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A successful end to the first CLF programme

25th April 2022

A successful end to the CLF programme

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Our first cohort receive their certificates in Westminster Hall from Ruth Kelly, having successfully completed the programme.

This time last year, the 14 students above were sending in application forms and canvassing references for a programme that was newly ‘on the market’, and for which there was little to go on other than its website.

The feedback that they have provided seems to firmly vindicate their decision to apply, since the one, recurring criticism they have consistently made of the programme was that the modules were too short! More time was needed to absorb and discuss the material – as well as to socialise!

The final module fittingly took place around the Palm Sunday weekend, and was kindly hosted by Westminster Diocese’s youth retreat centre in Pinner, north-west London (as was the second module). With the theme of this module being “Applied Political Leadership”, it was most appropriate to begin with a period of retreat over Palm Sunday itself, meditating on Christ as our only, true ‘leader’ and as the One to whom all Christians are called to lead others.

The retreat was the first time that most attendees had entered into any protracted period of silence (even if only 12 hours or thereabouts), but everyone found the fruits of the meditations, prayer and liturgy to be all the greater for it.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
With Fr Dancho Azagra, in the grounds of Westminster Diocese's retreat centre in Pinner
Christian Leadership Formation programme
ADF's UK director, Ryan Christopher, gives a workshop on changing policy and culture

The sunny weather made for a beautiful experience of the centre’s outdoor Stations of the Cross, as well as the first part of the Palm Sunday liturgy, bringing to life the lovely and extensive gardens. Our particular thanks are due to Fr Dancho Azagra for his careful preparation of the retreat period.

Following some downtime on the Sunday evening, Monday saw a return to the all-too-familiar and intense pattern of prayer and study. We were delighted to have Prof. Philip Booth, Director of Catholic Mission at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, offer both some introductory input into Catholic Social Teaching as well as to pick up on the contemporary theme of challenges to the environment. His sessions, which framed this issue within the holistic and Christian perspective of the ‘human ecology’, and which tackled the question of corporate versus individual responsibilities, were greatly appreciated.

Keeping the theme of the common good firmly in sight, Dr John Snape, Associate Professor of Law at Warwick University, opened up that topic which, together with death, is the only certainty in life (cf. Benjamin Franklin): taxes. He masterfully introduced the students to both the philosophic and rationale behind taxation as well as the criteria that have been expounded over the centuries to measure the equity of the related policies.

The classroom input was rounded off by ADF UK’s Ryan Christopher, whose workshops challenged the students to actively consider the relationship between policy and culture, and offered some important principles for putting into practice their own moral and cultural leadership.

To conclude both the module and the whole programme, Tuesday morning saw the group head towards the City centre. The first stop was St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, where the group were welcomed for Mass by the Dean, Fr Francis Murphy. Armed with Pret-a-Manger sandwiches, Parliament Square was our next stop (for a picnic rather than a protest!), and from there we reported to Westminster Palace for our tour of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Having seen both chambers, we returned to Westminster Hall, the site of St Thomas More’s trial, to meet Ruth Kelly, a former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister. Conscious of the programme being under the patronage of More, Ruth spoke feelingly, yet with great encouragement, about her own difficulties in serving the government as a committed Christian and Catholic. The students had time to question her about her experiences and to seek her advice, before Ruth presented them with certificates attesting to the completion of the programme.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students picnic in Westminster Square before a tour of Parliament

The farewells that followed outside were certainly not the last as the group have expressed enthusiastic support for an annual conference and reunion, as well as a more regular online forum with talks and discussion.

Once again, our gratitude goes to those who have supported the programme with their time and input or financially. The places on the course have in large part been funded by generous donors, thus enabling the participation of many of the students.

