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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Somerset

Catholic Social Guild Summer School, 1927

During the month of September the Archives closes to visitors and does not deal with remote enquiries (unless it is an urgent matter). This is to allow the whole archive team to concentrate fully on the essential task of cataloguing. The collection that I am privileged to be cataloguing at present is that of Plater College.

Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical

Rerum Novarum or ‘Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour’ in May 1891. It was an open letter addressing the conditions of the working classes and was supplemented by later encyclicals, particularly Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno in 1931. As a result of this papal leadership there was a flowering of Catholic interest in social questions in the early 20th century.

The Catholic Social Guild (CSG) was founded in September 1909 in Manchester by several priests and laity. The purposes of the Guild were stated as: ‘To promote the study of Social Questions in the light of the teaching of the Catholic Church; to spread the knowledge of principles and of practical conclusions; to prepare all who will to take a more active part in the social apostolate.’ Membership was open to all Catholics and associated membership was offered to non-Catholics.

In memory of Fr Charles Plater SJ’s vision, one of the founding members of CSG, a Catholic Workers College (later renamed Plater College) was set up in October 1921. For over 80 years, until its closure in 2005, the College offered further educational opportunities – with an emphasis on Catholic social teaching – to adult students from across the UK and overseas who were in the working world or who had seen their studies interrupted.

The Plater College archive collection was deposited with us in 2012 and although I began some preliminary sorting in 2014, I have not had the opportunity to catalogue the material further until now.

Whilst looking for inspiration for a blog post I was delighted to see a number of articles on the Catholic Social Guild had been included in the Blandyke Papers. We have written several blogposts on this wonderfully rich resource in the archives. One of two articles on the CSG which appeared in the October 1927 issue of Blandyke Papers (no. 280) particularly caught my attention. This was an account of Peter Blake SJ’s (1903-1981) attendance at the 8th Annual Summer School in 1927. I was struck by this as the summer school records are one of the collections that I have completed cataloguing. I therefore knew that we had a programme for the 1927 Summer School among the Plater College archive material. It was nice to see how different collections can complement each other.

The Catholic Social Guild ran its first 'Social Study Week' in 1920. Each year members would gather in Oxford for a week's course of lectures with a wide range of topics. The purpose was to contribute to public awareness of the riches of Catholic social teaching. When in 1967 the Catholic Social Guild ceased to function, a Summer School Committee organised themselves to preserve the summer schools which were hosted by Plater College.

A few extracts from Blake’s account of the 1927 Summer School might be of interest:

…at 11.55 am Father Watt SJ gave the first of his lectures on the state. After Miss Ley’s brilliant lecture, I thought that Father Watt would have his work cut out for him to keep up the high standard the previous lecturer had set. Most of the matter he had already done with us in Ethics in the form of printed theses. To put those in English that could be grasped by his audience was indeed not an easy task. When he finished, however, the applause and keen questioning showed that he had succeeded beyond any possible doubt. Scholastic terminology was put into English as clear and intelligent as the most elementary text book. It was a revelation to me and the questions that were asked showed that the audience had grasped the matter. I had previously heard that Father Watt was popular with Catholic Social Guild audiences - these lectures left no doubt whatever on the matter. Without any exaggeration at all I can honestly say that he surpassed himself.

Fr Lewis Watt SJ

A few words about some of the people I met might be of interest…Among the men staying at the Worker’s College there were a couple of miners, a schoolmaster, a business man, a miner’s official (a checkman) and a student from the Labour College.

I saw the great utility of Philosophy when talking with these men-for every topic was discussed - almost the very existence of God. I have changed my mind about the waste of three years discussing such absurd questions as the reality of my own existence and whether there is any real repugnance in my being at Heythrop and at Liverpool at one and the same time.

There was a most delightful set of men and as keen about the conversion of England as the Holy Pontiff Himself. Of course one had to walk warily at times, as, for example when the discussion began about the Cardinal's attitude towards the General Strike.

Of the social side of the Summer School little need be said when one knows there were twenty or thirty young men and women who must have danced away a quarter of an inch of the lecture room floor.

Fr Peter Blake SJ

Peter Blake SJ was about to turn 24 when he attended the Summer School in 1927. In reading his obituary in Letters and Notices, 84, 400-406, there are indications that the experience of the Summer School had an impact on the work he would go on to do in particular ‘the splendid record of work done in Leadership Courses, for all categories, including trade unionists, a combination of retreat and study of the Church’s social teaching.’.

It is a vast collection and there is a long way to go until a comprehensive catalogue of the entire collection is finalised. On completion of the Plater College archive catalogue, it will be made available online and visitors will be able to access the material.

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