Friday, 30 December 2011

Keep cheerful!

Found this, in French (original was in Italian, I suppose) :

 " A nous, il n'est pas permis de vivoter ; vivre est notre devoir ! Trêve donc à toute mélancolie ! (…) Un catholique ne saurait manquer de gaîté ; la tristesse doit être bannie des cœurs catholiques".

Bienheureux Pier Giorgio Frassati

Frassati was a Catholic man of action, a fine inspiration for young Catholic men seeking to do interesting, challenging and even impossible things for the sake of Almighty God.

His life and witness are an inspiration to many schools. One of them, in the far East of France has a website at

We played them recently at Rugby (and thrashed them twice, the poor souls).

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Knock, knock ... it is the Lord!

Here is a clip which shows in beautiful sequence:

-the Recitative (quoting Apocalypse 3. v. 20), "Behold I stand at the door and knock" underlayed with wonderful pizzicato, where all the violins knock, knock, knock ...
- the joyous and serene soprano aria telling the soul to "open up" ...
- the final Amen, assenting to Jesus' coming in our hearts, seen as the crowning of our lives

all from Bach's "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" (Now come Saviour of the Gentiles).

Open thyself, my whole heart!

More Advent joy from Bach.
Ephata! Open thee, all my heart ...

Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze,
Jesus kömmt und ziehet ein.
Bin ich gleich nur Staub und Erde,
Will er mich doch nicht verschmähn,
Seine Lust an mit zu sehn,
Daß ich seine Wohnung werde.
O wie selig werd ich sein!

Open thyself, my whole heart,
May Jesus come and enter into thee!
Though I be but dust and earth,
Yet he will not disdain me.
His joy in me would be
That I be his dwelling.
O, how happy I shall be.

JS Bach, Aria from Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Come, then, saviour of the Gentiles!

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt,
Des sich wundert alle Welt;
Gott solch Geburt ihm bestellt.

Come now Saviour of the Heathen,
true son of the Virgin
that all the world may wonder
at this birth that God has prepared for it.


More Bach for Advent

Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner Kirche
Und gib ein selig neues Jahr!
Befördre deines Namens Ehre,
Erhalte die gesunde Lehre
Und segne Kanzel und Altar!
Come, Jesus, come into Thy Church
And give us a happy new year!
Foster the honour of Thy Name,
Defend sound doctrine
and bless the pulpit and Altar!

Nothing is impossible: honouring Otto von Guericke

Otto von Guericke
I remember when I was about 12 years old, my old science master Mr Hills introduced our class of 25 boys (at King Edward VI School, Southampton) to von Guericke's hemispheres. That experiment engraved the name of von Guericke forever in my mind.

Von Guericke was an amazing chap, as I have recently learnt from my colleague Dr Conlon, who has just written a book about him. I helped him publish it because I remembered fondly Mr Hills' lesson, all those years ago ... Hills invited us all to try to separate the two cast iron hemispheres, held together by nothing but a vacuum! Everyone else (or a good number, any way) had a go and failed. Then I tried, and managed to put asunder what the vacuum had so cleverly joined. "Everything is apparently possible for McDermott", Mr Hills observed with characteristic dryness.

An interesting chap, Mr WJF Hills. I suppose he may well be dead by now. If so, God rest him.

If you would like to know more about von Guericke, whose critics said "nothing is impossible" because they thought the vacuum a nonsense, then buy Dr Conlon's fascintating book (Thinking about Nothing: Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Experiments on the vacuum) on the life and work of this true renaissance man.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

First Sunday of Advent

Amen, amen
Komm, du schöne Freudenkrone,
bleib nicht lange!
Deiner wart ich mit Verlangen

Amen, amen
Come, O fair crown of joy
No longer tarry!
I fervently await Thee.

Text Philipp Nicolai
Music: JS Bach

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Difficult Choice for St Nicholas' Day ...

Chavagnes Boy Bishop. (Photo © Anthony Talbot)
At today's staff meeting we'll be electing the annual boy bishop of Chavagnes ... an ancient medieval tradition which we revived here nearly ten years ago.

To qualify, one must be a boy treble, and well-behaved ... but the lucky student gets to celebrate Pontifical Vespers and then govern the College until bedtime. Just like real bishops, it can be a risky business if one picks the wrong sort ...