The 2022 programme is currently open for application. More information and application forms are available at

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Not protesting, but picnicking
Christian Leadership Formation programme
In Westminster Hall at the start of the tour of Parliament
Christian Leadership Formation programme
Ready to say goodbye
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Today’s youth, tomorrow’s leaders

Sunday 7th November 2021

Today's youth, tomorrow's leaders

Stefan Kaminski

Director Stefan Kaminski assesses the inaugural Christian Leadership Formation programme at the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst

After more than two years of planning and unavoidable delay, I was delighted to see our exciting, brand-new programme for lower sixth form students finally hit the ground last July. On a lovely summer’s day, we welcomed 14 enthusiastic 17-year-olds to our facility, Theodore House, on the Stonyhurst College campus. The young people threw themselves into a first five days of intense prayer, study, discussion and activity, rapidly and naturally coalescing as a group, and responding to the input offered by our team with willingness and openness. At the end of the first module, not only were both students and staff truly sorry to say their goodbyes, but the students were that much more equipped to play their part in a world where moral and ethical lines may appear unclear. “I was guided into a depth of theology and philosophy which I, as a scientist, never knew I would enter,” said Klaudiusz Ozog, a student at Thomas More Catholic School, Purley.

Director Stefan Kaminski talks a group through their tasks

Lord Alton’s vision for future leaders

The Christian Leadership Formation programme was conceived of by Lord Alton of Liverpool, who recognised the need for a greater preparation of future leaders, given the increasingly complex ethical challenges they face in decisionmaking. He entrusted this task to the Christian Heritage Centre charity upon founding it in 2012. Ever since commencing public operations in 2019, we have worked to develop a unique, top-quality, Christ-orientated programme to do justice to Lord Alton’s intention. In opening to a first round of applications last January, we looked for candidates who are motivated by their faith and wish to be fully furnished for the ethical challenges of today’s world. By doing so, we hope the programme will help shape and create a society founded on Christian values. The feedback from the course thus far is certainly encouraging in this respect: “It is rare to find a course that helps form you into a Christian professional and especially one that explains everything so well,” wrote one student after the course. In planning this programme, we wished to offer input from prominent and leading experts in the relevant fields. We were therefore delighted to find support for the programme from St Mary’s University,  Twickenham, the Catholic Union of Great Britain, Alliance Defending Freedom and Catholic Voices, besides other organisations and independent academics.

To last July’s module, the first in the programme, I gave the title “Philosophical Foundations for the Common Good”. This reflects the three themes that were studied: human dignity, human rights and civil law. The aim was for the students to understand how each of these concepts is grounded in reasoned-out principles, which rely on certain truths established on the basis of human experience and understanding. Dr Andrew Beards, an experienced lecturer and former professor  at the Maryvale Institute, led the students through a challenging, yet accessible, university-style set of lectures, examining one of the themes on each of the course’s three full days. The carefully constructed group tasks at the beginning of each day offered the students the opportunity to begin to think through critical questions in each theme for themselves. Following the lectures, further group tasks at the end of the day gave the students the opportunity to apply their learning to concrete scenarios or case studies.

“Offering training in basic principles around public speaking and in engaging with the media, the students thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to put their thinking to a practical test”

As a staff, we observed and supported these sessions and were often as fascinated as the students to see how wideranging and thought-provoking the discussion became. Even the professional photographer forgot his camera at one point and sat down with the group he had
been shooting (and listening  to). “I have enriched my understanding of the Christian vision of the human person, and am now able to wholly elaborate upon this rationally,” said Eva Mcmonigle, a student from St Robert of  Newminster Catholic Sixth Form College, Washington, Tyne and Wear. “The educational aspect of the course highlighted that we have been provided with our world (by God) to allow us equal opportunities to  flourish.”

A synthesis of mind and heart

Dr Andrew Beards gives students their small group task following one of the lectures

The vision behind the programme rests on the basic principle that faith in Christ is an integral and lived-out part  of daily life. Most students were unaccustomed to a daily rhythm of Mass, Morning Prayer, Night Prayer and adoration, but having returned home, the effect of this has been clear. “The times for worship during the course were extremely valuable, as I feel I would not have been provided with such a good opportunity for personal growth elsewhere – within my own mind and with Christ,” Eve said. The course’s chaplain, the “wonderful” Fr Dancho Azagra (chaplain of Netherhall House), provided a constant, fatherly and guiding presence throughout, focusing on different aspects of the Mass on each day and teaching them to build up a personal relationship with Christ.

