The Christian Heritage Centre

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Finished? Theodore House has only just got started on its main mission​

Friday 7th June 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Finished? Theodore House has only just got started on its main mission

Lord Alton of Liverpool

A Jewish rabbi once said that “the man who thinks he is finished, is finished.” And that is also true of charitable projects like the Christian Heritage Centre. Its flagship building, Theodore House, is now open and providing accommodation for retreats, conferences, formation, visitors exploring the Tolkien Trail, besides simply providing a wonderful place to recharge batteries in an overly frenetic world. But the project is still not complete. The library space in Theodore House needs developing, and funds raising for good shelving and the provision of a twenty-first century study centre and reading room.

In the world of Google, Snapchat, Instagram and general information overload, any institution that is serious about learning understands the need for and ever-greater challenge of getting people to read. Indeed, reading has been at the core of human learning for millennia, playing a pivotal role not only in our mental development but also in the formation of our character. Providing the opportunity for visitors to Theodore House to have access to good books and good writers, especially when some of the rooms in Theodore House are named after great Christian writers – C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and G.K.Chesterton – is therefore high on the priority list. Not to forget, of course, that this was home to the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The centrality of reading to learning is reflected in the naming of Theodore House’ Library for two singular Catholic teachers, Peter and Bridget Hardwick. ‪For many years Peter led the English Department at Stonyhurst College, and Bridget was the first woman on its staff. Peter was very widely read, having a great love of literature. 

He would have shared Mark Twain’s opinion that “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” The Hardwicks were everything you would expect inspired teachers to be: kind but firm, always encouragers, always on the lookout for whatever hidden talent they knew would be lurking somewhere not far beneath the surface.

However, teachers also need sustenance and encouragement, and The Christian Heritage Centre is mindful of the need to provide space for renewal and refreshment for the Christian teacher. The vocation of the teacher is, after all, a high one: the ultimate Teacher is Our Lord Himself, of all things that are good and true. Thus, the Great Teacher had no time for accusers who delighted in the sins and shortcomings of others; likewise, every child needs inspiring teachers to give them encouragement to help them deal with successes and failures, with life and death. It is perhaps no surprise that one of the great success stories of the Catholic Church in the UK are its schools. Waiting lists and high demand for places illustrate the confidence parents have in the values and ethos of Church schools. 

R.F.Delderfield’s moving story, “To Serve Them All My Days”, beautifully reminds us of one of the central principles of this ethos: namely, that to have the education of children entrusted to you is an amazing privilege. The story is the account of a World War One Second Lieutenant, David Powlett-Jones, a coal miner’s son from South Wales, who, in 1918, after three years of active service, is injured and shell shocked in the trenches – a rare survivor among “the lions led by donkeys.”

On being sent back to Britain, Powlett-Jones is sent to Bamfylde, a fictional independent school in North Devon, where he is told, while he recuperates, to go and teach history.  What is supposed to be a temporary post leads him to discover his true vocation as a remarkable teacher.  

Just as the wisdom of the Headmaster, Algy Herries, helps David Powlett-Jones, “P.J” or “Pow-Wow” (nicknamed because of his ability to moderate solutions through discussion and debate), to be healed emotionally he then uses the same skills to develop and encourage the pupils in his own charge – many of whom are experiencing their own traumas. Before the story ends with the outbreak of the Second World War, PJ has experienced tragedy, bereavement, rivalry, triumph, failure, distress and exhilaration. The book is aptly titled “To Serve Them All My Days”, because that is what any good teacher must do. 

Like PJ, the Hardwicks were examples of teachers who serve their charges with great love and faith, which ultimately find their real sense in the context of our earthly end.

Just before he died, Peter Hardwick gave the anthology of John Donne’s “The Divine Poems” to the Library. Included in the anthology is Donne’s Holy Sonnet on Death. It defiantly rebukes death, telling us that:

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, 

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.” 

‪Donne’s Sonnet recalls the central belief of Peter and Bridget Hardwick that beyond the grave is the promise of resurrection and eternal life:

‪“One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shalt be no more, Death thou shalt die.”

‪They would have shared the opinion of the Benedictine monk who once remarked that the whole purpose of a Catholic education is to prepare us for death.

‪Such a preparation, as the Hardwicks demonstrated, involves living our life on earth well. They taught children to show great charity and sensitivity, all the more when things went wrong in someone else’s life. Like our Teacher, they particularly despised the tendency, so prevalent today, to gleefully humiliate people for their failings or when they fall on life’s Via Dolorosa. So rather unsurprisingly, the retired Hardwicks took a great interest in the treatment of offenders, encouraging retired colleagues to volunteer and use their teaching talents to provide literacy and other classes in the local prison. 