It is meant to teach the pupils about the nature of authority, and it teaches the Masters (usually condemned to an evening of cleaning and washing up) something too.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Learning lessons from the monks

St Benedict: "Prefer nothing to the work
of God, ie singing his praise in church".
The recent disastrous revelations about child abuse in England's Benedictine schools (most recently at St Benedict's Abbey, Ealing) raise an important question about the nature of a religious vocation as well as being a very painful embarassment for Catholics in the UK. The Carlile report, which has recommended that the monks at Ealing should be relieved of the governance of the school altogether, drew attention to what Carlile saw as the monastic community's commitment to forgiveness and trust on the one hand and the welfare of the children on the other.

There are many issues here about governance, about procedures and about priorities. (Children, in a school, always come first). I think however, that in the long term this is going to be good news for the monks because it will probably force a return to old priorities. For the vocation of a monk is to pray, not essentially to run schools. The kind of person who can keep his head in a modern school is not necessarily the same kind who could devote his life completely to prayer. In combining schoolmastering (at a a time when that profession is rapidly evolving) and monasticism, the monks have perhaps been making a poor job of both.
There are communities in the Catholic Church which exist to run schools and hospitals or some other kind of active mission. And of course there is a whole army of faithful Catholic lay teachers, many with families. Praying is for them an important part of their day, but it does not completely define their vocation in the way it does for a monk. They need to have their feet firmly on professional ground, to be eminently practical, to be experts in their field.

The Second Vatican Council called explicitly for religious congregations to return to their traditional charisms. For the monk that means a life devoted to prayer. There ought to be consecrated religious men and women in education, but their life, spirituality and formation ought to be adapted to their professional as well as religious calling.

Communities such as Quarr and Pluscarden which have never had schools must think themselves especially blessed at this difficult time for monasticism in the UK.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

This place is holy ... and a great mystery. Chavagnes Consecration.

We just celebrated the 145th anniversary of the consecration of our College Chapel (on 24th October 1866). In our altar there are enclosed the relics of Saints Gaudentius and Columbinus. Gaudentius was Bishop of Brescia, Italy from 387 to around 410 AD. He was a good friend of St John Chrysostom, was consecrated by St Ambrose, and was known as a vigorous opponent of heresy. Columbinus (not Columbanus, though perhaps they are related!) was a little known Irish monk and bishop of the seventh century who was active in this part of France.

Here are our boys singing Locus iste sanctus est by Bruckner. One or two mistakes (some swooping, and yours truly a bit too loud in the basses), but quite hauntingly beautiful, I hope you'll agree.

The Return of the Young Fogey?

I remember when I was a teenager my sister gave me a delightful Christmas present, The Young Fogey Handbook. It came out at the same time as the even more successful Sloane Handbook, about 25 years ago.  The essence of the Young Fogey was that he was satorially and culturally reactionary, seeking a kind of donnish gentility frozen in the period 1930-1950. He sought to relive Brideshead Revisted, Miss Marple, and Jeeves and Wooster all at once. The Handbook made a lot of Betjeman, AN Wilson, Charles Moore etc. It was an entertaining read, but I remember feeling at the time that I would never quite cut the mustard sartorially. I owned a pair of jeans.

But it seems to me that the Fogey that began all fogies was JRR Tolkien. His disapproval of anything modern, his love of tweed and pipes, and his fondness for medieval religion make him an obvious member of the group. When shown a tape-recorder by one of his undergraduates he consented to use it, but first exorcised it by reciting a Pater Noster in old High German into it. Nearly knocked off his feet by a motorcycle on one occasion, he cursed: 'the blasted orcs'.

There was a circle of such types at Oxford in the 1950s, all living in Tolkien's shadow. One of them was CS Lewis, whom Tolkien brought back to Christianity.

In an article written in 2003 Harry Mount suggested that the Fogey was a spent force. The Young Fogey, he posited, was a kind of counter-cultural protester. Society had begun to accept as respectable many of the opinions that the YF was fighting for: feminism was beginning to run out of steam, Latin Masses became all the rage, Prince Charles won universal support against hideous modern architecture, gentlemen's clubs became popular again ... What was left for the YF to stand up against?

