Jesuits including Edmund Campion were martyred in a time of division among the Christian community, to emerge at the end of the morning from the west-door of Westminster Abbey below statues commemorating Christian martyrs of different denominations from the twentieth-century, among whom there are Saints Maximillian Kolbe and Oscar Romero. While in London, Paul Nicholson celebrated Mass for the language school students in Farm Street Church and gave a talk about the works of the British province. There was also plenty of time in the afternoon to visit the Victoria Albert, Natural History and Science Museums.

Besides the academic, cultural and social life of the language school, the scholastics were included in the everyday life of Campion Hall, joining the community for Mass on weekdays, sharing meals and participating in the community’s celebrations for the feast of St Ignatius Loyola. Time spent with each other and the Campion Hall community, whether on outings, at meals or in the common room, was always a chance for the group to practice their English conversation in a convivial environment. One of the best signs that someone is really getting to grips with a new language is when they start joking in it. One morning as one of the students sat down to a cooked breakfast before going to class, the British Jesuit opposite asked, “How are you today?” Quick as a flash, the scholastic answered by pointing to his plate and replying with a laugh, “Full of beans”.