School Visit: St Francis Xavier

On Monday this week, I visited St Francis Xavier 6th Form College, on behalf of Quest, to talk about the experience of being both Catholic and gay (or lesbian). This was my third school visit. All have been different from each other, in how they were initiated and in the focus of the presentation – but all have been intensely rewarding, each in their own way.

St Francis Xavier – front of school

This week’s visit was initiated by the school, with an invitation to Quest to speak to the school on the general them of “Catholic and Gay”. I arrived early, and after a brief chat with the deputy head Ciaran Graham, who had issued the invitation, he took me on an enjoyable tour of the school facilities . I was particularly interested in the school chapel, which has been a place of prayer and worship for over 120 years.

 

With just 20 minutes available for the talk, I could do no more than skim the surface of the subject. I began with a very brief  outline of my own story, then described the three broad themes that had helped me personally to reconcile faith and sexuality: the Catholic insistence on the primacy of conscience, my experience of prayer and particularly Ignatian spirituality, and my exploration of the biblical evidence – both what Keith Sharpe refers to as “defensive” and “affirmative” scriptures.

I thought it went well. I could see that with a handful of exceptions, the kids were attentive and absorbed. There were no questions afterwards, but then I had gone over my allotted 20 minutes, so I  think they were just anxious to get away. However, the staff I spoke to were enthusiastic, and on my way to the station afterwards, I met some of the students who thanked me, and said it had been enjoyable and helpful. That was confirmed later, in an email from the deputy head.

Hi Terry

Once again a huge thank you for coming in. Indeed I’ve spoken to a few students who found it a very valuable talk and the teachers present have nothing but praise.

I’ll be in touch again to take you up on your very kind offer.

Best wishes

Ciaran




The “very kind offer” he refers to, is that I said I would be happy to return some time, either to expand on some of the topics just touched on, or for LGBT history month next February.  I hope the school does indeed take up my offer. There’s a great deal more that could and should be said. There’s especially fascinating and unexpected information to be found in LGBT church history.

My first school visit, in February this year, was to speak to the staff of St Bonaventure’s HS in East London during LGBT History Month, as part of the schools continuing in-service staff training.  The focus of that talk was to demonstrate that far from getting in the way of a school’s legal responsibility to protect and support LGBT pupils, Catholic teaching in fact requires our schools to do so.  After the formal presentation, I had a further extended discussion with members of the RE staff, who were most appreciative of what I had said,

Earlier this month, I was at Lord Wandsworth College, an independent boarding school in Hampshire. That visit, arranged by Stonewall, was part of the Stonewall LGBT role models program, but with a 50 minute time slot, and taking place in “Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia week”,  I also covered those issues.  Once again, that presentation went well, with something like 250 students obviously fully attentive for the full hour. Afterwards, some of the boys came up to thank me for what they said had been extremely helpful and important.

Next week, I’ll be in Berkshire, in another visit arranged by Stonewall’s LGBT role models program, talking to Downe House, a Church of England girls’ boarding school.  With 60 minutes available, I’ll be talking about my own experience of coming to terms with my sexuality and faith, in some detail.

For any other schools or parish groups who would like to hear more of my experience of being gay and Catholic, and the resources I have found helpful, I would be delighted to help. Just leave a note in the comments.

(Click on the link to download the  Powerpoint slides for the presentation I delivered: St Francis Xavier College)

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