In 1850 at the foundation of St Mary’s by the Catholic Poor Schools association, the priorities of the College were set – the training and formation of students in the skills of teaching and the communication of the faith.
Translated into modern jargon, we can re-write this as ‘pedagogy and theological literacy’ but while by 2010 St Mary’s had developed other academic strings to its bow in such diverse areas as sports, management and the arts, these original core concerns were vividly recognized in two distinct ways.
First, when St Mary’s was chosen as the educational focus for the Papal Visit of Benedict XVI that year and second, by the foundation of the Aquinas Centre for research, training and resourcing in faith education.
Why Aquinas? By determinedly basing his reasoning on the more empirical observations of Aristotle, Thomas d’Aquino (1225-1274) sought to integrate everyday experience with reflective wisdom in the service of flourishing lives. The Aquinas Centre aims to be similarly innovative, rooted in experience, but finding new thinking for new challenges and finding new ways to speak old wisdoms.
The recent launch of the new Institute of Education at St Mary’s has given a new impetus to the work of the Centre, which, in keeping with its terms of reference, may be summarised as follows:
Work on institutional ethos and the experience of headteachers, chaplains and deacons has been published and disseminated, augmented by recently completed doctoral projects on youth ministry, faith transmission and the empiricism of John Henry Newman.
Scholars at the Centre are currently responsible for over 20 PhD and EdD students exploring a range of topics such as Diocesan policies on education in Africa, the spirituality of ‘nones’ in schools and the place of Ethics in GCSE RE.
In terms of ‘in year’ research, the Centre is currently co-ordinating an international project to build educational capacity involving post-doctoral African researchers and nearer home, working with a Farmington Trust scholar examining links between RE and faith development at Key Stage 3 and 4.
Since 2015 the Centre has co-ordinated a series of national CPD events designed to facilitate new KS4 & KS5 Religious education initiatives. These have been conducted with the especial assistance of the Catholic Education Service (Philip Robinson) the National Board of Religious Inspectors and Advisers (Peter Ward) and the London RE Hub (Andy Lewis).
Besides co-authorship of a series of GCSE textbooks to support the new specifications, a bespoke web forum has been developed to profile new resources for RE teachers and the Centre continues to promote theological literacy in ministry contexts through the well-known periodical Pastoral Review.
The Centre is in constant dialogue with legislative, cultural, ecclesial and educational partners. Several members serve on Section 48 school inspection teams (Matthew Dell, Mary Mihovilovic, John Lydon) while others are regular attendees of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education.
Prof Towey recently served on the Independent Commission on RE sponsored by the Religious Education Council while having done a presentation at the Synod on Youth in Rome, Dr North is an adviser to the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation.
As well as launching the new RE Seminar Series the Centre is also hosting both the first Annual Conference of ATCRE - the Association of Teachers of Catholic RE in February and a symposium on Teacher Recruitment in May.
In partnership with Liverpool Hope, the Centre is continuing its longitudinal research into the 2016 reforms of GCSE and A Level. The latest findings are available online.
Development of web-support for CCRS is underway which will include online links to chapter by chapter videos on the course textbook Introduction to Christian Theology authored by Prof Towey.