At the request of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Congregation for the Clergy has appointed Canon Philip Gillespie, a priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool and currently dean of the Catholic community on the Isle of Man, as Rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.
He succeeds Mgr Roderick Strange of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, who will return to England to take up a position at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, having spent nearly 17 years as the rector of the Beda College, founded in 1852 to prepare older men for the priesthood.
“I have to confess that I was very surprised by the news of this appointment and while I am truly sorry to be leaving the Isle of Man, I am immensely grateful for the privilege of being able to share with the students at the Beda my love of the ministerial priesthood and, in conjunction with the other staff of the college, assisting in their discernment and preparation,” Canon Gillespie said.
Mgr Strange added: “The responsibility for helping Beda men from more than 20 countries discern their vocation and preparing more than 170 of them for ministerial priesthood over the past 17 years has been an unimaginable privilege for me. My prayers and good wishes will accompany Canon Philip Gillespie as he continues this vital work. He will find the Beda family in good heart.”
Beda College was founded by Pius IX to accommodate a number of clergymen from England who had joined the Roman Catholic Church from other Christian denominations and wished to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. They came only for four years, because they were seen to have significant experience already.
The new College, first known as Collegio Ecclesiastico and later as Collegio Pio, also included lifelong Catholics, drawn to the priesthood later in life. A third category comprised priests studying for post-graduate degrees in Rome.
Leo XIII issued a new constitution in 1898 and placed the college under the patronage of the Venerable Bede, the eighth century Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar. Cardinal Howard bequeathed to the two colleges his valuable library.
In 1956 Pius XII provided from extra-territorial property of the Holy See the land on which the present Beda stands, adjacent to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. John XXIII formally opened the new building on October 20 1960.
The Beda remains the responsibility of the Bishops of England and Wales but now receives men from English-speaking countries worldwide.