Tasting the formation treats of Penmaen Pool

For more than 150 years British Jesuits have travelled to Barmouth on the Welsh coast for rest and recreation, often walking or sailing up the Mawddach estuary to the inn at Penmaen Pool. One of the most famous of these men, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote a poem for the visitors’ book there in 1876.

In keeping with tradition, the eleven British Jesuits between First Vows and ordination, and their three counterparts from the Low Countries, spent the final evening of a recent visit to Barmouth there.

It was the first time in several years that all the Jesuits in formation had got together in this way. Throughout the year, they are widely scattered, studying philosophy or theology, or engaged in the full-time apostolic work that the Jesuits call “regency”.

The Barmouth group had gathered from Toronto and Paris, London and Louvain, Galway and Windsor. Some had been in the Society for ten years already, others less than three. So the first aim was simply to help the men there get to know each other, and hear a little of the stories of each others’ vocations.

Attention then turned to a consideration of the needs of the world and the Church at this time. Pictures collaged from newspapers gave a strong sense of the needs this group felt that it would be responding to in the years to come. Issues highlighted ranged from climate change to the loss of a religious sense in society at large. Nobody felt that this dozen men would be able to solve all these problems. But all recognised that they would not be able to carry the Jesuit mission forward without at least acknowledging them.

In recent years the Society of Jesus has been thinking of its global mission in terms of reconciliation: reconciling human beings, scarred by sin, to God; reconciling those who have become estranged, or enemies, to each other; and reconciliation with the whole of creation, so that we come to care more deeply for the earth and all that is in it. This is the same vision that Pope Francis outlined in his encyclical Laudato Si’. So the meeting also spent time talking with the Provincial, Fr Damian Howard, about how this mission might become more fully implemented in the work of the Jesuits in Britain.

Not that it was all work. Some brave souls swam in the sea, amid what seemed like a large number of jellyfish having a meeting of their own. Others hiked the hills, or simply enjoyed the warm sunshine of a rare Welsh heatwave. A barbecue managed to cater for the needs of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and omnivores, and the final Mass included a renewal of those vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that unite the members of this disparate group. Then it was all back to London for the ordination to the priesthood of Kensy Joseph SJ and Philip Harrison SJ.

Fr Paul Nicholson SJ

Then come who pine for peace or pleasure
Away from counter, court, or school,
Spend here your measure of time and treasure
And taste the treats of Penmaen Pool.
- 'Penmaen Pool', Gerard Manley Hopkins

Find out more about Jesuit formation on our Vocations website