Blessings for us all from Buckfast

270 miles and 41/2 hours ago I was in Buckfast Abbey in Devon. I was deeply honoured to have been invited to the Foundation Celebrations for The School of the Annunciation by Dr. Caroline Farey, Director of Studies at the School, which was merely an idea just twelve months ago. It is difficult to look at the events of the last twelve months and not see the hand of God at work. After the disappointment and pain of the fracture at Maryvale, Petroc and Caroline had no idea what they were going to do. Today, I witnessed the birth of a new, exciting venture, designed to provide a higher education institution which will present an enormous variety of high quality courses that will help people deepen their faith and partake in the work of the New Evangelisation.

Rather than some clandestine, divisive venture, The School of the Annunciation is a living, working, embodiment of the tri-fold sources of Revelation: Scripture, Tradition, and The Magisterium. Enfolded within the rich Benedictine monastic tradition which has belonged to Buckfast for over a thousand years, The School of the Annunciation is able to express the beauty and dynamism of a liturgy which re-presents for us Salvation History. It is a truly beautiful, modern facility, with all the comforts of Benedictine hospitality and I personally experienced a very warm welcome from Rt. Rev. Abbot David Charlesworth, who assures me he reads my blog (I am honoured Father Abbot!). The Benedictine dimension allows the new venture to integrate the work of the school into the great prayer of the Church, the ebb and flow of the monastic day as expressed in the Divine Office. It also means that Mass is a truly heavenly experience, in surroundings which immediately raise one's mind heavenward, and music which sets your spine tingling. Apparently this has already had a great affect on the 100+ students that have attended courses and it is clear that Monastic Tradition—beautiful liturgy, music, etc is at the heart of the School experience. This will no doubt be a great strength in the future as more and more of us fall in love with Buckfast & the Benedictines.

It is also backed by the members of our episcopacy so many of us hold in such high regard: Bishop Mark Davies, Bishop Philip Egan, the relatively recently appointed bishop of Plymouth, Rt. Rev. Mark O'Toole, who was also present today and Mgr Keith Newton, showing how the Ordinariate know a worthwhile venture when they see one and are happy to support it. In fact I keep bumping into Mgr Keith in lots of different (orthodox) places, which I think is brilliant.

Gathered dignitaries of great note!
It was wonderful to spend a few hours with so many people who all agree about so much stuff, i.e. the teaching of the Church. I stayed in a wonderful B&B; Kilbury Manor, and quickly discovered Alistair, another guest, was also going to the celebrations. We couldn't stop chatting and I bet all the other guests at breakfast wondered what we were going on about; Dominus Iesus this and Summorum Pontificum that!

Everyone present at Buckfast loves Christ, loves His Church, and has a passion and desire to see this spread, confident in the indisputable fact that this truth is effusive and fecund. I bumped into Bob & Wanda Morrison from Hemel Hempsted who have a son due to be ordained later this year. I know them as they are related to a great friend of mine from here who is Wanda's brother and a teacher. Fr. Francis Coveney Parish Priest at St. Ann Line in South Woodford in my own Diocese who is a friend and the priest who facilitated my entrance into the Brentwood Youth Service about 30 years ago. Lots of Maryvale friends were there, including Margaret Wickware who is the President of the Guild of Our Lady & St. Joseph which supports the work and mission of the School of the Annunciation. Margaret is a really inspirational and active Catholic who is always incredibly generous with her time and friendship, I feel very lucky to know her. Of course, my great friend and Maryvale buddy Marie-Claire Kaminski was also present and it was wonderful as always to spend some time with her. I really owe a great deal to her perseverance with this project, she has been encouraging me from the beginning to really get behind it, but I was slow to listen to reason. She never gave up though and I must thank her for her patience with me. The two of us were liked excited children, especially when Cardinal Pell came and gave us Holy Communion!!

Actually, that wasn't the best of it, on Sunday night, after Compline, we all went for a drink and a chat, and Cardinal Pell came and sat down at my table and had a beer with me! It was very surreal, and he was very normal, and very nice. We talked about his work in the Vatican, if he missed home, Pope Francis, and curial reforms as well as the legacy of the previous two popes. As you would expect, he was very clear and calm. He said Pope Francis was "quite something", a true son of the Church and that there was nothing to worry about. I do feel a lot better about things having spoken to him. Similarly, Monsignor Graham Bell, Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, reassured me when he stated in the Q&A session today that Church teaching does not change, what constantly needs to change is the way we communicate it. Phew, all this we know, but how good is it to hear people from the Vatican saying this stuff in unequivocal fashion after all the rumour mongering and gossip that's been going about?

