The principal of Heythrop College has resigned as the university faces an uncertain future.
Fr Michael Holman SJ has decided to quit his role of principal, citing health reasons as one of many factors and that the four year period that he had been assigned to the college had expired.
Meanwhile, teachers and academics from Heythrop College have written to the press to voice their support for a proposed partnership with Roehampton University in order to protect Heythrop from total closure, scheduled for 2018.
After announcing in June 2015 that it would cease to exist “in its current form, as a constituent college of the University of London”, Heythrop was first in discussions with St Mary’s University in Twickenham about a potential merger but the plans fell through.
“I can’t see that much more could have been done,” Fr Holman wrote in a letter to former students.
“I am of course disappointed that in my time we have not been able to arrive at a plan that could be agreed by all those who would rightly need to agree it.
“However, my hope is that this will open up new opportunities for what we Jesuits call ‘the intellectual apostolate’ in a form well suited to the mission of the Church and the Society today and to the world of higher education as it now is.”
He wrote that he was “very proud of the College and what it stands for”, describing it as an “outstanding academic community which fulfils its mission in theology and philosophy with distinction”.
Fr Holman added that a new principal would be appointed shortly and that his successor will be tasked with “steering the College through the last two years of its membership of the University of London.”
Following reports last week that plans for a potential merger between Heythrop College and Roehampton University might stall, Heythrop members of staff have issued a statement to clarify their support for such a move, saying the closure of the university would be “a tragedy with reverberations on the international stage”.
They wrote: “Since the announcement in 2015 that Heythrop could no longer continue as an autonomous college within the University of London, the governors and the Society of Jesus have been committed to finding a way in which its mission and work, including its ecclesiastical faculties within the Bellarmine Institute, will continue in a new form after 2018.
“Eight months of creative and positive discussions with the University of Roehampton have concluded that a merger between both institutes would be financially viable and academically and pastorally fruitful in furthering the Jesuit intellectual apostolate in Britain.
“The Society of Jesus has sought the support of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, in order to continue the mission of the college. Staff confidently hope to receive support for a merger that holds so much promise.”
It is understood that the sticking point in discussions was the future of the Bellarmine Institute, an ecclesiastical faculty and pontifical institute within Heythrop College serving seminarians preparing for ordination.
Concerns have reportedly circulated about the institute’s Catholicity under the jurisdiction of a non-Catholic university should the merger go ahead.
But staff members said: “We are confident that the Catholicity of the Bellarmine Institute and Heythrop College within the context of the University of Roehampton will be safeguarded by robust governance structures. The content of the ecclesiastical degrees taught and the academic staff teaching in the Bellarmine Institute were approved by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2013. Any modifications are subject to re-approval by the Congregation.”
They continued: “It would be a tragedy with reverberations on the international stage if Heythrop College should be forced to close, despite the development of a financially viable model and an academically rich curriculum to enable its mission and work to continue.”
The statement said that the closure would cast doubt on “the credibility of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in fostering and protecting serious academic study of philosophy and theology. Support for the proposed Heythrop-Roehampton partnership is consistent with concerns to safeguard the Catholicity of the education of Catholic clergy and laity in England and Wales.”
Heythrop College, set up in 1614 by the Society of Jesus, announced it would not be admitting any more graduates two years ago, citing the challenges of meeting the costs as an autonomous college within the University of London.