170 years of St Beuno’s

Published on 19 Nov 2018
Image of St Beuno's from the front garden

by Sr Anne Morris DHS

On the 24th October 1848, the first Jesuit students arrived at a newly opened St Beuno’s to begin their theology studies, generally staying between 3 or 4 years. The location of the College, selected by the Provincial at the time, Fr Lythgoe, was deliberately chosen to be in the Welsh countryside due to its beauty and peace, but also to increase the Catholic presence in the surrounding area. Very diplomatically it was named after a local Welsh saint rather than some strange foreign import. St Beuno, with the house held in his hand, looks down at us still from his window in the Main Chapel.

Gerald Manley Hopkins described the house, in a letter to his father as 'Built of limestone, decent outside, skimping within, Gothic like Lancing College done worse. The staircases, galleries and bopeeps take a fortnight to learn' ( I think a few readers would sympathise with that). But he loved the gardens and surrounding landscape: 'The house stands on a steep hillside, it commands the long drawn valley of the Clwyd to the sea, a vast prospect, and opposite is Snowdon...coming and going with the weather. The garden is all heights and terraces, flights of steps up to heaven...' If he was happy anywhere in his short life it was here and it inspired him to write some of his best known poems.

To use the words of the Gospel of the day for 24th October, for over 170 years the rain has fallen, floods come, winds blown and beaten on the house, but it has not fallen, because it has been founded on rock. Both physically and spiritually it is founded on rock; the rock of the Gospel and the rock of the Ignatian Exercises. Thousands of people have stayed under its roof and been changed by the experience. For some 130 years it was  a place where  only Jesuits were formed and sent out on mission, many of them ordained in our chapel. Their stories and apostolates are a rich treasury of lives given to the building of God's Kingdom, be it Edward Sidgreaves the banker who gave the last of his money for the St. Agnes altar, before being sent to South America for 50 years. Or Walter Montagu who asked to be ordained early in 1915 so that he could go as a chaplain to soldiers in the First World War. You'll find his name on the Tremeirchion war memorial, tragically dying of shrapnel wounds just two weeks before armistice day. 100 years ago this month.

From the 1970's onwards the work of St Beuno's radically changed when it was opened up for non-Jesuits to make retreats and the full spiritual Exercises and train people in Ignatian spirituality. We can easily forget what pioneering work this was and is. Countless thousands from many traditions have stayed under its roof and taken the Gospel and the Ignatian tradition to innumerable others all over the world. It's an illustration of that passage from Corinthians when Paul says, 'We are co-workers in God's service. By the grace of God given me, I laid a foundation...and someone else is building on it.' One hundred and seventy years ago it would have been impossible to imagine how that would be lived out today.

The walls of this house have been soaked in prayer down through the decades and all those today who come on retreat here or support us in prayer are adding to that heritage. Prayer has become part of the bricks and mortar and plaster of the place. We might say it's stitched into the DNA of the building.

This November, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, may you have a sense of that vast multitude of people, living and dead who have been here before us and that we are mysteriously connected with. Some connections are more mysterious still. Some of you might be familiar with the brown paper  bags that are offered with packed lunches here on the last day of a retreat. Some people consider them a souvenir of the house and re-use them. I know for a fact that two Australians met in the outback, one of whom had a brown paper bag with her. The other person asked, 'Have you been to St. Beuno's? to which the other shrieked 'Yes!'

'On this house your blessing Lord, on this house your grace bestow. On this house your calling, Lord. May it come each day anew. Filling us with nobler yearnings, Lord, calling us to live in You. On this house your calling, Lord, may it come each day anew.'