It's an interesting analysis. In France the same has happened to the 'Tradi', who had a strong identity in the 1980s and 90s. The young men tried to look like soliders of the foreign legion and, when not in army surplus khaki, would usually wear navy blue, making them look like 1950s boy scouts; and most of them were scouts, in fact.  They liked especially to wear the chèche, a long desert scarf adopted by the Foreign Legion. The young women were like British Sloanes, favouring cashmere sweaters and strings of pearls.

Now the tradis have become assimilated into the 'Génération Benôit XVI', wearing more or less the same clothes as everyone else, with the same hairstyles. The girls are even wearing trousers again. The political unity of the tradis (in, or on the fringes of, the Front National) has evaporated. The religious aspirations of the same group have become absorbed into the mainstream of Catholicism.

Recently Harry Mount wrote another article suggesting that YFs were back in vogue again, due to the wave of reaction engulfing us after the election of  a new government (run by public schoolboys), the Royal Wedding (between, we are led to believe, two YFs of a sort) and the moral outcry engendered by the recent riots.

Certainly the UK has had an interesting year: the Pope's visit, the Royal Wedding and then the Queen in Ireland. Lots of media attention focussing on the power of tradition as a force for healing and unity; even if before each of them happened we were told they would be disastrous in some way.

I think I would date the turn of the tide to the time when fox hunting was high on the political agenda. It was banned in the end, but somehow continues all the same, with more participants than ever. But I remember going along, with over half a million others, to tell the government where to get off in the 'Countryside March'. It was in 2002. 

London was awash with a sea of hearty tweed and green wellies, and a mix of public school and thick country accents. As we surged down down Pall Mall, tooting hunting horns, most on foot, some on horseback, some leading their cows (!), the cheers arose from the windows of many of the offices where people had come in on a Saturday to get a good view of the march and have a party. The balconies of the Naval and Military Club were full of champagne-coiffing supporters laughing and waving.  There was a counter demonstration, near St James' Palace, of less than 20 people. They looked completely destraught and I could not help feeling sorry for them. They were, as far as I could see, treated with politeness by the marchers. There was very little on the news about it all, but at the end of that day, the streets of London were full of heartiness.

I thought at the time that it was a pity that these folks had only mobilised for something as trivial as fox-hunting. Would they be prepared to do the same in defence of traditional values in general? Perhaps. Certainly, since that time it has become increasingly respectable to seek answers to modern problems in the 'old ways' ... the government's current efforts to bring back grammar schools by the back door are a case in point; even Labour seems to be giving in on that one.

Is the YF gone for good? Yes, I think he is. But a more grown-up cross between the Sloane and the YF is emerging. There are many young people now who are resolutely conservative in their ideas, intelligent, hard-working and favourable towards Christianity (despite all the bad press the Church and the churches get). The weak leadership from Christian leaders in the UK means that this general conservative feeling could go in a number of different directions. In continental Europe many politicans, and then church leaders, have more or less decided to join the conservative backlash, which has had the effect of toning it down but also making it a force to be reckoned with. In Britain this seems to be happening too, even if the Church leaders are lagging far behind. Interesting times ...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ferdi: what's in a name?

Well, in an idle moment (it's half term) I thought I'd check out some other namesakes around the globe.

First off, there's Ferdi Tayfur, a celebrated arabesque singer from Turkey (see above).  Very entertaining.

Then in 2009 Ferdi Berisa (left), a young chef from Montenegro, won 300,000 Euros in the Italian version of Big Brother.

Ferdi Serim is a prominent American educationalist.

And Chez Ferdi (32 rue Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, near the Louvre) is also the best place to get in a burger in Paris, apparently. Looks tasty, doesn't it?

Hmm; enough silliness.

Dan Brown: Angel or Demon?

Saw the film of Angels and Demons yesterday, in a moment of weakness. Trashy, perhaps, but well-made. The scenes inside the virtual Sistine Chapel and St Peter's were very convincing, even if there were some annoying minor mistakes relating to Catholic practices at various points (there always are in this kind of film).

Whilst in the Da Vinci Code Dan Brown rehashed some awful untruths about St Mary Magadelene (which are still confusing the young, one discovers in catechism classes ...) and had fun misrepresenting Opus Dei, Angels and Demons is really quite kind to the Church, does not misrepresent any Catholic doctrines, and very definitely suggests that God protects it from harm, in the most surprising ways. It also suggests that the Church is, in fact, in step with the modern world and has a key role to play in helping man understand how to proceed ethically in the progress of scientific research.

