SJR was honoured to welcome former Chaplain, Vincent Nichols, who is now the Leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, back to the College. Vincent Nichols was SJR’s first Chaplain when it opened in 1972 as the first Catholic Sixth Form College in the country. Having served as Chaplain until 1977 he went on to take many leading roles, such as Chair of the Bishops’ Conference for Catholic Education, Archbishop of Birmingham and, in 2009, Archbishop of Westminster. In February 2014 he was created Cardinal by Pope Francis and returned to Liverpool to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral on Sunday 16 March. In his homily he remembered fondly his time in Liverpool and in Wigan and his link with SJR was recognised and demonstrated by students of the College reading bidding prayers during the Mass.
The following day, on Monday 17 March, he visited his former place of work and recalled many fond memories of his time at SJR. Much of his visit was captured by a BBC film crew who filmed footage for ‘Songs of Praise’, including an on camera discussion with Sally Magnusson, for a programme which is due to be broadcast on Sunday 6 April. Archive photographs prompted him to share reminiscences and anecdotes with staff and students and there were also opportunities for him to meet the Chair of Governors, John Lumb, a former teacher at SJR, and the Director of Schools for the Archdiocese of Liverpool, Tim Warren, a former pupil of SJR who studied at the college at the time that the Cardinal was Chaplain. Former student, Catherine Sellier said, “I was a student when he was known to us all as Father Vin. Seeing pictures of his visit brings back such memories. He was an amazing Chaplain who got us involved in so much on a humanitarian level”.
The Cardinal’s rapport and engagement with young people was evident from the moment he arrived, bringing out the best in others and making time for individuals. A group of A Level Religious Studies students had the unique opportunity to ask him some searching questions which His Eminence answered in great depth, and with sincerity and passion. Principal, Peter McGhee, who observed this session, commented “It was a privilege to listen to and observe his discussion with our students. It was truly uplifting and I only wish that this could have been witnessed and experienced by all of our community.”
The Cardinal’s previous visit was in June 2006 when he opened the building which now stands proudly as the College’s main building at the front of the campus and which houses a beautiful Chapel, a Learning Resource Centre and many specialist teaching rooms. During this latest visit, the Cardinal was shown the College’s newest building, which is an extension and refurbishment of the former ‘prep’ but which now accommodates Music, Dance and Performing Arts and is inspiring students to share their talents and excel in their chosen field. A group of singers and musicians demonstrated this by performing a hymn composed by James Gresty, Divisional Leader, called ‘Roots and Wings’, which was written for the College’s recent 40th Anniversary celebrations and captures the mission of the College to provide young people with ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’. Following this moving performance, students presented the Cardinal with a glass plaque to commemorate his visit.
Even after all of these magical moments, the best was yet to come as the Cardinal asked, unexpectedly, whether he would be able to say Mass in the Chapel on the feast of St Patrick. At the end of the Mass the Cardinal commented on how special, for different reasons, the Masses at the Cathedral on Sunday and in the College Chapel on Monday had been to him and he blessed the College for all of its work in educating young people from the local communities. Peter McGhee summarised what many were thinking when he said “This is a day that will last long in the memory of those staff and students who were fortunate enough to experience it personally. St John Rigby College has truly been blessed by a unique visit from such a personable and inspiring leader.”