By structuring the course content within this pattern of prayer, we helped the students to understand that mind and heart work in synchrony, feeding each other. This was validated by a comment from one of the students, who said  that the experience “has made me realise that my professional and spiritual lives are synonymous and not separate”. Lord David Alton amply gave witness to this critical relationship in his keynote speech, which formally opened the course after an initial round of ice-breakers. His enlightening talk bore witness to his own lived-out faith, and also highlighted some of the key issues faced by Catholics and Christians in the UK political sphere.

Besides the fundamental importance of our relationship with Christ, Lord Alton stressed the need to build good relationships with others, especially potential “allies”. And this was indeed another of the objectives of the course. Aside from the strong sense of community that the full timetable engendered, the students enjoyed various team-building activities that challenged them to cooperate and communicate ever more effectively. From the problem based bridge-building activity that followed the opening talk to the escape room challenge at the end of the course, via slightly more unusual challenges (for example, making an aesthetically-pleasing fruit salad while tied together by the hands in a circle), much laughter and hilarity accompanied the competition between the groups to top the chart at the end of the week (although they did not witness the amusement I derived in later judging the result of their efforts in the “blind drawing” challenge!). A constant refrain in the students’ feedback was the strength and encouragement drawn from the experiences shared with like-minded students, with one young lady noting that “the experience of living together in such a close group was an unexpected joy for an introvert such as myself.”

Speaking out

The academic dimension of the course found a creative outlet in the set of sessions provided by Catholic Voices. Offering training in basic principles around public speaking and in engaging with the media, the students appreciated the opportunity to put their thinking to a practical test. CV’s Georgia Clarke built on the students’ natural,  intellectual confidence, preparing them for a finale comprising of mock interviews on hot-button ethical issues  with two experienced journalists. The results were described as “frighteningly good” by the journalists, both of whom have established careers with national broadcasters. Despite an element of nervousness, the students all appreciated this “golden opportunity”, as one described it.

Such confidence-boosting opportunities were particularly relished given the increasingly secular and ideological society of today, which inevitably exerts its influence regardless of our young people’s  commitment to their faith. The course’s core objective was to help the students rationally consider the origins and structure of human dignity and rights, to understand where morality comes from and to be able to evaluate both different approaches to legislation in general and specific laws in particular.

One of the students practices her presentation skills as part of the training provided by Catholic Voices

As a staff, we all witnessed many instances of a gradual transformation or shift in perspective, as the students were led through a philosophically consistent and theologically enlightened elaboration of these matters. Often for the first time, they began to appreciate not only  that what the Catholic tradition elaborates on these issues is rationally grounded, but also that the Church has historically led the way in  doing so, precisely because it is only Christ that “fully reveals man to himself” (Pope St John Paul II, Redemptor hominis).

Looking forward

At the end of the week, the expressions of true delight and tears of joy left us in no doubt that the first module of the programme had been a success. Comments such as “absolutely brilliant course”, “broadened my understanding vastly”, and “probably the best thing I have done all year” confirmed the value of our efforts.

After those five days, it was clear to all of us that what we have provided is unique and hugely important, not simply for those students who might be orientated to more explicit, leadership roles in society, but to any student that wishes to comprehend their Christian  faith properly in the first place and to apply this to the society in which they live.

We are now looking forward to welcoming this first cohort of participants to the remaining two modules in November and April, as well as to recruiting a second cohort for 2022 in the New Year.

Finally, I would like to extend our thanks, on behalf of the charity and also of the students, to those organisations and individuals that have made participation in the programme possible for the first cohort through their financial support.

To donate towards the cost of this programme, please use the link below:
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Christian Leadership Formation programme takes off

10th August 2021

Christian Leadership Formation programme takes off

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Lord Alton's keynote speech both inspired and challenged the next generation of leaders in society

Just over a week ago, our team of  “formators” for the Christian Leadership Formation programme said goodbye to fourteen rather tired, but enthusiastic, 17-year-olds. There was a good deal of sadness on both sides. A very intense five days of prayer, study, discussion and activity had seen the group of students rapidly and naturally coalesce as a group, and respond to the input of their tutors with willingness and openness.

