The school that’s solving the vocations crisis

The summer term draws peacefully to its close. As far as my own involvement at school is concerned, it is already concluded. I have celebrated Mass and Benediction and spent the day hearing confessions for my last Friday of the academic year.

One of its highlights was a recent visit by the chaplain to the John Fisher School. This school was founded by Bishop Amigo in 1929, before the canonisation of its patron, hence its nomenclature. It is situated in leafy Purley within the M25.

The school is famous for the number of its alumni who have become priests or – perhaps to be more accurate – famous for continuing to produce priestly vocations long after the flow dried up elsewhere in the mid-1970s. Like the school to which I am chaplain, the Fisher School had priests on the teaching staff. We too have an honours board of old-boy priests inscribed with a name from most years until 1975, when the gaps start to get bigger and bigger. The last name was added eight years ago. By contrast, the John Fisher School has maintained its strike rate. Two years ago they added a further three names to the list.

Over a cup of tea with the headmaster we discuss this phenomenon and the factors which might explain it. The presence of priests on the staff full time has to be of great significance. The John Fisher School retained them for far longer than we did and still has the ministry of a priest-chaplain for two days a week. (I use the term priest-chaplain for the sake of clarity. In fact, it is not permitted to apply the title “chaplain” to anyone but a priest, a custom now more honoured in the breach than the observance).

The John Fisher School was also the cradle of the Faith Movement. Several of the priests involved in its genesis were on the staff, as were some of the lay staff, like the redoubtable and inspiring head of the Religious Education department, Dan Cooper, the kind of teacher who becomes a legend in his own lifetime.

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