At the same time, Donne observes our own infinite capacity to disappoint ourselves and our friends. Reflecting on this in his “Hymn to God the Father”, he writes the following refrain to God: 

“When thou has done, thou hast not done, For I have more.”

And so he reaches the same conclusion as the Rabbi: not to imagine that we have finished. When it comes to educating both ourselves and others, such a reminder is particularly poignant. For the goal of our earthly education is to bring us before our Heavenly Teacher, and our education is not finished until we reach the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

Even a good library has its value for eternity!

For further details of how to help equip the Hardwick Library contact Stefan Kaminski at

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Week of St Theodore celebrations includes a deeper calling for peace

Friday 5th October 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Week of St Theodore celebrations includes a deeper calling for peace

The Trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre (CHC) at Stonyhurst have completed the restoration of Theodore House, but is continuing to raise funds for this previously derelict 19th century Lancashire corn mill’s internal fitting.

To mark progress, and the recent feast day of St Theodore – a seventh century Syrian refugee sent by Pope Vitalian to England to become the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury – the trustees organised several events. Two were directly linked to great saints of the 20th century, St Teresa of Calcutta and St John Paul – to whom the Oratory in Theodore House is dedicated.

At Westminster Cathedral Hall, in London, the CHC hosted the launch of a new movie about the 1979 visit of John Paul II to Ireland.

Essential viewing for anyone trying to understand why over 3,600 people lost their lives during the worst of the violence in Northern Ireland, it explores how, almost 40 years ago, St John Paul sowed the seeds of the Northern Ireland peace process during that historic visit.

Fiona O’Connor and Simon Whittle with two of the participants at the first conference to be held in Theodore House and at the unveiling of the Christian Heritage Centre exhibition on St Theresa of Calcutta.

Following in the footsteps of John Paul the movie criss-crosses Ireland but the defining moment is at Drogheda when he begged the men of violence to end the killing. “On my knees, I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace. You may claim to seek justice. I too believe in justice and seek justice. But violence only delays the day of justice. Violence destroys the work of justice.”

During the movie, the Protestant DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, explains, that this was a watershed moment after which no one could claim that terror and violence is sanctioned by the Catholic Church.

John Paul reached over the heads of those preaching sectarianism and hatred clearly stating: “To Catholics, to Protestants, my message is peace and love. May no Irish Protestant think that the pope is an enemy, a danger or a threat… Let history record that at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ire- land, the Bishop of Rome set foot in your land, that he was with you and prayed with you for peace and reconciliation, for the victory of justice and love over hatred and violence.”

In another moving interview, the courageous former SDLP MP, Seamus Mallon, reminds us that IRA killings were responsible for more Catholic deaths than any other source. He also recalls how, years later, John Paul was able to repeat to him the exact words the Pope had spoken at Drogheda.

Artwork for the new movie about Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland

The movie includes other powerful interviews – one with a former IRA bomber who says that John Paul’s witness led him away from violence and another with Northern Ireland’s Baroness (Nuala) O’Loan.

Following the screening, the CHC and Knights of Columbus hosted a discussion with the Polish Ambassador, HE Arkady Rzegocki, and David Nagieri, one of the film’s directors. Further screenings will follow in Ireland and the DVD will be available in November.

Later in St Theodore’s week, the CHC held a well-attended open day at Theodore House. It began with the launch of a new exhibition on the life of St Teresa of Calcutta – staged in partnership with the advocacy organisation, Alliance Defending Freedom.

It includes some of St Teresa’s best known sayings: ‘I wanted to become a mother to the poorest of the world’s poor’; ‘The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion’; ‘works of love are works of peace’; ‘if you can’t feed one hundred people then feed just one’; ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’

During the Open Day, talks were given to visiting groups about the vision that underpins Theodore House and the CHC – and many who came from parishes and schools across three northern dioceses ex- pressed interest in using the facilities for retreats, conferences and events.

Theodore House also staged its first young people’s conference. Organised by one of the trustees, Deacon Sam Burke OP, it focused on the contribution which Catholics can make to public and political life and speakers included Francis Davis and Christopher Graffius. During the week, the trustees presented a new medal to the Keeper and Curator of Commemorative and Art Medals at the British Museum, Philip Attwood.

