BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT "THE Chinese Communists and I have one thing in common," said the newlyappointed chaplain to the Catholic students of Liverpool University, Fr. Torn McGoldrick, M.A., to a group of students who, in 1958, came to him with a request for permission to establish the Legion of Mary there. "We are both afraid of the Legion!"
Now recently retired from chaplaincy duties. Fr. McGoldrick says that the incident and its sequel changed his whole approach to his relationships with students. "They made it work extremely well, despite my fears. It was the first and last time I discouraged student initiative. My function was not to be paternalistic but to be around when I was wanted, to give advice."
A Liverpool man, he came to the University after 16 years teaching history at Ushaw, whence he had gone after gaining an Honours degree at Christ's College, Cambridge, following his ordination. The chaplaincy then occupied a house in nearby Bedford Street North and was completely inadequate for a student population increasing year by year as a result of the 1944 Education Act. A new, imaginatively designed building was needed if the chaplaincy was to be the means of incarnating God's word within the community of the University.
This was Fr. McGoldrick's first task, and he brought actively into the planning the students themselves so that the whole concept could become an integration of their needs and his vision. In 1965 the new building was opened. situated within the Cathedral precincts and close to the main students' union. Like that of the University and the Christian Church itself, he saw its purpose as part of a federation of interrelated communities, diversified in pattern, but aiming at an over-all unity through the pursuit of common objectives and allegiance to a common authority.
He wanted the Faith to be considered not as an academic discipline. but as a foundation for living both inside and outside the University.
Two principles have permeated Fr. McGoldrick's tenure of office—ecumenism and student responsibility. He quickly removed himself from ex-officio membership of the Catholic Society, of which he was not an executive member, to allow the members to make real decisions and to encourage them to feel real responsibility. He inspired the team approach to Christian chaplaincies, and so the Catholic chaplaincy gradually became a centre for all faiths and none. Chaplains of other denominations have a room there. Methodist and Anglican students use it as their own.
He does not see, because he knows them so closely and works with them so intimately, the stereotyped students of popular opinion, the leaders of the permissive revolution. "Students are castigated for being permissive," he says. This is wrong. The permissive society was ours. We allowed far too much to remain unchanged in the Church and in the world. The social conscience of students is encouragingly active." Ile points to the remarkable support his assistant, Fr. Bill Maxwell, has received for his Kirkby Projects, the Saturday playgroups, and the work for the gypsies and tinkers.
He sees the student of the future moving away from the protest stage, necessary as that has been in his evolution towards social responsibility and constructive action. "How wrong people are to judge students by their dress. There is so much compassion in them and they are nearer to the realities of life than many of their critics.
This type of action is one of the first effects of more enlightened teaching of religion in grammar schools. "Not so long ago there was too much emphasis upon formalism, conformity and old-fashioned apologetics, not nearly enough upon Christ. They lived under the shadow of the catechism, loyal to the Church to a degree, sometimes to the point of embarrassment. When we have the opportunity to expound to the agnostic something of the mystery of God, in its height and in its depth, we occasionally find that we are giving to the Catholic who is listening in, some inkling of what it is all about, perhaps for the first time in his life."
Fr. McGoldrick's policy of not allowing the chaplaincy to be considered as part of the establishment. paid off when, in the famous Senate House dispute over the investment of University funds in South Africa, he was acceptable to both sides as a mediator. He was very pleased recently to be asked by an anarchist to appear for him in court as a friend.
He has great confidence in the student, both of the present and of the future. his was reinforced last week after he had seen the controversial sex education film, "Growing Up," as a guest of the Students' Union. "They immediately saw its faults and through its phoney philosophy. It says much for their education and maturity that they summed it up so accurately."
He firmly believes that students must question: To question is not to deny but often to prove. The doubtful must never be allowed to feel that they are on the outside and that all the Church has to offer is blind and unconditional surrender. Religion has been too solemn and religious people too miserable. he says.
Young priests. as well as laymen, must have responsibility early, he believes, and so is retiring at his own request— but only from the chaplaincy. If he is appointed to parish duties one of the first things he will set out to do will be to establish a parish council with real responsibility. He was recently elected by his fellow priests to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council which, he hopes, will give its lay members such real responsibility in decision making. He would like to see laymen as diocesan trustees.
The real achievement of Catholic chaplaincies at Universities and centres of tertiary education, he thinks, must be set against their failures with Catholic students who come up to Universities sometimes with the intention of never going near them. These are the students to whom a University can be a source of danger. "They are refugees from what might have been one of the great formative influences in their lives, and normally remain immature Catholics, Fr. McGoldrick told the conference of Catholic chaplains when he was their chairman.
Most lapses from the faith occur, he believes, among this group, but these almost failures do not reduce the effectiveness of chaplaincies. which are slowly helping to build up a class of educated Catholics in this country, who may well have a decisive influence, humanly speaking, on the whole future of the Church. Fr. McGoldrick will certainly have played his part.