Tom Hanks plays a university professor: an apologetic agnostic perhaps based on the person of the author, eventually dressed in clerical dress, minus the plastic collar. He acts as God's Angel, sent to deliver the Church.

One disarming, but quite meaningful element in the film (I have not read the book, though I have a confiscated one in my office) is that all the scary traditionalists with harsh foreign accents, in clerical dress, or in the Swiss guard, are actually the good guys.

Now I've almost spoiled the story, so I'll say no more.

Monday, 24 October 2011

French universities at bottom of the heap ...

Mitterand receives a French honorary degree.
A French parent told me today about an article she had been reading about universities. The gist was this: American universities are rated at the top, UK ones at number 2 and French universities come in 51st in the international ranking.

Now, I wonder whether that has something to do with the stranglehold of state control on the management of Higher Education in France, even down to the political and ideological control of the content of degree programmes.

It is significant that the university that has come top in the Times annual survey of student satisfaction every year for at least the last six or seven years is the University of Buckingham, the institution with the lowest level of government interference in Britain.

Here come the French ...
Edinburgh is free of charge for French
students, but not for Englishmen!
We are pushing our older French boys here to apply to the better UK universities and the US Ivy League. Of particular interest for our continental European boys here are the Scottish universities which, because of a quirk of European legislation, are completely free of charge for continental Europeans and Scots, but up to £9,000 a year for the English! One of our French boys has applied to Cambridge this year, but might well opt for Edinburgh instead even if gets an offer from Cambridge, simply because of the potential saving due to the tuition fees issue.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Hello, my heart!

Here is a something to raise your spirits: a rendition of de Lassus' Bonjour, mon coeur, by staff, friends and alumni of Chavagnes, during a performance of Molière's Les Femmes Savantes, June 2011, at the College. Enjoy.

Bonjour, mon coeur,  Bonjour, ma douce vie, 
Bonjour, mon oeil, Bonjour, ma chère amie!
Hé! Bonjour, ma toute belle, Ma mignardise.
Bonjour, mes délices, mon amour,
Mon doux printemps, ma douce fleur nouvelle.
Mon doux plaisir, ma douce colombelle,
Mon passereau, ma gentille tourterelle!
Bonjour, ma douce rebelle.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cardinal Vaughan High School and the freedom of the Church

Apparently, according to the press, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has given into parental pressure over the appointment of a new Head for the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial High School. Some are hailing it as a victory for orthodox Catholicism and parent power.

This time the parents were probably right and the Bishop was probably wrong. And the parents won. But what happens when the Bishop is right? It looks like he will have to give in to the parents every time; which rather defeats the object of having bishops as guardians of the faith. It seems to be a case of hard cases not making good law.

Reliance on the state to protect religious faith and values is a big mistake in the long run. Perhaps this time they have got it right, but in general i would say, with the good book: "Put not your trust in princes".

Last year an orthodox Jewish school, funded by the state, was found to be acting illegally by barring a child from a Reform Jewish background from attending the school. The court accepted that only Jewish children should be allowed in the school, but saw fit to rule on the particular level of Jewishness of the boy concerned, over-ruling the theological expertise of the orthodox rabbis. One wonders who gave the English courts the power to run heresy trials. Henry VIII, I suppose.

In English Catholic schools, it seems, the level of Catholic practice or 'Catholicity' of parents is measured (by the schools) to give the families a score that determines if their children will get free places in state-funded Catholic education. Middle class parents, it is alleged, are more likely to go to Church regularly, and thereby pass the Catholicity tests. So Catholic state schools fill up with the children of such people, and become almost as posh as private schools (and therefore even more attractive to middle class families). The Oratory School in London (the choice of Mr and Mrs Tony Blair) is one such school.

Catholic dioceses and central government over the last few years have taken turns in trying to break this cycle and make Catholic schools open to all comers, especially to those whose absence from church schools so troubles the consciences of the Catholic education establishment and of certain politicians.

