26 June 2015, The Tablet

Heythrop’s closure could have been avoided

by Brendan McCarthy

The news that Heythrop College will no longer be a higher education college in the University of London brings a sorry end to the Jesuit project to bring theology to the capital and to the wider academy.

Did it need to end this way? I believe that the Heythrop project failed, in part, because of a lack of ambition. A specialist college of philosophy and theology, as Heythrop chose to be, was always going to struggle to attract a critical mass of students.

Heythrop College, London One cannot but compare the fate of Heythrop with that of Maynooth College in Ireland. In the 1960s both institutions had issues of identity. Maynooth, until 1968 a small arts and theology college dedicated to the formation of priests for the Irish Church, made a big, bold decision to expand its struggling arts faculty. Today, Maynooth has a thriving campus with 9,000 students, most of them in its civil university which, in addition to its early arts, theology and science faculties now has large and distinguished science, engineering and business faculties as well.

There was a ready model for Heythrop in some of its Jesuit sister universities; Fordham and Georgetown in the United States, or, nearer to home, ESADE (Escuela Superior de Administración y Dirección de Empresas) in Barcelona. Fordham even teaches some of its Europe courses on Heythrop’s campus.

The sorry truth is that Heythrop chose never to leave its comfort zone. I am a graduate both of Heythrop and of Imperial College Business School (the two institutions are a few hundred yards apart in Kensington). While I was at Imperial I could not help thinking how much Heythrop might have contributed to Imperial’s programmes on business ethics or corporate social responsibility. But were such synergies ever explored? I very much doubt it.

The sad thing is that there has never been a greater need in the culture of British universities for a reassertion of their foundational humanism. Much research is driven by a numbing utilitarianism and many academics feel they have lost touch with their mission. Arts and humanities departments have suffered deeply.

Heythrop could have become a beacon of defiance against this destruction of the academy. That light will be dimmed now. And what does this all this say about the Jesuit project in Britain? Some generations ago such men as Fr Frederick Copleston and Fr Martin D’Arcy were feisty presences in the public arena. Where are their successors? Where is the Jesuit mission to engage with the culture and to forge Catholic identity?

This is a sad and sorry moment for English Catholicism. Maybe it’s a forlorn hope, but I would wish that the still resilient American Jesuit tradition might find work to do here. Perhaps a future for Heythrop as Fordham Europe?

Brendan McCarthy is The Tablet's Arts Editor

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User comments (3)

Comment by: Boyers
Posted: 04/07/2015 22:03:44

Yet another tragedy on the landscape of Catholic Britain. We seem to lack vision (worst offenders are the Bishops) and the ability to read the signs of the times. We close down just about every asset - never to be replaced.
Just look at the short-sighted decisions over the last decades - Bishops shut down Hatch End (just ahead of biggest explosion in communications), the idea of regional communications centers in UK scuppered ('because Hatch End didn't work', Plater College flogged off, London Colney dumped to a property developer. The Church in this country is ill-served by a hierarchy who are simply out of their depth and leave all decisions to their finance teams. Westminster need to re-program their Bishops and the entire Finance and Buildings Team.
There are some decisions that are far too important to be entrusted to over-promoted Bishops!

Comment by: Professor Michel Lejeune
Posted: 28/06/2015 12:44:40

It is indeed very sad that a prestigious institution such as Heythrop id closing. You do not do away with 400 years of hard work and positive contribution to society. As Brendan McCarthy rightly says other ways are possible! Why not have the bold attitude to try new ways. Theology and philosophy are not the only thing we have to teach. In today's society there are so many ethical subjects which have to be tackled and are theology and philosophy not strong enough markers to do this. I feel sorry that a long tradition is going and I would love to see one or other daring Jesuit pick it up again and mke .... as Brendan says, why not Fordham Europe?

Comment by: Elizabeth
Posted: 27/06/2015 21:01:45

I am very, very sorry to hear that Heythrop is closing. I sincerely hope that, like the Phoenix, entering the fire is the beginning of a transformation that enables Heythrop to return in a new form better adjusted to current life. I would have been most interested in attending the recent events on religion and reality, but unfortunately am nearly bed bound so was unable to do so.

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