“Goodbye Heythrop, Farewell Kensington Square” was the title of a conference held at Heythrop last Saturday ahead of the imminent closure of the Jesuit-run college in London.
The event was described in advance as “A day of celebration for alumni and friends”, to be followed by a conference in July “celebrating achievements and looking forward”.
The sale of Heythrop was first announced in 2015 due to “rapidly mounting costs”. Partnership negotiations with St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and then with the University of Roehampton both failed. None of Heythrop’s academic departments will be transferred to other universities.
A question mark has also been hanging over its prized library. The Jesuits recently told The Tablet that they are now confident “of arriving at a satisfactory arrangement in the near future”.
Some 250 members of the Heythrop Association of Alumni and Staff attended last weekend’s gathering. The first of three keynote lecturers was Dr John McDade, Heythrop principal from 2000 to 2012. He paid tribute to Heythrop’s “dialogue” teaching method, quoting John Henry Newman: “Truth is wrought by many minds working together freely.”
Brendan Callaghan SJ, another former principal of Heythrop and the former master of Campion Hall, Oxford, looked back over the development of psychology teaching at Heythrop. The third speaker, Dr Peter Vardy, vice principal of the college from 1999 till 2011, delivered a challenging reading of the signs of the times, saying the quality of Heythrop lay in the humanity of its teaching, and the task now was to fan the embers into life.
“The fire is out … Better to light a candle than accept the darkness,” he said.
A series of shorter parallel papers were also delivered, ranging from a paper addressing the question of philosophical relativism to a discussion comparing St Paul and Sigmund Freud and a paper on Jean Vanier’s work with intellectually challenged people.
Dr McDade invited the audience to suggest “last words” that might be attributed to Heythrop; his, he said, would be, “Pass it on.” Members of the audience suggested: “Ite, missa est”; “Over but not out”; “I might be gone for some time”; and “Not dark yet, but it’s getting there”.
The final three-day Heythrop conference will take place from 5 to 7 July.