hail st mary’s

Well I don’t know where you stand on the Papal visit – there are so many reasons to take issue with it. But for once I’m not going to pontificate… about the Pontiff; no rants on religion in this blogsite. All I will say is that Pope Benedict’s state visit to the UK has caused more than a mild bit of interest in this household. The reason? He’s only visiting St Mary’s University College in Twickenham this morning and that’s where my lovely wife C works. It’s been quite a week.

I guess the reason for his visit is that St Mary’s is one of the leading Catholic colleges in this country. Established in the 19th C its primary purpose was to educate  young people to become teachers. These days it’s developed into a fully-fledged University offering a wide-range of courses open to all faiths. However there remains a significant school for teacher education which is where C works and she really enjoys it, even if this week has been a little crazy with massive security, helicopters whizzing around and tons of extra work for all involved. She’s actually just come back home  (having been there since 6am!) and said that she thoroughly enjoyed the experience, particularly the Pope’s interaction with the kids. Even though we aren’t Catholic it’s not hard to be moved by the whole event, especially when the guy picks out my wife in the crowd ….

Only teasing.

But the thing which really impresses me about the College is its determination to be the best it can be. As well as securing the Papal visit which is no mean achievement (and around 4000 kids from around the UK have been selected to attend the event today), the College  is massively upgrading its already excellent sporting facilities which has secured it official status as a key training venue for the 2012 Olympic Games. This is going to be one hell of a place to do teacher training once the Games are over.

But before that happens next month sees the grand re-opening of the neighbouring building – a huge Gothic pile known as Strawberry Hill House which was the home of Horace Walpole, son of Britain’s first prime Minister. Several decades later the building became the home for St Mary’s College until it moved to its expanded site on adjacent land. The College’s links with the building have continued to this day although a Trust was formed some 8 years ago to undertake the refurbishment of the place. And it’s been a major project. But the place is looking stunning and I can’t wait to have a look inside. You’d expect a Gothic masterpiece to look dark and magnificently brooding right? Take a look at how it looks today…

Beautiful or what? And this is a physical attachment to the College which is going to make the approach aspect simply stunning. Who wouldn’t want to study and work at an establishment which is turning itself into a world class facility? I used to have a bit of an issue about the insularity of faith-based education but this place has turned my mind about a little faith and a powerful vision going a very long way.



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