The Thomas More medal

Commissioned by the trustees and struck by the Catholic jewellers the Fattorini family, the medal commemorates St Thomas More, the Patron saint of the CHC project. The medal is awarded, along with the God’s Good Servant Fellowship, to singular individuals who have contributed to the work and objectives of the charity.

The week concluded with trustees welcoming Nicholas Braithwaite to Theodore House. Nicholas is the great nephew of Georg Mayer-Marton, a Jewish mosaic artist whose entire family were killed in the Holocaust. Georg reached England, where, after the war, he undertook several important mosaics – one of which is in a decommissioned church in Oldham.

The trustees of the CHC have been entrusted with the mosaic by Bishop John Arnold – who hopes they can provide a new home and use it for educational purposes. Bishop Arnold says: “I would be delighted if it proves possible for this important piece of work, by this Jewish artist, whose family perished in the Holocaust, to stay within the Salford diocese. “I also believe that if it becomes the focal point of a learning hub that examines anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and contemporary religious and ethnic persecution, it will assume a new and wider significance as we seek to combat new forms of hatred.” The idea has received support from the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The Mayer-Marton mosaic that the CHC is trying to save

Bishop John’s words, and the Trustees’ vision, is directly linked to the stories of both St John Paul and St Theodore. After refusing to renounce his faith, Theodore became a victim of religious hatred, while, as a young man, St John Paul witnessed the Holocaust. In 2000 he placed a prayer in Jerusalem’s Western Wall that read: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer.”

In these days of rising anti-Semitism and religious hatred, the trustees also pray that Theodore House can play a small part in opening hearts and forming minds. Anyone interested in supporting this endeavour should contact the charity.

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An old mill is turning into a spiritual hub at Stonyhurst

Friday 6th April 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

An old mill is being turned into a spiritual hub at Stonyhurst

Building work on Theodore House began on May Day last year. It is the ruined Victorian mill in the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley now being transformed into a residential centre for families, pilgrims, schools and visitors to England’s Sacred County.

A building that once fed bodies will now feed souls and minds.

Theodore House is a free standing charity, at the heart of the Christian Heritage Centre project at Stonyhurst. The trustees have raised £3 million towards the building costs and borrowed a further million to be repaid over the next eight years. They are within shouting distance of the finishing line.

To complete the project this year, the trustees are tantalisingly close to raising the remaining £400,000 – and they hope to do it with one more heave.

Theodore House will have accommodation for 34 people – and include a refectory, library, lecture theatre, two seminar rooms, an atrium and an Oratory dedicated to Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II.

Bishops and Catholic lay leaders have been deeply committed to the project. They have pointed out that the arbitrary closure and sale of retreat houses and other facilities has deprived Catholics of places geared to spiritual renewal.

Theodore House at Stonyhurst College

To help remedy this, Liverpool Archdiocese has contributed to the project – and given some beautiful stained glass depicting the Baptism of Jesus. Originally commissioned in 1923 by Fr John McKinley for his Toxteth church of St Malachy, the building was closed in 2001.

In Greek Theodore means ‘gift from God’, and the charity’s trustees believe that in our increasingly secular society Theodore House will be a wonderful gift to the Church in England and beyond.

A Syrian Christian who escaped the fall of his town to Islam, St Theodore was sent to England by the pope and became the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury.

Even the account of his remarkable life is itself a gift to contemporary Christians who take so many of today’s freedoms and opportunities for granted.

The plight of the worldwide persecuted Church will have a special place in the work of Theodore House, and Christian Leadership courses will be run to equip Catholics to become ‘servant leaders’. Retreats can be parish led and a team from Aid to the Church In Need, will be involved in leading school retreats.

Author of The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien and hospice pioneer Cicely Saunders

Theodore House will mark the notable, and sometimes courageous, Christian contribution to society through the naming of rooms – sponsored by benefactors to honour family members or great figures from our Christian story.

Stonyhurst’s celebrated archivist, David Knight, has been preparing short biographical details.

Among the rooms will be one named after Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan, shot dead by the Taliban in March 2011.

Others will include St Maximilian Kolbe and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who both died in Nazi concentration camps, and St Margaret Clitherow, married with three children and pregnant with her fourth child, who was crushed to death for harbouring a Catholic priest.

William Wilberforce, best known as the leader of the movement to stop the slave trade, and celebrated Christian writers G K Chesterton, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien will also have rooms named after them, along with Dame Cicely Saunders the English Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer, best known for her role in the hospice movement, and Phyllis Bowman, a Jew who became Catholic after seeing the effects of abortion on women and unborn children.

