A home away from home: The Manchester universities’ Catholic chaplaincy

Brendan Callaghan SJ reflects on how a thriving chaplaincy can help enable students to find a space to live out their faith at university.

The Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy is a ministry that the British Jesuits resumed in recent years at the invitation of Bishop Brain, the previous Bishop of Salford, having originated the Chaplaincy back in the early part of the 20th century. Making use of the stunning Victorian Church of the Holy Name and the adjoining (and not-so-stunning) 1960’s chaplaincy building, the chaplaincy ministry has the three university institutions on Manchester’s Oxford Road as its main area of work. The University of Manchester, the Royal Northern College of Music, and Manchester Metropolitan University have 80,000+ students between them, with a high proportion of international students. The University of Salford, three miles away and (crucially in local geography) on the other side of the River Irwell, has a separate chaplaincy provision for its 20,000 students. There is good networking among the different Manchester chaplaincies, reaching across world faiths and co-ordinated by the Lead Chaplain at the ecumenical Christian chaplaincy.

The Universities themselves are increasingly supportive of chaplaincy ministry, recognising that the counselling and other support services that they can provide do not necessarily engage with the life issues or existential questions with which many students are dealing.

The Medical School in particular, immediately adjacent to the chaplaincy, takes this very seriously, in line with its philosophy of ‘helping our students to become good people so that they can be good doctors’. At the start of the first-year programme for students on courses across the medical faculty the chaplains from the different faith communities are introduced at the inaugural lecture and are visible guests at the inaugural student dinner. The message is deliberate and clear: it is possible to be a good student in the medical faculties and a person of faith, and calling on chaplaincy resources can be entirely appropriate in what might otherwise be seen as a ‘religion-free zone’.

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