Chaplaincy celebrates landmark anniversary
The Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen's University Belfast has paid tribute to its distinguished past while looking forward to the future and continuing to help students contribute to the common good
THE Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen's University has marked the 50th anniversary of its landmark Elmwood Avenue site with a promise to "honour past achievements and envision the future with confidence".
Fr Dominic McGrattan, the current chaplain, said a Golden Jubilee Gala held this month had been an opportunity to "celebrate this important milestone in our distinguished record of service to the university".
The support of generous benefactors had enabled the Chaplaincy to engage "the best of creative talent across these islands" for the anniversary event held in the Great Hall at Queen's.
Guests included the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, and the University's Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer.
All gathered were treated to a rich programme of art, poetry and music, much of which was performed by current students and alumni. The evening was hosted by UTV's Sarah Clarke and BBC's Jim Fitzpatrick.
Professor Michael Longley, perhaps Ireland's best living poet, recited a specially commissioned poem, Canticle, and world-renowned artist and newly-appointed Chancellor of Ulster University, Dr Colin Davidson, unveiled a commemorative painting.
Davidson is best known for his portraits of noted figures but each year, he paints a cityscape of his native Belfast. The Chaplaincy commissioned his cityscape for 2022, which takes in the University Quarter and pans over Belfast as far as Cave Hill.
Davidson's painting, together with a copy of Canticle handwritten by Longley, and a companion illustration by the poet's daughter, Sarah Longley, will be displayed in a newly refurbished Chaplaincy, plans for which are well advanced.
Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed music and song provided by the University's Chamber Choir, under the direction of Donal McCrisken. The Chaplaincy's choir also gave beautiful renditions of some well-known and much-loved pieces, with solo performances by acclaimed soprano Marcella Walsh and cellist Niall Leonard, both Queen's alumni.
The highlight of the musical programme was the world premiere of Sir James MacMillan's With My Heart I Worship. The renowned Scottish composer set to music the ancient Eucharistic hymn, Adoro te Devote, written by Thomas Aquinas, excerpts of which feature in the University Chapel's artwork.
MacMillan used an English translation of the Latin text by celebrated medievalist and Queen's alumna, Helen Waddell.
The specially commissioned work for choir and organ was performed by the Chamber Choir, in the presence of the composer, and received a standing ovation. All present agreed with MacMillan that the evening demonstrated "the power of the arts to communicate the Divine".
Fr Dominic McGrattan said that there had been a Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen's for more than a century, growing over the years "to become a vibrant, Christ-centred community of faith and friendship serving Northern Ireland's oldest university, and one of the island's most respected".
The chaplaincy community had supported generations of young people to explore the wider world, and consider how they will contribute to it and shape its values and character, he said.
Chaplaincy Director, Shannon Campbell, said that "going to university is an exciting and transformative time when students experience new possibilities".
"It is a time of growth and self-discovery," she said.
"And yet it is not without challenge. Transition from school to third level can give rise to unexpected anxieties and vulnerabilities."
It is in that context, she says, that the Chaplaincy seeks to provide young people "with a safe space and nurturing presence where they feel welcome, listened-to, valued and supported".
Fr McGrattan added: "Through the celebration of the sacraments, and moments of prayer, reflection and togetherness, students are reassured that life does make sense, that there is a God who loves them, and that in the end, all will be well."
The Chaplaincy's faith and pastoral supports are delivered in partnership with chaplaincy neighbours on Elmwood Avenue, and colleagues across University Directorates, and generously supported by the Diocese of Down and Connor.
In his address, Fr McGrattan observed that "society has experienced profound change in recent years".
"As we emerge from restrictions we must learn lessons from our pandemic experience and navigate the challenges, sadly, of a more troubled world," he said.
"As we do, I hope we will come to a renewed appreciation that motives of self-interest are not sufficient, nor can market forces sustain us," he said.
"Something of the gratuity, the self-gift, the self-sacrifice that lies at the heart of Christian life, and our common humanity, is essential if we are to build a peaceful and prosperous world for succeeding generations."
That is why Chaplaincy considers it "a vital part of its mission to form today's students to become tomorrow's much-needed agents of change", he said.
"We provide them with opportunities for informed and intelligent reflection on issues of human dignity, social justice and care for the environment," said Fr McGrattan.
"We support them to become whole-hearted contributors to public service and the common good."
This important dimension of the Chaplaincy's work and mission was highlighted with the award of two student prizes. The Macaulay Prize commemorates esteemed former Chaplain, Monsignor Ambrose Macaualy, the first to serve in the present Chaplaincy.
A distinguished academic, author and much-loved pastor, Monsignor Macaulay is fondly remembered by generations of students for his warm hospitality, good humour and wise counsel.
The Macaulay Prize this year acknowledged and celebrated Anna Murray and Mark McDonnell, who in various ways contributed to the extracurricular life of the University and the furtherance of Chaplaincy's mission "to foster community, engage in outreach and promote action and global concern".
Meanwhile the Ryan Prize commemorates distinguished academic and churchman, Monsignor Arthur Ryan. A widely published author and celebrated orator, he contributed regularly to public discourse, harnessing the resources of the Catholic-Christian traditions of philosophy, theology and ethics to address issues of faith, life and contemporary realities.
According to Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer, "Ryan understood the importance of an academic culture which encourages students to think beyond the confines of their own discipline to explore matters of ethics and faith, and deepen their ability to debate and disagree on the fundamental questions of life and the nature of society."
At the time of his death in 1982, Monsignor Ryan was the senior Pro-Chancellor of the University, which had conferred on him an honorary Doctorate in 1958.
The Ryan Prize acknowledges and celebrates "a student's excellence in their particular field of study, and their contribution to the intellectual discourse and cultural life of the academy" and was this year awarded to Bláthnaid French and Gerard Scullion.
According to Fr McGrattan, "both students have, in the best traditions of the University and its Chaplaincy, shared their gifts and talents generously for the betterment of people's lives". The Vice Chancellor presenting commented that they have been "outstanding ambassadors for Queen's fostering a culture of encounter, dialogue and transformation in their various academic and extracurricular pursuits."
At the event, Bishop Treanor announced that the Chaplaincy, in partnership with Down and Connor Diocese, is working to safeguard its important work with students, well into the future, progressing ambitious plans to develop the Chaplaincy building and ministry "in new and exciting ways".
Fr McGrattan concluded a memorable evening with heartfelt thanks to those who made the event possible and he invited all gathered to "look forward, with confidence, to a bright future for the Chaplaincy and the University it serves".