Ampleforth Prayer Groups – flourishing


            Prison to Praise was the text which I read to my RS class  (15year olds) and I followed it with an invitation to come together and pray.   We began slowly, but I quickly realized that the natures of what we were doing was three fold.  Firstly I was there to share my own relationship with the Father and with Jesus with other group as far as I could.  Already something of the power of shared prayer had entered my life from the encounters with boos from Fr. Ian and the visit and being prayed over by George Kosicki in 1971 or2 or3.  But I had not received the experience which I later came to see as the baptism of he Holy Spirit.  Secondly I realised that the prayer group had to involve each person sharing he little faith he had, so that the others would received it and their faith be built up.  Finally I realised that Jesus had to speak to us in the Scriptures, and those texts be involved in our prayer.  I later came to value and emphasise the roll of singing together.  Another factor of importance to me was that we met as brothers which meant that we were all on Christian name terms.  this was not for any false camaraderie but it flowed from the essential job we were doing together which was building up a Christian community of brothers and sisters, so it was no suitable to bring the schoolmastering world outside into the gatherings.  We met in different places  The Old laymasters commons room, the Old housemasters room in St. Oswalds,  the guest rooms (now demolished) even classrooms.  Sometimes the group advertised and we got an influx of people sometimes we were on our own.   Sometimes we got visitors from eth Grange.  One  visitor had just be elected provincial of hte Daughters of Charity and what experience and blessing she received from our gathering formed her attitude to charismatic renewal in her time as provincial and brought a new encouragement for sharing and prayer groups in the Communities.  the final location before the old house was knocked down was the Old Dormitory.  This had been given rush matting by Fr. Thomas Cullinan when he was head f RS and this was the time when the John and Thomas chapel int eh crypt had been given a curtain to provide a secluded area from the walkway across to the chapel on the south side.  benches and the rush matting provided a good atmosphere out of the run of the school and this mediation room was  great success.  Since he disappearance of the Old House there has been no attempt to resurrect a  meditations room or to develop in the crypt any alternative place for prayer.   In the 1980s there was scheme to re organise the crypt, but an Irish architect could not get his act together and the moment passed.

            Quite early we wanted to celebrate mass on Friday night – a sung mass with a difference from the Scholar Mass.   It could not take place in the crypt because the singing would interfere with the scholar, so we met int eh concert hall of the music school.  For many months this was an alternative Mass, and  visitors  came.
            At one time when Fr. Justin Price returned from Oxford there was a prayer group in the Rover Room – a room next to the bell passage which had been done up by Fr. Kieran when he was running the Rovers.  i supported them on one or two occasions but found the atmosphere not very healthy and the experience f tongues discordant and open to abuse.  it stopped shortly afterwards – this was the only other movement towards encouraging the new charisms which happened in the School as far as I know.


In the final years of the development before 1978 we met in the tower classrooms.  This was ut of the way of normal school activities and blessings continued to flow in the lives of the members.  We began to look for ways of being together over a weekend.  We used the Jackson cottage (Shelagh Jackson’s husband Guy was an old friend of my Father’s in Derbyshire, he had been a England quality cricketer and had captained Derbyshire he married Shelagh a  Dobson, O’Donovan, Flood, relative and 2 of their 3 children came to Ampleforth and all her grandsons.  Her cottage was family base round Ampleforth) and the Cronin Cottage above Wass.   These were very special moments, and looking back they were the times when the real fusion and spiritual depth came to the group.
Just before I went to JH in the last full year of my work in the upper school, I was so impressed by the effect of the shared prayer group that I got permission to introduce shared prayer to the first year in all the houses.  So I went round the houses twice a week in each house I explained the system, the hows and the whys and then led them into a few moments of prayer. I asked them to all come back the next week, and then if they wanted on the third week.   I did this through all the houses and then I issued a questionnaire about the experience.  Most of the qu came back (c. 80) and a third of them wanted more of the same.   It was a stunning result and showed that whatever was going on int his method it seemed to meet the need of  quite a number.  I gave the results to Abbot and headmaster and housemasters but nothing more was heard of it.   I then went to JH. and in 1980  Jose Manuel Eguiguren came to Amplefrth and told us about his manquehue system of prayer groups.  We spoke together by “accident” when he arrived and both knew that we spoke the same language.  I strongly supported these Chilean initiatives though I was never involved in them nor asked to speak to the English group.  I was sent to Chile in 1995 where I delighted in what I saw.  As I speak the future of my involvement with them if any, has to evolve.
After I went to JH I kept up the prayer group, but on a lower level.  i felt that I had no option but to continue this apostolate but the circumstances of the new life in JH made it impossible to keep the week end sessions going.  Whether there was fault i this I do not know – perhaps it could have been possible but in the end I did not do it.   Perhaps this is partly because there was no real understanding in the school for this ministry and no encouragement.  In these circumstances it is a temptation to fall into the general run of the mill pattern rather than continue to plough against the normal run of the land.