The programme aims to help shape and create a society founded on Christian values by offering potential future leaders a solid intellectual and spiritual formation in the Christian philosophical and theological tradition. A recovery of the rationality of the Christian faith, and particularly of the many concepts that have been elaborated within Christianity over the last two millenia and have shaped our Western democracies, is therefore at the heart of this venture.

A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes over the last year to launch the programme this year amidst the challenges of Covid and the associated email-overload in schools! Nonetheless, launch it we did last January, and the result was a goup of enthusiastic, but slightly uncertain, Lower Sixth formers arriving at Theodore House on Monday 26th July.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students congregate at Theodore House at the start of the course
Christian Leadership Formation programme
Students prepare their responses to the group tasks

By the end of the week, the students’ comments testified to the challenges the course had presented them with in re-conceiving an essential relationship between their faith and their thinking, and the successes achieved. “Absolutely brilliant course”, “broadened my understanding vastly”, “really really really good: probably the best thing I have done all year”, were a few of the comments in the feedback forms.

From the team’s perspective, it was wonderful to see the students open up both heart and mind and to see a real impact in their thinking and their disposition to Christ. Coming as they did from varied backgrounds and with different experiences in their faith, it was difficult for us not to see some positive fruit in every one of the students by the end of the week.


Fr Dancho Azagra lead the students through a firm and full framework of liturgy and prayer. He ably challenged and encouraged the students in their spiritual lives, opening up to them and explaining elements of the Mass and the prayers of the Church which formed the backbone of the week.

The students were challenged intellectually by the knowledgeable and clear-thinking Dr Andrew Beards,  who delivered a set of lectures around the three themes of human dignity, human rights and human law. The group discussion that preceded and followed each set of lectures presented an invaluable opportunity for the students to dig into their current knowledge of the issue, identify the crucial questions therein, and then apply these to concrete scenarios. In many instances, our team witnessed a gradual transformation or shift in perspective, as the students were led through a philosophically-consistent and theologically-enlightened elaboration of these matters.

Christian Leadership Formation programme
Furious scribbling as Dr Andrew Beards puts the students through their paces
Christian Leadership Formation programme
"Students put their communication and drawing skills to the test in a "blind draw" team-building challenge

The discussion and learning found an outlet in the media training sessions ably provided by Georgia Clarke of Catholic Voices, which saw the students develop their confidence and find the opportunity to present their thinking that went into the course. The week culminated in mock interviews with experienced journalists from national broadcasters, who declared the interviews to have been “terrifyingly good”.

The team was rounded out by Weightmans LLP trainee-solicitor, Ola Smuklerz, who generously offered her professionalism and commitment to the charity. Her pastoral role quickly embraced every element of the course and provided a great support to the students  both individually and in their groups.

At the end of the week, it was clear to all of us that what we have provided is unique and hugely important, not simply for those students who might be orientated to more explicit, leadership roles in society, but to any student that wishes to comprehend their Christian faith properly in the first place and to apply this to the society in which they live.


For more information about the programme or to register interest for next year’s intake, please visit

The Trustees and Director would like to extend their thanks to those organisations and individuals that have made participation in the programme possible for the first cohort through their financial support. If you would like to consider supporting the programme, please contact

Christian Leadership Formation programme
The group sets off for a pub dinner in typical Lancashire weather
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Christian Leadership Formation programme launched

Friday 1st January 2021

Christian Leadership Formation programme launched for Sixth Form students

Stefan Kaminski

Government leaders are easy targets for our criticisms, however justified these may be. But we cannot escape the fact that leaders do not grow on trees. They emerge from our very own society, and their shortcomings to some extent reflect our own collective failures in educating and forming our young people.

 As Catholics, we have a duty to provide a solid philosophical and theological formation for those whom we wish to see safeguarding and promoting a Christian society. We cannot expect future government ministers and legislators to formulate and implement ethically-coherent laws that distinguish between morally-licit surgery and invasive operations, genuine rights and the demands of lobbyists, if we have not given them the framework for such judgements.


The Lord Alton of Liverpool is one of many who have long recognised the need for a greater preparation of potential leaders. When he founded The Christian Heritage Centre charity, he dovetailed his desire for such a preparation with the charity’s objectives.