Wouldn't it be much simpler for the bishops to preach the Gospel more effectively to the poor families they want to get into the schools? Isn't that their job, after all? That way these folks would go to Mass more often and pass all the bureaucratic tests, thereby qualifying for Catholic school places. While they are at it, the bishops could conduct a root and branch reform of their education offices, and remove from post anyone found to be undermining the Church’s objectives. That is certainly within their theological and legal remit. The schools then could be left alone to do their jobs properly and - if that really happened - everyone would be congratulating the bishops too.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Former boy bishop makes the deadline

Frayed nerves on Saturday night, trying to make sure we met the deadline for Oxbridge UCAS applications. It creeps up every October before you know it. Only one candidate this year, a Mathematician called Paul. He has applied to Trinity College, Cambridge and some other strong Maths locations: Warwick, Imperial, Bristol and Edinburgh. He is only 15 (just had his bithday), but is applying for deferred entry for 2013, so he will be just a couple of weeks off 17 when he finally goes to university. He already has his Maths A-level with an A* and is cracking on with Further Maths this year. Clever lad ... I am very keen to see what the universities will make of him.

Here he is (above) as our boy bishop (one of our odd medieval traditions) in December 2009. We shall miss him, when he moves on: he's the best private tutor of Maths we have!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Father Rowe's blog

Don't forget to visit Father Rowe's blog. He is our new chaplain, and so far doing a splendid job at Chavagnes, even if his hats take some getting used to. Thank-you, Father. His blog is at :

Old and new

Someone showed me a depressing page of correspondence in the Tablet the other day; all about the new English translation of the Missal. Hardly anything has changed, but the changes will certainly take a few months to get used to.
It is difficult to adapt; this was a challenge for many Catholics in the 1960s and 1970s and those who expressed their pain at that time, when the changes were much greater, were not listened to. One priest suggested that the overhaul of the English text was going to drive him to breaking point. We need to listen to him, and people like him. But with changes so small, I can't see the need for any concession about the change. There is a God and a Church beyond all these texts, and obedience and love gets us through all difficulties including having to change our old habits sometimes.

Those most upset by the Benedict XVI changes are probably those who showed the least love and understanding for those still reeling from the Vatican II changes. Now they understand ...  But let's avoid the temptation to smugness ... Let's instead pray for both camps of the disgruntled, and just get on with Christian living, and praying, in obedience to the Church. What did Newman say? To live is to change ... that used to be one of the Tablet's favourite quotes.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Last minutes as a thirty-something ...

I remember that when I started Chavagnes in 2002 a newspaper described me as a young thirty-something ... In 2 minutes I'll be 40, when they say life really begins. I'll let you know.

Monday, 29 August 2011


When we elect leaders in government, too often they fear actual leadership, prefering to consult opinion polls and marketing advisors to see what they should do; how best to follow those they ought to be leading.

In schools and in religious communities leaders are sometimes, I would suggest, influenced by this model of leadership too. And it does noone any good.

Finding myself in the the role of leader in an academic, spiritual and business context, I encounter the same temptation, and the same awful dilemma as the politicians. And the odd thing is that when one does actually exercise leadership and tell people what to do, how to run their lives, how to do their job ... the result is that they are - as often as not - reassured, and that one feels oneself thrown back on the great power, authority and comfort of Almighty God.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that leaders need to flaunt their power or authority. But when leadership is called for, one needs to answer that call. A couple of weeks ago I met some interested parents who came to speak to me about their son. It was clear that he wasn't going to be a candidate for our school, but I simply felt that someone had to tell these good parents what to do, and that this was precisely why they had come to see me. So I gave them the difficult advice that I felt they needed to hear, even if that advice was hard for them to listen to.

This morning the mother rang to say that the son was not going to apply for our school, but that she thanked me from the bottom of her heart for the advice that I had given her, and which she and her husband had put into practice, with visible positive fruits in respect of their relationship with their son. She said to me that she was going to pray for me every day ... Wow.

It's not always like that. But, in fact, most of the time it is. Even mediochre leadership, it seems, is better than no leadership at all. Moral: if you are a leader, lead.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

London calling ...

The Collaborator: A ThrillerJust spent a week in London, enjoying National Gallery (Italian altarpieces - Devotion by Design exhibition) , V&A, walks in Kensington Park and Hyde Park. I went along to Vespers in the Greek Cathedral (with about 5 or 6 other people ... quite a select congregation) and heard their very meditative chanting for the first time. Didn't see Prince Philip though. Found time to read a thriller (The Collaborator) about the Naples mafia, the Comorra. That was fun, if rather bloody. Not suitable for children ... And a rather odd book by someone whose name I have seen everywhere but had never before read: Paulo Coelho. His book, The Valkyries, tells of his self-obsessed search for weird, ritual experiences and quasi-mystical thrills.