Other rooms are being dedicated to the memories of Baroness Sue Ryder and her husband Lord Leonard Cheshire, Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, Blessed John Henry Newman and Matteo Ricci SJ, an Italian Jesuit missionary who introduced mathematical and astronomical knowledge to China.

The ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US will be celebrated in rooms named for John & Charles Carroll, the Leo Family and the Knights of Columbus – the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organisation, founded in the USA in 1882. Other bedrooms are being sponsored, among others, by the King Family, the Cowdall Family and the Brinkley Family.

One of the two seminar rooms is named after Lancashire’s Bowland Trust, the lecture theatre for Ben and Kim Chang, the library for the late Bridget and Peter Hardwick – kindly funded by Mark Thompson, of The NewYork Times, who was taught by Peter Hardwick, and the Oratory, which will include the work of Aidan Hart, is being generously supported by Graham Hutton, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need.

There are still naming opportunities available for the family annexe, a seminar room and some of the bedrooms. Potential benefactors should contact Anton de Piro: Tel: +44 7748272908

Among the very first of the groups to be booked into Theodore House later this year are some young Catholics working in Washington – some in the US Congress. They will link up with some of their British counterparts – a great investment for the future.

Those staying at Theodore House will be able to visit the historic libraries and see the unique Stonyhurst Collections, providing access, for the first time, for the 850,000 children in 2,200 British Catholic schools. These inspiring collections – which have been featured each month in The Universe – belong to the whole of the Catholic community.

 Objects can tell the old story in a challenging and fresh way, reminding us who we are and challenging us to renew the Faith as others have done before us.

Frances Ahearne is organising bookings and may be reached at 01254 827084 or by writing to

Work progressing on the interior of the building

Nor will physical needs be neglected.

J R R Tolkien and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins both had direct connections and there will be access for visitors to our Tolkien Trail and Hopkins Trail – with walks by the beautiful Rivers Ribble and Hodder and onto the Lancashire fells.

There will also be access to the Stonyhurst campus sports facilities, swimming pool, and golf course, which has a direct link with George Walker (forebear of President Bush and Walker Cup fame). Walking and cycling in the area will add to the perfect holiday or short break.

The charity’s website contains details of the Christian Heritage Centre Trustees and Patrons – including Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop John Arnold. Other Patrons include Ann Widdecombe, Baroness Cox, Sir Edward Leigh MP, Frank Field MP, and Field Marshall Lord Guthrie.

To help complete this labour of love the trustees’ immediate need is to raise £400,000. If you are able to give any help or would like further details please email the Chairman Lord Alton at or Anton de Piro at: telephone 07748272908.

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College hopes Theodore House will be God’s gift to the faith in England

Friday 1st September 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

College hopes Theodore House will be God’s gift to the faith in England

St Theodore of Tarsus, whose feast day is celebrated on 19th September, holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans. Born in Syria, he lived between 602 AD and 690 AD and was Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 AD until his death.

Derived from both Latin and Greek, the name Theodore means ‘God’s gift’ – and, as St Theodore’s feast day approaches, the trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst have been reflecting on both God’s generous providence and the life of a man who proved to be such a gift to English Christianity.

Perhaps best known for the way he reformed the Church in England, and for the priority which he gave to education, Theodore was a Syrian Christian of Byzantine descent, who was forced to flee from Tarsus, when it fell to Islam. His own story is especially poignant as today’s Syrian Christians face their own Calvary of genocide, sustained persecution and flight to unknown lands.

Work underway at the new Theodore House

His story reminds us of the ever-present challenge of persecution and the exodus of the Middle East’s Christians fleeing Syria and Iraq.
St Theodore studied theology, medicine, Roman Civil Law, Greek rhetoric and philosophy, Latin literature (both secular and ecclesiastical), astronomy and mathematics in Antioch, Constantinople and Rome. He was the embodiment of faith and reason.

When Pope Vitalian sent Theodore to Britain it was just after the Synod of Whitby had, in 667, confirmed the decision of the English Church to follow Rome. But this was a difficult time for the Church in England – with conflict between bishops such as Wilfrid and Chad.

St Theodore of Canterbury

Today, Theodore, Wilfrid and Chad are each remembered as saints of the Church.

Objects like St Chad’s relics – and those of St Thomas Becket – martyred and assassinated at Canterbury in 1170 – are held on behalf of the Society of Jesus at the Stonyhurst.