The Centre is delighted to now announce the launch of its first Christian Leadership Formation course. It has partnered with St Mary’s University, Twickenham and the Catholic Union of Great Britain to offer a course consisting of three, residential modules delivered over a nine-month period. Organisations such as Alliance Defending Freedom and Catholic Voices, besides other independent, Catholic academics, are also contributing to the course, so that participants will receive a variety of top-quality input from experts in different fields.

“In an increasingly fast moving and complex world where decision makers have to grapple with ethical challenges, about which they feel ill-equipped to deal with, a course which provides formation, maps and sign posts will be greatly welcomed by many,” noted Lord Alton.

Applications for the course are now being welcomed from Lower Sixth students until the end of March, when fifteen students will be selected on the basis of their personal statements, recommendations from their school, academic grades and personal references. The students who will be offered a place will be those who are motivated by their faith to help shape and create a society founded on Christian values; those who are driven towards public life by a love of God and of neighbour.

The successful applicants will gather at the charity’s Theodore House, in Lancashire, at the end of July for the first, five-day residential. Two shorter residentials will follow in London, during the October half-term and the Easter break of their last year of school

Each residential will have a particular focus. The first will consider the prerequisite “Philosophical Foundations for the Common Good”, providing the students with a grounding in concepts such as human dignity, natural law and conscience. The bedrock of Catholic ethics, these concepts today remain mostly in name whilst their origins have been lost from view and their meaning substantially mutated. The course will seek to offer students the necessary vision and tools to engage both faith and reason in pursuit of the truth that is common to all people, and which is the only source of a genuine and common good.

 The second residential will offer input on “Human Life and Ethical Considerations”, covering a range of issues from the basic definition and understanding of human life, through stem cell research and end-of-life care. As St John Paul II noted, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and amongst the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.” This second module will thus aim at instilling in our future leaders a profound sense of the full dignity of life at all its stages, and a clear, moral framework to tackle the continually-growing field of ethical issues around the existence and the nurture of human life.

 The final module will focus on “Applied Political Leadership”. It will examine Catholic Social Teaching in the context of the current political field, providing students with a clear, applied understanding of the purpose and role of politics as well as the essential principles that are necessary for a pursuit of the common good. One particular field that will also be addressed, which so many are particularly sensitive to today, is that of the management of public finances. Economic interests are often at the heart of political divisions, and yet the Church has long-since elaborated clear principles for the structuring of a fair and just fiscal policy.

Interspersed with the lectures provided on these different themes will be workshops on practical skills such as public speaking, policy making, political virtues and statesmanship. Learning and team-building activities, as well as social time, will complete a daily routine framed by communal meals, prayer and liturgy.

 The charity has been securing sponsorships from various organisations and trusts to cover the costs of the participants, in order to make this course free of any financial burden. However, the current pandemic has not made this process easy, and several places remain awaiting sponsorship.

 The charity will therefore not only be very grateful for any further support it receives towards meeting the costs of the course, but particularly for prayers offered for the course’s success. Please do also signpost your local Catholic secondary schools and Lower Sixth students to the details below!

 For more information about the course and for the Information and Application Pack, visit or contact

To donate towards the cost of this programme, please use the link below:
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Young Catholics told to take their faith out to the public and be real leaders

Friday 2nd November 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Young Catholics told to take their faith out to the public and be real leaders

Simon Whittle, MA

How can Christians be leaders today, and how can they be Christian leaders?

At the heart of what it means to be Christian is the commitment to the joyful message of Christ. We are perennially exhorted to acknowledge the relevance of this message for our entire lives, not only for how we live in our own private spheres, but also to how we act, and lead, in the community.

Last month I met with a small and international group of young Catholics at the newly opened, but not yet complete, Theodore House, the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst. We gathered, in what was part-conference, part-retreat, to discuss how our faith can and must inform the ways in which we participate in society, and to consider what it means to be a Christian leader in public life.

Clearly, at the heart of Christian leadership must be a living faith. Alongside it is an understanding of the principles of Catholic social teaching, and an appreciation of the history of the faith and the examples given by others.

