Creative bridge between the past and present

Pope Francis meets Dr Phillip Alton
Pope Francis meets Dr Phillip Alton

An alumnus of Stonyhurst College, Dr Philip Alton, recently presented Pope Francis with the plans for an exciting new project being developed at Stonyhurst.  Philip had been attending an International Catholic Legislators Network 2017 Conference at the end of August. Giving the pope details of Theodore House and the Stonyhurst Christian Heritage Centre, Philip told him that "Stonyhurst is the world's oldest Jesuit school - 400 years old " - to which the Pope mischievously replied, with a laugh, "and were you there at the beginning?". Philip gave the pope details of the Christian Heritage Centre and Francis blessed a crucifix for Philip’s second daughter, Isabella, aged 6 months.

Theodore House, which is being developed by renovating a derelict property in the grounds of Stonyhurst College, bridges the past and present in uniquely creative ways.  It is named after a sixth-century Syrian saint, who became a reforming Archbishop of Canterbury after being forced to flee from his country after the conquest of his town at a time of religious unrest.  Phillip's father, Lord David Alton,  is the brains behind the project.  Explaining the decision to name the centre after St. Theodore he said, ‘His own story is especially poignant as today’s Syrian Christians face their own calvary of genocide, sustained persecution, and flight to unknown lands. His story reminds us of the ever-present challenge of persecution and the exodus of the Middle East’s Christians fleeing Syria and Iraq.’

The house will host a Christian Heritage Centre, enabling access to collections of 60,000 objects and 50,000 volumes of enormous Catholic importance.  Lord Alton is enthusiastic about its significance, “This is the oldest surviving museum collection in the English-speaking world. The cultural significance of the objects in the collections transcends national boundaries and is of common importance for present and future generations of many peoples and nations.”  The importance of the centre is underlined by a list of supportive patrons drawn from various fields of British political life, including the royal family.

The vision of the project also focuses on the future with the plan to host groups for meetings and conferences inspired by such a unique setting. One such meeting planned may be a module of the forthcoming Ignatian leadership programme, which will be gathering key leaders, Jesuits and lay from the UK, Ireland and the Low Countries. Lord Alton strongly recommends it as a future facility for conferences and meetings, “Guests will be able to follow in the footsteps of J.R.R.Tolkien and Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ – who were both inspired by the beautiful surroundings of Lancashire’s stunningly beautiful Ribble Valley.  Abutting Theodore House is the disused kennels which were home to the hounds that may have inspired a young student, Arthur Conan Doyle, who studied there, between 1869 and 1875, to write his Hound of the Baskervilles.”

The ambitious project will be also open to schools and parishes, with the aim of inspiring local people as well as visiting groups.  Phase three of the project has been enabled by the generous funding of the Knights of Columbus, The Leverhulme Trust, The Bowland Trust, the Liverpool Archdiocese and Kim and Ben Chan and, if more donations are received, there is space for an annexe for families with children.