They are objects with a purpose and their own preservation tells its own story.

In Chad’s case, some of his relics were hidden from Henry VIII’s desecrations and kept by the Dudley family of Lichfield. Later passed to a Sedgley farmer, Henry Hodgetts, a Jesuit priest Fr Peter Turner SJ, asked Hodgetts why, on his death bed, Hodgetts kept seeking the intercession of St Chad. He told Fr Peter that it was “because his bones are in the head of my bed”. The dying Hodgetts told his wife to give the relics to the priest who in turn took them to St Omer, the precursor of Stonyhurst. Many of the relics would ultimately return to England and to Pugin’s cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham.

Why do these stories matter? Because, in the 21st century, the challenge for Britain is to overcome its increasing loss of memory, and to recall again its Christian story and Christian heritage.

Collective amnesia is affecting the way in which the nation thinks and acts. You are in deep trouble when you forget what makes you who and what you are. Isaiah said you should always “remember the rock from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug.” In so many diverse ways Theodore speaks into our own times. He is celebrated for healing divisions, reforming the Church and for the entrenchment of Christian education. His promotion of biblical commentary, sacred music, knowledge of Eastern Christianity and the possible creation of the Litany of the Saints, added richness and beauty to the liturgy and a more profound understanding of other traditions within the Christian faith. A saint, then, for our troubled times.

Last year, when the Theodore Trust was wound up, its trustees generously decided to transfer their remaining funds into the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst, a freestanding registered charity which, blessed by a fruitful partnership with Stonyhurst College, enabled Phase Three of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst project to go ahead. This phase is the transformation of the college’s old mill, which had become a ruin, into a retreat, study and leadership centre.

Other generous benefactors include The Knights of Columbus, The Bowland Trust, The EL Wiegand Foundation (USA), the Archdiocese of Liverpool, the Stanhill Foundation, the Catholic Association Foundation (USA) and Kim and Ben Chang and many benefactors who wish not to be mentioned. Next summer, when the work is due to be completed, Theodore House will provide accommodation for 34 people – enabling individuals, parishes and school to visit. Theodore House will also provide visitors, students and those on retreat with study space, seminar and lecture rooms and a small oratory. The oratory will be dedicated to two of the great saints of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

And, if more donations are received, an annex will be built for families with children to stay in.

Fundraising is also under way to establish the Stations of the Cross, ‘the Northern Stations’, in the grounds of Theodore House, representing both the traditional Stations of the Cross and also the Via Crucis of those whose lives are destroyed or maimed on their own modern day Calvaries.

Abutting the old mill are the disused kennels which were home to the hounds that may have inspired a young student, Arthur Conan Doyle, who studied there, between 1869 and 1875, to write his Hound of the Baskervilles.

Doyle’s description of the fictional Baskerville Hall bears an uncanny likeness to the view from Theodore House: ‘The Avenue opened into a broad expanse of turf, and the house lay before us. In the centre was a heavy building from which a porch projected…. from this central block rose the twin towers, ancient, crenelated, and pierced with many loopholes.’

On 1st of May, feast of St Joseph the Worker and in the month of Our Blessed Mother, an early morning procession with banners culminated at the dilapidated old mill, for a blessing by Fr John Twist SJ of the building and those construction workers who would work on transforming it into Theodore House.

The procession was led by Mexican student, and Stonyhurst’s new Head of Line, Nicolas Mariscal Palacio. Patrons of the project include Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor; The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Provincial of the Society of Jesus; Field Marshall Lord Guthrie, former head of the armed forces; John Bruton, the former Irish prime minister; Baroness Cox and the Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe.

The procession leading to the old mill for a service of blessing.

Theodore House will facilitate programmes for people of all ages and cultures. There are plans for summer schools and festivals (with accommodation for up to 400, outside of term time). This would surely have appealed to St Theodore.

If alive today St Theodore would have carefully studied a recent survey that found that the number of people identifying as Christians in the UK is around 64 per cent but that, on present trends, this number will fall to 45 per cent by 2050. The proportion of Muslims would rise over the same period from five per cent to 11 per cent and the number of atheists or people claiming no religion would rise from 28 per cent to 39 per cent.

These statistics indicate the scale of the challenge, but also the opportunity which living in a free society still offers. Theodore would put his faith in God and set out to do something about it. Let us do the same.

In celebrating his coming feast day, the trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst hope that Theodore House, will play its part in renewing the Christian foundations of our nation. Please help if you can.