The ValkyriesCoelho is a poet and musician who began his adult life in a mental hospital; then sold his soul to Satan and ended up being tortured in a Brazilian prison ... the plot of his book is that, justa  few years ago, someone called J, a mentor in some secret magic cult to which he belongs, sends him on a quest to meet his guardian angel.

He is helped to do this by a tribe of lustily promiscuous female bikers, whose leader was instructed to quit her husband and young children by the Archangel Michael, in order to take up an interesting mix of preaching and prostitution. All of this is treated with taste and discretion as might befit a spiritual work (!) and the weirdest of all is it professes to be all true. Sad thing is, it probably is true. Left me feeling exasperated, although all sorts of luvvies found it inspiring and energizing, according to the the blurbs on the back.

The book is, apparently, his most personal and autobiographical so far (he has written lots of novels). The most impressive mystical happening in the book is his memory of being freed from demonic posession by reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Creed and asking Jesus to forgive him. He promises to give up his life for God in order to save his soul. From feeling he is about to die, in fits and spasms of  terror, he, and his girlfriend, recover their calm and feel the grace of God flow through them again. This is recounted as a memory of his distant past. Now, it seems, that kind of heartfelt prayer (which seemed to work!) has been mostly left behind, in favour or magical rites and half an hour of 'channelling' every evening.

The enduring impression it left me with was of a narcissistic lost soul, incapable of much love but loved deeply by his long-suffering wife. And the prose style was spare, not especially beautiful.  I cannot see why people think he is such a guru; but it has made him very rich, apparently, so well done Coelho. I can promse you I shan't be reading his next book.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Why the Humanities?

“We call those studies liberal, then, which are worthy of a free man: they are those through which virtue and wisdom are either practised or sought and by which the body and mind is disposed to the best things. “ Pier Paolo Vergerio,
The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth (c. 1402.)

At Chavagnes the study of the humanities is in the great tradition of liberal education. This kind of education is not simply a dry theory, nor is it restricted to those subjects now named humanities, although its principles are mostly clearly seen in our teaching of these disciplines.

Liberal education is the transmission of our great western cultural patrimony to our young. But it is more than that: its aim is to make every student his own man: free and capable of using his reason, fit to take part in the “great conversation” begun in fifth-century Athens and continuing to this day.

More at

Dumbing down of Year 12 French in French schools

National programmes for Year 12 French (la Première, as it is called in France) are currently undergoing revision. The government has asked for the course to be “centrée sur des études littéraires en phase avec le monde moderne.” We are troubled by this development, because whilst we believe that modern literature should be represented at this level, it should not form the central thrust of the course. A particular concern is that educationalists have stated that this reform is intended to make the study of French literature more attractive and relevant to modern youth. Our concern, as with other literatures, would be to transmit a love for a cultural canon worthy of study for its own sake.

We will be doing our own thing, of course. But our boys, if they are French, or good enough at French, will still be able to sit the French bac alongside their A-levels if they wish.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Good old Dr Arnold ... and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ

The person of Jesus and the truth of his resurrection are two giant megaliths that stand in the path of every atheist; megaliths so big that, though he walk around them, our atheist has only to look up from contemplating his own affairs and he will see them shining in the distance, every step of his way. Here is what Dr Arnold, the famous Head Master of Rugby, wrote on the subject:

 “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”

Dr Anold, shown here on the exterior of the old buildings of the College of Preceptors (of which I'm a Fellow, incidentally).  Dr Arnold was Head Master of Rugby from 1828 to 1842, then Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Buckingham University and Chavagnes

Mr McDermott writes:

I was recently asked a question about the University of Buckingham and the College's relationship with the School of Education of that university. For general information, here is a brief summary of our links with them:

Every year, for the last five years or so, we have been sending staff to Buckingham for teacher training. So far, five Chavagnes Masters have obtained a PGCE from Buckingham, including myself. I am currently in the final stages of a M.Ed. degree (Masters in Educational Leadership) from the same department. The structure of these courses involves periods of residence at Buckingham (with lectures and workshops), visits of university mentors to Chavagnes and finally the production of various pieces of written work which deal with theoretical and practical themes of direct relevance to our work as teachers (essays and theses from 3,000 to 15,000 words).

