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Dom Antony Sutch OSB gave Senior School Lecture

The Rev Dom Antony Sutch OSB visited St James this week to give the Senior School Lecture. Dom Antony was formerly Headmaster of Downside Abbey School near Bath. He often presents Thought for the Day on Radio 4 and is invited to speak on educational and religious matters.

‘OSB’ stands for Order of Saint Benedict, hence Dom Antony is described as a Benedictine. The title ‘Dom’ stands for Dominus (I shall leave Latin scholars to translate that for you!) and of course you will recognise it from Dom Perignon, also a Benedictine.

The history of Dom Antony’s school is fascinating. “The Benedictine community of St Gregory the Great was founded at Douai, France, in 1606 by a group of English and Welsh monks who were in exile because of the penal laws in England against Catholics. The community received the protection of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain and Portugal, the joint ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, and they were furnished with buildings by Philip de Caverel, Abbot of St Vedast’s in Arras. By 1617 English Catholics were sending their boys across the Channel to be educated there. The School has been in existence since that time, with the monks engaged not only in teaching but also in scholarly work, writing and lecturing, and in priestly and pastoral work.

In the 17th century, the death penalty was inflicted on Catholic priests found in England. Many members of St Gregory’s nonetheless came to England to exercise their priestly duties, and six of them have been recognised as martyrs by the Church. Two of these, St John Roberts and St Ambrose Barlow, were canonized as saints in 1970. Another martyr who has yet to be canonized is Blessed PhilipPowell, who was put to death in 1646. In 1681, St Oliver Plunkett, the Irish Archbishop of Armagh, was executed in London. Before his execution he was helped by an English Benedictine, Dom Maurus Corker, who later took care of his body. His relics are now housed in the principal shrine in Downside Abbey. St Oliver was canonized in 1975.

By the beginning of the 18th century the School was held in such high esteem in England that Queen Anne ordered the Duke of Marlborough to spare it when he stormed Douai in 1710. In the 1790s, however, French revolutionaries plundered the Abbey and School, but the monks and boys were allowed to escape to England in February 1795. After nineteen years at Acton Burnell in Shropshire, in the house of Sir Edward Smythe, a former pupil, the Abbey and School moved to Downside and the present buildings were begun. The School has therefore been on its present site since 1814; the cedar tree near the main entrance was planted in that year. Downside became a fully co-educational school, admitting boys and girls in all years, in 2005.” (Taken from the Downside School website)

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