The group of young Catholics who met at Theodore House to discuss what it means to be a Christian leader in public life

Finally, the help given by being formed alongside others – supporting one another, challenging each other and sharing experiences – is essential in this process of formation.

Alongside the lectures, workshops, and spiritual conferences, which we had arranged at Theodore House, we were able to see the unique collections at Stonyhurst College (on whose grounds Theodore House is found) now accessible to all through the new museum. The many objects in the collections tell stories of Christians from different ages, of their struggles, interests, their suc- cesses, and their failings. The relics of martyrs, from Thomas Beckett through Thomas More and Edmund Campion, to Oscar Romero, are a poignant reminder of the cost which a commitment to Christian leadership can carry.

A true reflection on our Christian heritage, which relics and special collections are so well placed to aid us in, inevitably includes not only a recognition of the glories and triumphs of the Church, but also of the times and situations in which we as Christians have failed, been mistaken, misguided and sinful.

Through such reflection we learn the need to be humble and open to revision and correction. All Christians, and most especially those in positions of power, must show this humility and openness through their ability to listen and engage constructively with their critics and opponents, be they inside or outside of the Church.

Theodore House is an excellent resource for Catholic events

Christian leaders are more than ever under scrutiny – and rightly so. In the Church a good deal has been learnt through secular criticism. If Christians are going to be credible, and effective, leaders in the future, they must be able to engage with such criticism, while continuing to ground their own leadership and vision in what is authentically of the faith.

Theodore House is the rennovated Grade II-listed Old Mill

Formation of Christian leaders therefore requires the cultivation of the spiritual life and an understanding of the basic principles of the faith. This is alongside a formation in the practicalities and theory of leadership, and politics.

To this end, our conference not only included talks and workshops on some of the basic skills required for a role in public life, but also daily Mass, and spiritual and theological talks. Our faith, after all, requires appreciation of both theory and a lived practice.

What also became increasingly evident over our conference was the need not only for formation, but for formation in community. This is a pragmatic and spiritual necessity.

Pragmatic because it is only through sharing experiences with another that we will be up to speed on the range of approaches, problems, solutions, and responses which both we as Christians, and society, can offer. By the experience of sharing, and of challenging each other, we learn the vital skills of collaboration, communication, and consensus building. Through this sharing we can become effective in engaging with the discourses of our world and with the challenges, worries, reservations of our brothers and sisters.

There is a spiritual necessity for such formation in groups, too. In the words of St Paul, there are different gifts and various forms of service. It is together, united with Christ, that we make up the one Christian body, and thus a Christian leader can never be one who leads without regard for or recourse to others.

Equally, we will not be well formed if we are not formed in a community, by a range of people who share their gifts.

One gift which the Church shares with us is her social teaching. The weekend gave the opportunity to explore some of this treasure. The social teaching sets out those principles for society which the Church recognises as essential to society’s fruition. Part of its wisdom is that it is rarely focused on particular policy implications. Instead, it demands that we, and most especially of those in positions of leadership, begin to find Catholic responses to the situations of our own times and places, in a spirit of humility and prayerful and rational discernment.

The aims of our group gathered at Stonyhurst were clear. The group was formed to help potential future leaders to recognise add work effectively for the common good and the dignity of the individual. The sources of its principles was transparent, drawn from scripture and from the Church’s reflection. The vision of each member was and remains their own. Such group formation strengthens each member it by offering them a space for grounding their vision in our shared faith.

Theodore House is not only set in the stunning grandeur of the Ribble Valley and Stonyhurst College, it shares in the college’s tradition of formation. It offers both a peaceful retreat from the distractions of our everyday lives, and a site for engagement with our faith, a recognition of the diversity of our history, and a place for reassessing our own values and principles. At the recent conference we all learnt so much about what Christian leadership can look like. Through Theodore House’s ability to bring together cultural and intellectual traditions we will form more effective Christian leaders for a mission of service, not only in the UK, but across the world. This is a mission to be Christians able to witness to the Gospel, with an openness and the tools to transform our world, by God’s grace, into a society of love, peace, and justice.