From the outset, I struck up a personal admiration and friendship for Professor Anthony O'Hear and Professor Chris Woodhead. Both men have been outspoken in their defence of standards in education (the latter as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, inter alia) and also in the defence of education as transmitting a definite canon of worthwhile culture to our young people. Our continuing support for Buckingham is in part a tribute to the academic work of the Department at Buckingham.

The leadership of the M. Ed. programme, and now of the Department of Education, is in the hands of Peter Ireland, a formidable former headmaster from Lancashire with a similar back-to-basics, 'no-nonsense' style to Chris Woodhead.

The Education programmes at Buckingham were developed by the University in response to demand from the Headmasters' Conference (HMC and also from COGNITA (, Chris Woodhead's own group of private schools.

Buckingham has an excellent academic standing, and we are proud to have started sending pupils there. Amongst other things, Buckingham is a champion of the idea that apart from ensuring high standards, education is really none of the government's business, except in a totalitarian state ....

Here is what wikipedia has about Buckingham's academic ranking:

General Overall Ranking
The University is ranked 21st out of the 115 universities in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012.[23]

In 2010 it was ranked 27th in Times Higher Education's "Table of Tables" 2010.[24] In 2010, The Independent, in association with its Complete University Guide 2010-11, ranked Buckingham as the 20th best university out of 115 institutions in the UK.[25] The Sunday Times University guide for 2010 included Buckingham in its league tables in 48th position out of 122 UK higher education institutes[26] stating that: "we rank the private University of Buckingham for the first time in our main league table this year. Top for student satisfaction, with the lowest level of graduate unemployment, the best student/staff ratio and the lowest drop-out rate compared to benchmark. Buckingham makes quite an entrance ..."[27] Confusingly, at that point the same publisher did not include Buckingham in its Good University Guide because Buckingham receives no state funding and therefore does not participate in the government's Research Assessment Exercise, which forms part of the Times ranking criteria (but not the Sunday Times).[28] This changed in 2012, when Buckingham was ranked 21st.
Times Higher Education reported that the University's 2008 graduates had the highest employment rate after six months.[29]

In recent years the University has consistently ranked highly in student satisfaction surveys. For example, Times Higher Education reported that Buckingham was ranked first in 2006,[30] 2007[31] and 2008[32] in the NSS or National Student Survey of student satisfaction. This is a census, albeit controversial, of final-year undergraduates conducted by IposMori, the polling organisation, to determine satisfaction levels at UK universities.[33] The survey relates to the whole student experience, from the experience of classes, and lecturer feedback, to the quality of pastoral care. In 2009, the University of Buckingham dropped to second place and in 2010 returned to first place.[34][35]

Department rankings

The most recent league tables of individual university departments in The Guardian University Guide 2012, produced by The Guardian newspaper, ranked the Business department as 15th (out of 116) in the country, English as 7th (out of 106), and Law as 27th (out of 95).[36]

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass-killer

Ja, vi elsker dette landet. "Yes, we love this land!", so goes the Nowegian national anthem. But nationalism can turn sour. Anders Behring Breivik, the young man who has just killed nearly a hundred of his countrymen, was a disturbing example of something we have associated recently with young Asian males from Bradford; but not so much with young white males from Oslo.  They all have the same problem: the feeling of alienation and a desperate need to belong to something, to fight for a cause. Of course, it seems obvious that Breivik must have serious psycholgical problems, but it is still interesting to think about what a man like this says to justify himself.

Today on Facebook a 1500 page manifesto was published giving a day by day account of Breivik's preparations for his killing spree. And on youtube, there was a film (now removed) where Breivik poses as a Knight Templar, in some kind of got-up dress uniform. I have been reading the Oslo evening papers today. It seems that Breivik was into just about everything exclusive: freemasonry, born-again evangelicalism, far-right politics, bogus knights templar ...

His 12-minute youtube film is divided into 4 sections: "The rise of Marxist multiculturalism", "Islamic colonisation", "Hope" and then "A new beginning".

We get the picture ... half-baked, deranged, murderous, no doubt. But do we have the answers the questions he was asking any more than we have answers for the deracinated Islamic youths of Europe?

