Let Him Easter in us

The closing conference for Heythrop College - which took place from the 4th to the 7th of July - was an important, moving and hope-filled event, as over three days the teaching and administration staff, alumnae, and friends of Heythrop gathered, to celebrate all that was best about this institution.

A number of the presentations were given over to telling Heythrop’s story, which is also the story of the remarkable Jesuits who enacted the transition from the Oxfordshire countryside to the centre of London.

So Brendan Callaghan’s public lecture, ‘Heythrop and the University’, and Michael Barnes’ concluding overview of Heythop’s ‘pilgrimage’, were of a piece with Nicholas King’s tribute to Robert Murray (a lecture on the gospel of Luke); while other presentations gave heartfelt tributes to Joe Laishley and John McDade.

The ‘patron saint’ of the conference, however, and the one who inspired its title (a quotation from The Wreck of the Deutschland), was its most famous alumnus, Gerald Manley Hopkins. Hopkins’ verse was liberally quoted throughout the conference; in the words of Michael Barnes, he represents an enigmatic relationship between aesthetic sensibility, philosophical training and theological commitment, which calls us to ‘read the mystery’.

‘Let Him Easter in Us’ echoed the desire of all present to ensure that the Heythrop achievement is carried forward: as burning embers, to be fanned into glowing life; or even still-living flames, to be passed on; or as a new chapter to be written.

Heythrop’s fluent and precious conversation between philosophy and theology was demonstrated in the plenary papers (Gwen Griffith-Dickson, Michael Lacewing, Anna Abram, as well as five Jesuit keynotes), and in the nearly twenty parallel papers from members of staff.

The following video of ‘Memories of Heythrop’, featuring testimonies of affection, and the simple eucharistic celebration presided by Fr Provincial, at which Peter Gallagher preached eloquently, were memorable highlights.

Heythrop’s critical spirit was not exorcised from the proceedings. The mood was celebratory and affectionate, but there was also acknowledgement of the pain and bewilderment, still present for many people, with regard to the college’s suppression.

Philip Endean’s presentation on ‘Ignatius Loyola and Academic Life’ was a useful reminder of some of the ambiguities within the Ignatian and Jesuit tradition. At certain points in our history, the academic apostolate has been clearly subordinated to ‘spiritual’ ends; at other points, the academic has been more closely integrated into the overall Jesuit vision.

A number of other contributors drew on the address by Dr Rowan Williams at Heythrop’s anniversary conference in 2014, which enthused about the clarity, uniqueness and necessity of the Jesuit educational vision.

There remains, for many of the Heythrop family, regret that what has been in their view a flourishing educational enterprise, dedicated to collaboration and dialogue, to clear thinking and truth-seeking, is to close. 

It is to the credit of the organisers that this sadness and frustration was acknowledged, without overwhelming the mood of celebration and hope. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the main organisers, Claire Ozanne (Heythrop’s principal), Peter Gallagher, and Annabel Clarkson. And it is heartwarming to report that proceedings ended (unofficially) with a group staying behind to watch England overcome Sweden, on the way to World Cup glory!

Michael Kirwan SJ