Q&A Panel, from left to right: Margaret Wickware, Dr. Andrew Beards, Cardinal Pell, Dr. Petroc Willey.
In the Q&A session, Caroline explained why the name had been chosen. She told us how through study of the Catechism, the faculty had reflected on the frequency of the appearances of the passages about the Annunciation. Indeed, the event of the Annunciation is considered a model for all catechesis. In reflecting on this, the question was pondered; how can we follow the Angel Gabriel in revealing the authentic Magesterium of the Church? This must be grounded in the way the Angel greets Mary. He sees her "full of grace…", he sees her as God sees her, with the eyes of God, completely loved and wanted by God. So fundamentally, we must try to see each person with God's love and human dignity; created by and for God and utterly unique in their individuality. It was then pondered how people could be helped to deepen their faith through questioning as Our Lady questioned Gabriel, in order to deepen their faith. Mary then asks 'How can this be?' and it was thought that a beautiful presentation of authentic Catholic truth will inspire people to live their lives that way, with grace and exposure to the truths and beauty of the faith. I have experienced this from these people, I know that they do this—they teach the Magisterial faith in a way that reveals its true beauty and power. By way of example, Caroline explained how a lady, not a believer, had been exposed to the liturgy of the Mass through singing in a choir. She then experienced a great tragedy in her life and articulated her grief by explaining to her friends in the choir "If only the beautiful things we sing about were true." This served as a preparation for her to be taken to the priest, who explained that the beautiful things she had heard in the liturgy were indeed true. If the truth can be explained so that it can be understood, then it will be believed.

Cardinal Pell provided an excellent example of just this principle. He spoke clearly and firmly both in his homily and in the Q&A session. He explained how we are in the minority and under pressure from a culture which advocates drug use, condones a proliferation of pornography, and the use of the contraceptive pill. We need to be clear about what we believe and be prepared to take the intellectual battle to society or we risk losing our social capital all together. With regard to internal pressures the Cardinal was equally clear— don't worry about that. Those who disagree with orthodoxy, bless them. Cardinal Pell suggested that in this too we can learn from the Benedictines who were not great disputants, but rather great builders. So let us build and leave the disputation to others. He acknowledged the birthing pains that have been experienced, but quoted Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, in that we might consider it as a fruit bush which, treated with violence, will blossom all the more fruitfully for the pruning.

Cardinal Pell delivers his homily in the Abbey Church
I have to say I felt full of the Spirit and joy of Christ. I can't remember feeling so excited about a venture in the Church for some time. The School of the Annunciation shows enormous promise. The members of staff have shown great courage and fortitude in the work they have done setting it up thus far, now it is up to us to support and promote them, so sign up for the Guild of Our Lady and St. Joseph (you can download an enrolment form here), donate, or enrol for a course. Let's all get behind this great initiative and play our part in the New Evangelisation!

The Beautiful Abbey Church earlier today.
To get you in the mood, here is a poorly shot little video of the recessional today.

School of the Annunciation Prayer
written by Rt. Rev. Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury Diocese
Mary, Mother of the New Evangelisation, as you prayed continuously with the Church at the beginning (Acts 1:14) be united with us now in prayer. Help us to return to the school of Nazareth and to echo your words in the hour of the Annunciation: "let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38).
Help us to rejoice in the wonder of the Incarnation and with you to treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts (Luke 2:19). Obtain for us the courage to take our stand with you beside the Cross of your Son (John 19:25) in the hour of Redemption.
Guide us as we set out along all the ways of the earth to bring to our brothers and sisters the light of faith, hope and charity (Luke 1:39). All to the praise and adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit both now and forever. Amen.


  1. Thank you so much for this report. Those of us in Bethlehem Community of Benedictine Oblates (Bathgate, North Dakota, Oblates of Mt. Angel Abbey, Oregon) have been praying earnestly for a great start for this endeavor and we are looking forward to years of blessings that will come from the School of the Annunciation and their adherence to the teachings of the Church and fidelity to the Magisterium. Thanks again.


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