There are no easy answers. This week France is tearing itself apart over whether or not it is a good idea to have public military parades on the French national day, whether soldiers who die in combat should be given public honours. Public displays of religious belief have become controversial in the USA and England as well as in anti-clerical France. Children are given easy access to abortion and contraception at school, and now (in France, in Year 12) are taught that our gender has nothing to do with our biological make-up .. It would seem that Anders Breivik and the Islamic extremists he considered his enemies  have a point about something. Western culture is in free-fall and needs a miracle to save it.

But that miracle is not coming by the sword. It is interesting that Breivik looks to the middle ages for inspiration. What the west needs is not medieval-style war, but medieval-style conversion. We need saints. And we need to start asking God to send them quickly; there is the rather unsettling, but quite possible issue that we might be the first candidates He has in mind  ... Now there's a passionate cause for young men in search of meaning. And it's harder than making bombs out of fertiliser.

We could make a start by acting on Benedict XV's message to the Norwegians today: pray for the dead, comfort the dying and stand united against hatred and violence.

I am reminded of a little song that inspired me when I was at primary school; it inspires me still:

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
For God and for valour he rode through the land.

No charger have I, and no sword by my side,
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride,
Though back into storyland giants have fled,
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
'Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;
And let me set free with the sword of my youth,
From the castle of darkness, the power of the truth.

Jan Struther

An afterthought: what are the Norwegians doing in Oslo now? Praying outside their medieval Cathedral. That's a way forward.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Getting to know our new chaplain

Father Rowe (pictured left, chatting with Mr Colin) is taking over as chaplain at Chavagnes in September. He has started up a blog which chronicles his news and views:

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Ministry meddling?

I received a letter yesterday from the local office of the French education ministry. It announced to me that from now on all new teachers at Chavagnes would need to apply for an authorisation to teach. OK, fair enough. But it went on to specify that they would not get it unless they had a Master's degree. For Sports teachers they had to have a bachelor's degree in Physical Education Science and a Master's degree.

I was worried. We have recruited a few new teachers, with UK qualified teacher status, and bachelor's degrees, but no Master's degrees. And we often have, in the past, recruited teachers straight from university and put them through their PGCE part-time. This new requirement seemed to rule this out; I rang the man from the ministry and he confirmed it.

Subsequent researches have confirmed, however, that the man from the ministry is wrong. The only qualification required of teachers in independent schools is the baccalaureat (A-levels). It appears that the over-zealous civil servants were applying to us the rules intended for private schools aided with government funding. He who pays the piper (or the teacher) calls the tune, which seems fair enough.

So, then there came a sense of relief that I would not have to spend hours of my time making the legal case for my new teachers (who are all experienced professionals) and for young recruits in the future, bringing their energy and idealism with them fresh from university. But now a sinking feeling is beginning to take hold. Once I have convinced our local men from the ministry of their mistake, they are bound to want their revenge ... I have a feeling that this is not the last we will hear from them.

Vive l'enseignement libre ...

Friday, 15 July 2011

God rest one of the last great Europeans, and let's thank God for men like him

I met Archduke Otto von Habsburg when I was 18 and he made a deep impression on me. His death should serve as wake-up call to young Europeans: we must rally to the defence of all Otto held dear.

At Chavagnes we will be asking Blessed Charles, Otto's father, to intercede for us all as we strive to play our part in reclaiming our culture for Christ.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Being philosophical

Have decided to sign up for a degree in Philosophy from the University of London. I suppose my progress from September to December will be slow, because I have to complete my M.Ed. thesis for the University of Buckingham. The theme for that is meant to be "managing change in education" ... interesting, because that is exactly what I am doing at the moment at our school.

So, I am keeping my brain busy.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

We're having a ball again

Find out more about the Chavagnes Summer Ball, Friday 1st July, 2011.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Father Bede Rowe arriving in September

I am happy to announce that Chavagnes has found a new chaplain for next school year, thanks to the kindness of Bishop Declan Lang. Bishop Lang of Clifton has agreed to release Father Bede Rowe for a year to serve as chaplain at our school.
Our current chaplain, Father Anthony Talbot, has been unwell. Pleasr remember him in your prayers.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Back on my feet

After falling off the roof on 4th January, and suffering a broken hip and wrist, I am now back on my feet at last. Thank God and all the saints it was not worse. But it was bad enough ...

We have some teaching vacancies for suitably experienced and qualified teachers for September 2011. Check out   for more details