Growing concerns as Catholic college plans closure of separate Theology department

St Mary's, Twickenham

St Mary's, Twickenham

The university college which was chosen by the Vatican for the visit of Pope Benedict in 2010, is to lose its distinctive Theology Department if a proposed merger goes ahead.

Students and staff at St Mary's University College are voicing their grave concerns over proposals to merge the School of Theology, Philosophy and History (TPH) with the School of Communication, Culture and Creative Arts (CCCA) into a new school of Arts and Humanities. The decision was made with no consultation with students, and has met with overwhelming opposition from faculty members from both schools, but is set to be implemented this coming academic year.

In a bizarre turn of events, on Monday evening, in the middle of a Christology lecture, Professor Towey, head of Theology, Philosophy and History was physically removed from his classroom by college security men and escorted off the premises. The popular professor was told he was being suspended for writing an email dated 31st August - saying that he 'didn't know what would be happening over the next few weeks'. He clearly didn't!

It seems that some details of Professor Towey have been deleted from the college website and his e-mail address has been discontinued. The Principal, Dr Philip Esler was unavailable for comment.

St Mary's Theology Department has achieved a fine reputation in recent years. Its website proclaims: "St Mary’s recently played host to His Holiness; Pope Benedict XVI, as the university website states ‘St Mary’s was specially selected by the Vatican for its first-rate facilities and location, and for the outstanding contribution the University College has made to Catholic education during its 160 year history.’"

But as students say in a statement: "Even with this amazing event still in very recent history, the Catholic ethos of St Mary’s is becoming less and less important.... It seems devastating that a Centre for Catholic Studies will shortly be without a distinctive Faculty to support it."

They point out: "Grouping theological and religious studies into a school with nine other ‘art and humanity’ programs is most often seen in secular institutions. St. Mary’s proudly boasts of being ‘where the Church comes to learn’, and therefore, the division between theology and other subjects is far from accidental and should remain as such."

In his document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 'Catholic Universities', Blessed Pope John Paul II said: "Theology plays a particularly important role in the search for a synthesis of knowledge as well as in the dialogue between faith and reason. It serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and society but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies. In turn, interaction with these other disciplines and their discoveries enriches theology, offering it a better understanding of the world today, and making theological research more relevant to current needs.

"Because of its specific importance among the academic disciplines, every Catholic University should have a faculty, or at least a chair, of theology," Pope John Paul II said.

We were unable to get a comment from the college administration.

Note. On Thursday, a meeting of the Board of Governors is due to take place at St Mary's. Students and former students will be holding a vigil At 4pm and have asked ICN readers to pray for the college.