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Catholic universities have a gift to offer the world which arises from our understanding of knowledge. We have a duty in teaching and research to ensure that the link between faith and reason is not severed.

Saint John Henry Newman, the architect of the modern understanding of a Catholic university, argued that the soul of a University can be seen in the mark it leaves on its students. A Catholic university is a learning community which endeavours to develop the whole person in accordance with God’s will. A Catholic university should help in the building of character and its students should go on to serve society whilst practising the virtues in whatever they do in later life.

Educational heritage

Established in 1850 and with a distinctive Catholic identity, St Mary’s is a Catholic University seeking to develop the whole person and empower our community to have a positive impact on the world. St Mary’s has a deep heritage in education being founded by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee to meet the need for teachers to provide an education for the growing number of poor Catholic children. Our style of teaching and our approach to learning which emphasises student engagement and participation reflects Newman’s idea of inter-disciplinary education, virtues and values, and the formation of each individual enriched by insights from the Catholic intellectual tradition. The powerful sense of community that characterises St Mary’s is a product of our ethos and the core values that underpin it.

What the Catholic Church expects from Catholic universities

H. E. Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça recently gave an address on identity, mission, dialogue and pastoral care in a Catholic university.

We have to strive for Catholic Universities to be good universities. But we must also bear in mind that this is not enough. In Pope Francis’s mind, Catholic Universities shouldn’t just deliver quality degrees and ensure the pursuit of ambitious careers for their students.

As the Pope said in his World Day of Peace message of 2021, the Church wishes our institutions of higher learning to shine as world universities that, by offering their educational services, are in a capacity to ‘pass on a system of values based on the recognition of the dignity of each person, each linguistic, ethnic and religious community and each people, as well as the fundamental rights arising from that recognition.’

In short, our hope is that our Catholic education can provide more. That it can be more deeply rooted in the Christian ethos and therefore more daring in the pursuit of truth. More culturally creative. More tuned to society: ‘more open and inclusive, capable of patient listening, constructive dialogue and better mutual understanding.’

H. E. Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça, Prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education.

Read Cardinal Jose's full address.

Our commitment

St Mary’s is committed to the mission of the Catholic Church in higher education. We have established excellence in provision across a wide range of academic areas, highly-respected research centres and courses, pastoral care provision, partnerships and public engagement. 

St Mary's University's Vision 2030 was informed by our views on the mission and the curriculum and the nature of the Catholic university. Read our Catholic mission and curriculum paper. 

Our mission and identity as a Catholic university can be seen through the following pages:

There is nothing narrow or insular in this Catholic vision of education. It is open to all truly human endeavour.” He described St Mary's  as “a most important point of contact” between British higher education and the Church, adding: “that engagement, if it is to be fruitful, requires that wonderful combination of openness and faithfulness: openness to the other, to every academic discipline, to the wide range of challenges facing our world, facing every individual today; and faithfulness to who we are and the richness of truth and beauty that the eyes of faith reveal in the soul of every person and in the created world and its unfolding.

Cardinal Nichols, Chancellor of St Mary’s University, 2016

On September 17th 2010 the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited St Mary’s University, Twickenham as part of the first Papal Visit to the UK since 1982. The Pope paid tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious orders to education in the United Kingdom.  He spoke of his "deep appreciation for all the dedicated men and women who devote themselves to teaching the young people."  The Holy Father’s words, as always, were gentle and on this occasion filled with gratitude for the work of religion especially in education.

On a separate occasion, Pope Benedict XVI said: “The Church does not have technical solutions to present but, as an expert in humanity, she offers to everyone the teaching of the sacred Scripture on the truth about man and proclaims the Gospel of Love and justice.” The Catholic Church’s understanding of the dignity and imperfections of all persons is widely shared and its implications understood and practised by all people of goodwill: it is an inclusive vision. St Mary’s is the UK’s largest and leading Catholic university, and its Catholic mission is proud to be "our point of openness to the world".