TWENTY-SEVEN out of 37 Catholic Public Schoolboys arrived at Cambridge University already lapsed, according to Fr. Christopher Jenkins OSB in the course of his annual report of the University Catholic Chaplaincy.
This figure, he says, makes a nonsence of the Catholic Public School claim to be forming Christian gentleman, who will be the future leaders of lay Catholic opinion and action in our land.
A copy of the full report, for the year ending September 30, 1983, which is confidential, has been sent to Cardinal Hume, who is said to have been distressed at its findings.
Of last October's 265 Catholic freshmen, 37 were from 15 major Catholic Public Schools (Stonyhurst 16, Ampleforth 7, St. George's Weybridge 6, Belmont 2, Douai 2, Downside 2, Ealing 2, Wimbledon 2, Worth 2, Oratory 1, and St. Edmund's Wore 1. (Austin Friars, Mount St. Mary's,Prior Park and Ratcliffe had no entries that particular October).
Of those 37 only five out of the 10 Stonyhurst boys were at Mass on Census Sunday, none of the seven Ampleforth boys, none of the six St. George's Weybridge boys, and just three of the other 14 (one from Douai, one from St. Edmund's Ware, and one from Wimbledon). Of the 29 absentees, two were present at Mass this Census Sunday (1983), indicating that their absence in 1982 may have been a fortuitous exception.
"It was not," Fr Jenkins goes on to say, "the agnostic humanism or the sexual permissiveness of Cambridge which caused their faiths to crumble. Least of all was it the trendy mateyness or the stifling formalism of Fisher House which alienated them — because they never entered Fisher House. No, they arrived lapsed."
As a Benedictine (and a former Deputy Headmaster and Housemaster) he goes on to say "I feel it particulatly keenly that only one old boy from the entire Ampleforth, Belmont, Douai, Downside, Ealing and Worth contingent of 17 arrived at Cambridge practising. At least the Jesuits score six out of 12."
Describing the lapsed Catholic Public School boys he says he is "pleasant, polite and friendly. The lapsed public schoolboy is adapt at evading with effortless charm all conversation about his religious state. He has presumably had years of practice in fending off probing housemasters and divinity masters at his public school. Very good company, immensely, likeable, and totally impervious to the Gospel — such are the most intelligent products of our 'best' schools."
"It may be felt," he adds, "that I have dwelt too long on the spiritual," state of forty
privileged young men. What about the other 227 freshmen, from Sixth Form Colleges and Comprehensives — the vast majority — whose Catholic commitment is on average more evident? But I wanted to dispose of a myth, the myth that Fisher House is some enclave of besuited young aristocrats who drink dry sherry and flock to Benediction. That is, I'm afraid, a myth — though like all myths, is has its beauty."
It can be said that this statistical survey refers only to Catholic Public School boys at Cambridge, does not mention girls at all, and that these findings bear no relation to boys or girls at Oxford or any other University. But these shock figures for Cambridge bring into question the religious training, or apparent lack of it, in our leading Catholic schools, whose headmasters are largely Benedictines or Jesuits.
It also calls into question the whole worth of University Chaplaincies, with their high cost in the time of specialist priests, and comparatively costly facilities.
In defence of Catholic Public Schoolboys attending the University of Cambridge, some headmasters have suggested that their former students may be attending Mass on Sundays at
religious houses or parish churches elsewhere. Not so, says the report, because Cambridge has only one parish church, and one religious house, that of the Dominicans, and both were checked for the survey for attendance by freshmen.
The stress of the extract from the confident report is on our Public Schoolboys, there is no mention of girls, and girls invariably keep the faith more then boys.
The published portion of the report comes as no shock when the home life of many of the more wealthy Catholic families is taken into account. Some come from broken homes where parents are divorced, separated or re-married. A few are in the jet set of the world of silver spoon cocaine sniffers, and habitual or experimental users of other kinds of hard drugs.
The question is, arising from this report, what can a religious order of monks or priests or nuns hope to achieve in the prayer life of their students when they can only hope to guide and influence them during term time?
There was a time when the Saintly John Henry Cardinal Newman with his ideal of a University, defined a gentleman as "one who never knowingly inflicts pain."
In a recent issue of a highly glossy international monthly magazine for women, which men read, there was an article on the leading Public Schools of Britain in which a well known Catholic school topped the list. In the same article, one of its aristocratic old boys was quoted as saying, "A gentleman is known by the quality of his drugs."
There is an old American
saying, among proper Bostonians, to the effect that you can send a girl to Vassar, but you can't make her think. There must be a similar phrase which would cover the sending of Catholic boys and girls to Catholic Public Schools in the hope that they wjll retain their Faith.
The odds are that the products of sixth form colleges, grammar schools and comprehensives, whether specifically Catholic or not, may turn out Catholics with a greater commitment then those who attend costly Catholic Public Schools.